News Channel

USF Holds Inaugural Lavender Graduation Ceremony

Students gathered in solidarity to celebrate their academic achievements at USF's first Lavender Graduation Ceremony.

Students stood together in solidarity as members of the LGBTQ+ community were honored at the University of South Florida’s first ever Lavender Graduation Ceremony on Monday, April 9, 2018.

The ceremony is a growing tradition throughout universities nationally, creating a supportive and accepting environment, where students in the LGBTQ+ community can be themselves and celebrate their academic achievements judgment free.

“USF is proud to be added to the list of the universities celebrating this fantastic event,” said Interim Associate Vice President of Diversity, Cecil Howard, JD.

Keynote speaker Gina Leigh Duncan inspired the crowd of young adults by sharing her journey. Spending most of her life as “Greg,” Duncan won a Florida High School State Football Championship, earned a Division I scholarship to play linebacker, sat on the board of the Home Builders Association of Mid-Florida and Mortgage Bankers Association of Central Florida, and raised two children.

Gina Leigh Duncan (middle) gives her keynote speech during the Lavender Graduation Ceremony at the Gibbons Alumni Center.

With all of her accomplishments, Duncan told the crowd she still didn’t feel complete, explaining she never felt like she was “living in the moment.” At age 50, Duncan became the person she always knew she was, embracing her transition and advocating for others in the LGBTQ+ community as the Director of Transgender Equality at Equality Florida.

“When your heart is racing and your voice is quivering, walk boldly through that door, whatever that door may be,” Duncan said.

Rainbow stoles were awarded to graduating seniors either identifying themselves as  LGBTQ+ or allies of the community. Some will wear their stoles proudly during the official USF Commencement Ceremonies held the first and second week of May.

For graduating senior Prin Ocea, the event culminates all the advocacy work they have done on campus over the past four years. From their involvement with the Stonewall Suites living-learning community, to creating LGBTQ+ specific clubs, Ocea is a leader and a voice in the movement for equality and human rights at USF.

Prin Ocea, Class of 2018

“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,” Ocea said.

“We all got to scream for each other and celebrate each other. It mean the world to me to be able to celebrate this special day with my chosen family.”

Four students, including PhD candidate Denise Donahue were recognized and awarded the USF Alumni Association’s LGBT Scholarship for the 2018-19 academic year. Donahue is currently working on her dissertation, examining the implementation of instruction for prospective teachers so they can carry forward a positive message to their future LGBTQ+ students and families.

“I’m so happy to see so many like-minded people here, supporting each other, advocating for each other and just celebrating diversity,” Donahue said.

Denise Donahue, Recipient of the USF Alumni Association LGBT Scholarship

The Lavender Graduation Ceremony was created by Dr. Ronnie Sanlo. After being told she would be unable to attend her children’s graduation ceremonies due to her sexuality, Dr. Sanlo, encouraged by the Dean of Students at Michigan University, set out to create an event where students of the LGBTQ+ community could celebrate academic achievements in a safe and judgment-free way. The first Lavender Graduation Ceremony was held in 1995 with only 3 graduates, today however, the event is held at over 165 universities nationwide.

To learn more, or get involved with LGBTQ+ organizations here at USF, please visit the Office of Multicultural Affair’s website.  

Story and photos by: Ryan Noone, University Communications and Marketing

USF News is produced by University Communications and Marketing.

To submit content, please review our Editorial Plans.