Graduation celebrations support minority students

Rebekah Alvey

Several organizations on campus have held special graduation ceremonies before commencement on Saturday.

Two major celebrations were Lavender Graduation and the Intercultural Student Engagement Center Graduation ceremony. Both highlighted WKU’s attempts to be inclusive and diverse as a campus.

Lavender Graduation is still new to campus, with this past ceremony being the third year. It is a celebration for LGBTQ graduates and their many accomplishments.

This year’s graduation was held in the Augustine Alumni Center and had both students, family professors and administrators in attendance.

The program was brought to WKU’s campus by Dr. Patricia Minter, a history professor, and her husband Michael Minter.

Patricia Minter said the couple made a $10,000 donation in order to start the Lavender Graduation Endowment. Minter heard about Lavender graduation through other universities. It originated at University of Michigan in 1995 and has since spread to over 45 institutions. Minter said her and her husband realized it was time for WKU to join the ranks.

This was the largest turnout in both graduates and supporters at the Lavender Graduation. People found out about the ceremony through an email asking any LGBTQ graduates to come forward if they wanted to be recognized at the celebration.

Minter said it is incredible important to have this graduation ceremony because it increases visibility, which is vital for the LGBTQ community.

“We are welcoming and celebrating this beautiful community,” Minter said.

There were several speakers that illustrated WKU’s involvement with the community.

Graduate and former SGA Chief of Staff James Line gave the student reflections. Line explained the difficulties LGBTQ members face on a daily basis and how the students being recognized at the ceremony should be especially proud of their accomplishments.

“Life in a heteronormative world isn’t easy,” Line said.

Line said that it is still important to be yourself and celebrate your differences and encouraged the graduates to continuously contribute to the community.

Line’s roommate and outgoing SGA President Jay Todd Richey was also involved with the event and said he has been the past three years.

Richey said while he isn’t a part of the LGBTQ community he serves as an ally and tries to be an advocate by speaking up for causes like the Bowling Green Fairness Ordinance. He explained that there needs to be recognition ceremonies for several marginalized student groups because they celebrate resilience and bravery.

Provost David Lee was the keynote speaker for the celebration. Lee said he felt the need to thank the graduates as much as he wanted to congratulate them.

Lee explained that the participants of Lavender Graduation were extending the basic core values of the institution of inclusion and opportunity. He said that by being at WKU, persisting and getting a degree, they are building a stronger and more supportive community.

“Intentionally or unintentionally, all of you have helped to weave a lasting web of community support for LGBTQ students that will long outlast your time on this hillside,” Lee said.

Lee emphasized their accomplishments as graduates as well. He said not everyone is able to receive a college degree, and the fact they are doing this while contributing to the improvement of their university is outstanding.

“Thanks for your talent, your insights, your advocacy, your patience and everything you have brought to this university,” Lee said.

Executive Director of the Alumni Association, Anthony McAdoo explained that it is important to be accepted into your community. He described how finding a supportive job and community was a large factor for him and his partner.

McAdoo said he hopes to build an alumni network that is inclusive and moves forward with the help of Lavender graduates. He explained he hopes they can give advice to students and provide them with future opportunities in a positive and welcoming environment.

While the general theme of Lavender Graduation was reflection, the energy of the ISEC graduation ceremony was celebratory. All throughout the program, hand drummers from Nashville were playing and created a positive and open program.

Each graduate in attendance was presented with a unique stohl. Brandon explained they were given four different options. The most popular was one with the African kente, a symbol that reflects a student’s’ pride in their culture.

As students walked across the stage, family and fellow students were shouting in support. The overall tone was focused on celebrating.

Student activities coordinator Josclynn Brandon said it’s important to provide celebrations in a more intimate way since general commencement is not very personal.

With the students represented in the ISEC celebration, Brandon said some of the students never thought they were going to make it. She explained that is why it is even more critical to celebrate and acknowledge their accomplishments.

“It’s an appreciation of who they are and not apologizing for it,” Brandon said.

Brandon said there are 378 students of color graduating this spring and this graduation celebration was the largest turnout. Brandon explained that society has played a role in this by telling students of color that they are less, which causes them to find outlets and venues to contradict this.

The key-note speaker was Brandon Bailey, an alumni from WKU. In his address, Bailey said that it is important to make sacrifices and work hard before you can celebrate.

“These remarks are reserved for anyone who has felt dismissed, disappointed, dissatisfied, disenfranchised or anyone who has ever been dissed, period,” Bailey said.

Bailey encouraged students to not be discouraged by blocks in the road, explaining issues and failures he has gone through in his road to success.

Bailey said he hopes graduates can be a positive influence as well by helping and encouraging those like them.

Bailey also served as a model for how ISEC can help students in need, by explaining how they put him back on track after many mishaps within his first semester at WKU.

Brandon said the program is especially personal because a lot of the graduates there were people she encounters in the office frequently.

Brandon also acknowledged the support of parents and faculty during the ceremony. Students were given the opportunity to give flowers to family members or people who supported them throughout their college life.

While these graduation ceremonies were celebrating different groups of people, they share a similar theme of overcoming adversity and successfully earning a degree.

Richey explained that these celebrations aren’t separating graduates as some would complain.

“It’s recognizing individual persistence of community in a world working against them,” Richey said.


Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].