Lavender Graduation Celebrates Pride

May 10, 2023

Eastern Washington University is gearing up to host its 14th annual Lavender Graduation on Friday, May 12.

The event, to be held from 5-7 p.m. in the Walter and Myrtle Powers Reading Room in Hargreaves Hall, celebrates the academic accomplishments of LGBTQ+ students from area high schools and colleges — along with the faculty, staff and students who support them.

“I think our queer and trans students don’t get recognized as often” says Maggie Harty, student equity and belonging coordinator for the EWU Pride Center. “That’s partly because some of them aren’t out and aren’t able to be recognized in the same way that a straight student might be able to and have that visibility on campus.”

Spokane civil rights activist Sandy Williams helped to establish the Lavender Graduation when she worked at Eastern. Although Williams and her partner died in a 2022 floatplane crash in the Puget Sound, Williams’ legacy at EWU continues through this cherished annual tradition, along with the Pride Center that she helped to open and a scholarship named in her honor.

The annual ceremony, nicknamed “Lav Grad” and open to all graduating high school and college students in the region, has come to mean a lot to the people who participate, Harty says. “It’s a way for our students to celebrate their accomplishments as their full selves.”

Harty, who simultaneously planned and participated in Lav Grad 2021, says that 43 students have registered for this year’s event.

Volunteers make the celebration possible, says Harty. She expects that up to 10 students will help with set-up and other tasks to ensure this year’s celebration is memorable for all of the participants.

“The LGBTQ+ student community really shows up for Lav Grad every year,” says Harty. “They always offer to come and help with the event and do the work. Even though we are trying to celebrate them, they always put a little bit of themselves into it.”

Over the years, the event’s many attendees have included family, friends and EWU faculty and staff, says Harty, who recalls a year when there were about 150 people there to congratulate the graduating seniors.

This year, a representative of the Free Mom Hugs group offered to have their volunteer mom brigade attend; a group ready to provide plenty of hugs for LGBTQ+ students whose own parents might not be supportive or can’t otherwise attend.

As for Harty, her own parents enthusiastically attended her ’21 Lavender Gradation. They even made special congratulatory signs to cheer on all of the graduates.

Harty grew up in Moscow, Idaho. She recalls choosing to study at EWU because of its Pride Center and, while at EWU, embraced the opportunity to join the Eagle Pride student organization and build Eagle4Life connections.

“I found like my little family here at Eastern, so I met my best friends through the Pride Center,” she says.

Harty says she is starting to use the center to connect with LGBTQ+ alumni who graduated in the late ’70s and early ’80s. “We’re making a big effort this year to try and create a real Pride Center alumni network,” she says.