Lavender Ceremony 2021

Each year, LGBTQ seniors can participate in the Lavender Ceremony to graduate in the fullness of their identity and community. They each receive a lavender tassel to wear with their Commencement regalia.

By Keely Sexton

More than 130 LGBTQ seniors participated in Mount Holyoke College’s multiple Lavender ceremonies this year to celebrate their graduation and all of their accomplishments in the fullness of their identities.

Mount Holyoke first adopted the Lavender Ceremony in 2017, holding its inaugural celebration in the common room of the Rockies residential hall for about 20 students. 

Each year since then, attendance has grown larger and larger — aside from the 2020 pandemic year — according to Christine Albain, area coordinator for community and inclusion in the Office of Residential Life. Albain guided the Lavender Committee student organization into existence and orchestrates the annual celebrations.

Five years after that first small celebration, the Lavender Ceremony is now held in Chapin Auditorium to accommodate all those who want to attend. This year, in addition to the in-person ceremonies, the College held two virtual ceremonies to allow remote students to attend from any part of the world. And for students who couldn’t come to either the in-person or virtual ceremonies, Albain created individual celebrations.

“The Lavender Ceremony is the big event,” she said, noting it is one of her favorite parts of her work at Mount Holyoke. “The feeling at Lavender is unlike everything else. You feel that strength and warmth in your chest. You feel like you are a part of something.

“It’s the first moment to reflect on how far you’ve come.”

The first LGBTQ-themed graduation ceremony was at the University of Michigan in 1995, when a lesbian mother was prevented from attending her own child’s graduation on the basis of the mother’s sexuality. She responded by developing her own celebration. Since then, Lavender ceremonies have come to be a part of commencement activities at institutions throughout the nation.

When W. Donald Cotter, associate professor of chemistry, spoke at Mount Holyoke’s Lavender Ceremony in 2019, he reflected on the joy of community and visibility that his generation did not have access to. 

“This generation is finding and exploring new ways of being and being in community with others,” Cotter said. “That openness to new ways of being and becoming oneself opens their future paths to success.” 

“Their individual personhood does not have to be severed from their academic and professional selves,” he said. “My generation did not have that.” 

As a cisgender white gay male, Cotter knows that his identities give him privileges that many will never know. But, he said, being invited into spaces where he can support all members of the LGBTQ community in realizing their full value and potential is a privilege that the community has bestowed on him.

“When invited to be in those spaces in those moments, I am really grateful,” he said. “And I am grateful for the way Mount Holyoke has committed to making itself a space where transgender, nonbinary, and other gender identities can be a part of its fabric.”

For LGBTQ students, the Lavender Ceremony represents the crowning point of the undergraduate career, where they can celebrate as themselves. 

“They get to have a ceremony to be recognized in the fullness of their identity,” said Albain, noting that many LGBTQ students who are not safe in revealing their inner selves feel they “have to choose between using a deadname [the person’s birth name] or not being acknowledged.” 

Not with the Lavender Ceremony, says Albain.

“This is the moment when they can be exactly who they are and wear what they want.”

Related News

Photo of stoles made of boldly colored kente cloth

Honoring students of color and their mentors

Mount Holyoke’s Stoling Ceremony this year was both virtual and in person, the better to honor faculty and staff who support students of color.

President Sonya Stephens onstage, address class of 2021 graduates in her royal blue academic regalia.

Congratulations, Class of 2021!

Mount Holyoke hosted its first-ever virtual Commencement for its 184th ceremony to honor graduating seniors and send them on to do great things.

Students in masks and regalia sitting 6 feet apart in Abbey Chapel.

A Baccalaureate event unlike any other

This year’s Baccalaureate at Mount Holyoke College was livestreamed for the first time in its history, due to COVID-19. 

This is an image of a digital slide from the cording ceremony that reads, "To our bold, brilliant, and beloved seniors- congratulations! We are so proud of you! #FearlessFirst."

Cording Ceremony 2021

The Cording Ceremony is a moment to honor the unique challenges that first-generation and low-income students overcome to graduate.


Sisterhood is a verb

Mount Holyoke College’s 2021 Women of Color Trailblazers Leadership Conference focuses on entrepreneurs of color in a virtual business expo.

Find more stories >