A new favorite Commencement-season tradition at SUNY New Paltz returned on Friday, May 6, as graduating seniors gathered with faculty, staff and allies for the annual Lavender Celebration, a moment of togetherness for our campus LGBTQ+ community, with a fully in-person program offered for the first time since 2019.
“These past few years have not been easy for this community, but despite all of those challenges, you were here, you were thriving,” said LGBTQ+ Program and Diversity Manager Fresia Martinez-Olivera. “Know that you’re embraced for who you are by the SUNY New Paltz community and know that your joy deserves to be recognized.”
Forty students participated this year, receiving lavender graduation cords that they will be sporting during SUNY New Paltz Commencement Ceremonies May 20-22. The color lavender symbolizes the struggles and empowerment of prior generations of LGBTQ+ individuals and activists.
“Being a part of the New Paltz community means coming as you are, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and it takes personal risk, bravery, self-determination, and competence to do exactly that,” said Mike Patterson, assistant vice president for student affairs. “I am in awe of you. When I went to college, it was a different generation. I wish I could have what each of you possess when I was you. It’s an honor to be here with you today.”
President Donald P. Christian offered remarks at the event for the last time as campus president. His tenure leading the College has been a time of significant progress for support of LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff, including his appointment of New Paltz’s first LGBTQ Coordinator.
“We take pride in providing a safe and equitable learning environment and strive to foster an inclusive and respectful campus culture for all students in all ways,” President Christian said.
The first Lavender Graduation in the United States was held in 1995, when student Ronnie Sanlo at the University of Michigan created an event to ensure that LGBTQ+ students knew they mattered. Today, more than 200 U.S. colleges and universities celebrate each year. New Paltz held its first such event in 2019.