Iowa State’s 25th annual Lavender Graduation


Photo by Katherine Kealey

“Long after you leave Ames the spaces, conversation and change you made on this campus will remain for future students,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Toyia Younger. “So they can better express themselves, feel connected to others and thrive as they embark on their personal journey here at Iowa State.”

Katherine Kealey

Iowa State University’s graduation to celebrate academic, personal and collegiate achievements of students in the LGBTQIA+ community had the highest number of graduates for the second year in a row. 

For 25 years, the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success at Iowa State has hosted the Lavender Graduation. Over 40 graduates from all colleges gathered Friday at the Memorial Union to listen to keynote speeches from Vice President of Student Affairs Toyia Younger and Assistant Director for the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success Cheltzie Miller-Bailey.

“I recognize that your experience at Iowa State and in Ames is different than many other students,” Younger said. “You managed more challenges as an LGBTQIA+ student and advocated for so many along the way.”

Younger spoke about the hurdles students in the LGBTQIA+ community face. On top of experiencing a global pandemic while in school, political tensions and the rise of discriminatory policies towards LGBTQIA+ individuals, Younger said it is without a doubt the past four years were not what anyone expected.

“But, you did it, here you are. You landed on your feet, persevered and pushed yourself to complete your degree through the unimaginable,” Younger said. “We are so proud that you are able to navigate through a regular experience, a virtual experience, a modified in-person experience and back to a new normal experience to get you to where you are today.”

The Lavender Graduation was founded in 1995 by Ronni Sanlo at the University of Michigan. Since then, the celebration has grown to more than 150 institutions across the nation. 

All graduates were presented with the lavender stole. Miller-Bailey said this is a symbol of the dedication and perseverance of the students as well as the entire community. The color lavender is a historic color of the LGBTQIA+ community. The color is made with a mixture of blue and pink.

“[The color lavender represents] a blending of the gender norms of love and being that our existence counters,” Miller-Bailey said. “In our community lavender is a reminder of our history, our tenacity and our empowerment.”

The lavender stole also has a rainbow flag on it as an international beacon of queer and trans people along with “ISU” stiched in gold. 

Andra Castle, assistant director of the Margaret Sloss Center for Women and Gender Equity, is an adviser for an LGBTQIA+ student organization and serves as chair of the LGBTQIA+ Faculty and Staff Association. They said serving in these positions made it inarguably evident that queer students are more likely to succeed when they have a network of affirming friends, families and mentors. Graduating students could recognize people who have supported them throughout their academic year known as Cyclone Champions and Campus Connections. 

“When students have this type of unwavering support they are not only more likely to succeed academically but also personally,” Castle said. “It allows them the safety to explore their identities, it allows them space to reflect and process the world, and it reminds them that there are people who value them in all of their individual authority.”