The 2024 graduates recognized at Lavender Graduation at EMU on Saturday, May 4, 2024.

‘You have transformed our campus’

Third annual Lavender Graduation honors achievements, contributions from LGBTQ+ students

EMU hosted its third annual Lavender Graduation on Saturday, May 4, 2024, in the Old Common Grounds space (University Commons 177). 

Lavender Graduation 2024 Graduates
Scroll through the photo gallery.

The event honors LGBTQ+ graduates and alumni of all races and ethnicities, and celebrates their unique experiences, achievements and contributions to the university.

This year, the ceremony recognized 17 graduates from the LGBTQ+ community. Kathy Evans, professor of teacher education, and Heike Peckruhn, associate professor of religious studies, bestowed the graduates with rainbow stoles to wear at Commencement. Class of 2024 graduates Riley Quezada and Kory Schaeffer provided keynote addresses, sharing their own stories about being part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Left to right: Lavender Graduation host Erin Bruemmer and keynote speakers Kory Schaeffer and Riley Quezada.

The first Lavender Graduation ceremony was celebrated at the University of Michigan in 1995. Ronni Sanlo began the tradition after being denied to her own children’s graduations because of her sexual identity. Today, more than 200 colleges and universities offer Lavender Graduation ceremonies for their students. The first of these at EMU was held in 2022.

Jackie Font-Guzmán, vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, gives her remarks at Lavender Graduation.

Jackie Font-Guzmán, vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, reflected on the recent progress made at EMU while acknowledging some of the work left to be done. She cited the LGBTQ+ History Month keynote delivered by transgender woman and health and equity advocate Tori Cooper in October, the renaming of Safe Space to Queer Student Alliance and the community’s participation in the filming of Viewpoint with Dennis Quaid as a few of the accomplishments of the graduating class.

“You have transformed our campus, and I have no doubt that you will all transform the world,” Font-Guzmán told the graduates on Saturday. 

‘Leaps and bounds of progress’

Quezada, a music education major from Mount Jackson, Virginia, and Cords of Distinction recipient, spoke about how their experience at EMU helped them feel comfortable in embracing their true identity.

Riley Quezada shares their experiences at Lavender Graduation.

“We all remember our first year here in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Quezada said. “That was a crazy year, but it was also the year I decided to let myself be fully and authentically me.”

When Quezada applied to EMU, all their paperwork was under their “dead name,” and they were planning to keep it that way. But, after interacting with “the amazing professors here” and getting to know their many accepting friends, Quezada said “I knew it was safe to change my name and my pronouns to my preferred ones.”

“From there, I found my voice, and I knew that I had to be a voice for those who felt just like me, those who were scared of coming into their own skin and becoming themselves,” they said. “Being active in advocacy and making sure that everyone’s voice is heard was something I didn’t know that I could do, but I am grateful to have been that person for people on campus.”

Kory Schaeffer delivers a keynote address at Lavender Graduation.

“There is so much visibility on campus, and EMU has made leaps and bounds of progress. But there’s still work to be done, and I’m excited to see what else this campus does,” they added.

Schaeffer, a Harrisonburg, Virginia, native who graduated from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding with a master’s degree in conflict transformation, spoke about his days in middle school and the bullying he endured. 

“I felt like I was walking the halls with a target on my back,” he said, “because something was different inside me and everyone around me could tell.”

And so, for the first 20 years of his life, he said, he hid his sexuality because “I understood my survival depended on it.”

But, at EMU, he’s found a space of belonging where he feels accepted and recognized.

“For the past two years, I have walked the grounds of Eastern Mennonite University as an open, proud, vulnerable, and authentic person, not hiding the bits of me that so many of us have had to keep secret on this campus for so long,” Schaeffer said. “And this is remarkable.”

The event also featured a moment of solidarity, silence and visibility for those who are not out nor will ever be out.

Heike Peckruhn delivered opening remarks. Erin Bruemmer ’24 served as emcee. Riley Quezada, Tyler Williams and Emma Nord performed music.

Join the Discussion on “‘You have transformed our campus’

  1. Seeing these photos brings me to tears. Thank you students for the beautiful witness of being yourselves. Thank you EMU for having a graduation like this. Keep leading toward authenticity and justice.
    Cynthia Lapp, class of 1986

  2. Yes, thank you, EVERYONE, for the great transforming work you’re doing! I’m so happy to see more and more colleges and universities choosing to openly include (not just tolerate) people who are different. I hope someday there won’t be any difference between Christian and secular institutions of higher learning, that perpetuate hate and division. When we can all be considered the same generic, average human beings who are all equal in every way, no matter how different and unique we still may be, that’s when there will finally be true peace. I know that our Mother God is smiling down on EMU right now. God rest Her soul. Lots of love always!

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