USF holds inaugural Lavender Graduation honoring LGBTQ students

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA | The University of South Florida (USF) held its first Lavender Graduation ceremony on April 9 to honor students within the LGBTQ community and their allies.

Lavender Graduations are an annual ceremony designed to acknowledge the achievements and contributions that LGBTQ students and allies have made to their respective universities. They were created in 1995 by Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a lesbian, after she was denied the opportunity to attend the graduations of her children due to her sexual orientation.

Over 150 undergraduate and graduate students, USF staff members and community members gathered at the USF Alumni Center’s Traditions Hall to attend the inaugural ceremony. It honored 39 students and featured a keynote address from Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s director of transgender equality.

“This event is important for so many reasons, but most of all [because it] visibly recognizes the impacts and successes that our LGBTQ+ students have made during their time at the University,” event organizer and USF’s LGBTQ+ Initiative Coordinator Maria Merrill says.

“Many times LGBTQ+ students can feel that their identities are invisible and this is a wonderful way to celebrate them and their identities as they prepare to graduate and create change throughout the world,” she continues. “At the event, the graduates received a rainbow stole which they will be able to wear at USF’s official commencement events which will continue to bring visibility to their identities.”

Merill says that USF’s Committee on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, led by co-chairs Amanda Tritsch and Leia Cain, has grown over recent years to increase fundraising and planning for events like the Lavender Graduation. She credits USF’s Development Officer for Diversity Initiatives Luz Randolph as “a driving force in the planning, execution, and success of this program.”

The committee utilized its networks to market the event to all USF students via social media, with specific marketing to LGBTQ student organizations on USF’s main, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses. Interested students were able to register online and were automatically approved to attend.

“Today I got to celebrate in a room with all of my closest friends, who have been working alongside of me to create a better campus for not only the LGBTQ+ community, but all people on campus,” graduating senior PrinOcea told USF’s news outlet. “We all got to scream for each other and celebrate each other. It meant the world to me to be able to celebrate this special day with my chosen family.”

For more information about USF and its commitment to LGBTQ equality, visit

Image from USF website

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