Every year, campuses across the California State University (CSU) system honor the hard work of their students, faculty and staff during commencement. As the largest and most diverse system of senior higher education in the country, the CSU strives to foster an environment where students from all walks of life come together to celebrate their achievements.

In addition to large campus-wide commencement ceremonies, many campuses hold ceremonies to celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of their graduates. One such type of ceremony, usually called a Lavender Graduation, honors students who are part of the LGBTQ community.

Graduates invited family, friends and supporters this past month to celebrate their academic accomplishments, as well as the LGBTQ community on campus, in a fun and inclusive environment.

Each campus organizes their event differently, most calling it a Lavender Graduation, others calling it a Rainbow Recognition. CSU Channel Islands calls their event a Lavender Brunch during which graduates get to pick a cord in the color of their choosing to wear at the general graduation ceremony.

"Students also get the opportunity to honor a faculty or staff member they view as a mentor and present them with a certificate," says Steve Stratton, faculty advisor for the LGBTQ+ club at CSUCI.

The ceremonies are also intended to recognize and honor the faculty, staff and administrators who have enhanced the campus climate for these students. Each of the 23 CSU campuses offers services, support and community for LGBTQ students and is committed to providing them with an inclusive, safe living and learning environment.

Chris Aguirre, a recent lavender graduate of CSU East Bay, says his work at the campus with student leadership organizations like the Diversity and Inclusion Student Center and Peer Advocates for Wellness were not just important for his academic career but helped him develop a positive sense of self.

He says the Lavender Ceremony is a chance to celebrate both his accomplishments and the support system he's built over the last few years.

"It's a great opportunity to build on the queer community and celebrate the intersectionality within the community," Aguirre says. "I know that I am graduating in part because of the people who've helped me along the way — students, faculty, staff, friends and family."

Lavender Graduations got their roots in the form of off-campus "recognition ceremonies" held for LGBTQ students by University of Michigan Spectrum Center co-founder Jim Toy. It wasn't until 1995 that UM Professor Dr. Ronni Sanlo held the first official Lavender Graduation after she was barred from her own children's graduations because of her sexual orientation.

The color lavender is significant because it is a combination of the pink and black triangles that gay men and women were forced to wear as prisoners in concentration camps in Nazi Germany. During the gay rights movements of the 1970s, LGBTQ activists took these symbols of hatred and combined them to make symbols and colors of pride.

To learn more about the CSU's support centers for the LGBTQ community, click here.