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A Time to Celebrate!

by Bailey Ly

Graduation is a special time for all seniors to be recognized for their hard work over the years and the Pride Center and Multicultural Student Life are continuing to celebrate their students, even if they’re away from campus. I spoke with coordinator of the Pride Center, Bonnie Johnson, Tanisha Jenkins, director of MSL, and Ronni Williams, assistant director of the MSL, to get some insights on the impact and mission of affinity graduation.

Lavender Graduation

This is the Pride Center’s 9th year celebrating Lavender Graduation, an affinity graduation ceremony that celebrates LGBTQ+ and ally graduates as their authentic selves as well as their achievements and contributions to the university. What makes the ceremony particularly special is that students can be honored as exactly who they are, by submitting their own biography and photo. Normally, there would be an in-person commencement ceremony, and each graduate will be given a regalia and gift bag. However, with students being away from campus at this time, things are going to be a little different. This year graduates can sign up and receive a lavender care package with their regalia, certificate, and other gift bag goodies. Students will also be recognized on social media and websites for all participating graduates that consent to their information being shared.

...Lavender Graduation is recognized and celebrated at different universities across the country. Bonnie says, “We are proud to carry on the legacy of the program celebrating the academic success and achievements of our LGBTQ+ and ally Volunteers.” This celebration is very important to the UT community, it highlights hardworking students in a way that is more personal and intimate.

Bonnie adds, “Students can share whatever they want about themselves in their biography, and it is important to give them that outlet of self-expression and affirmation at a major milestone in their life. I love how each student chooses to reflect on their time here at Rocky Top.” She even remembers her 2013 Lavender Graduation at UT, “I still have my rainbow tassel from the ceremony dangling from the rearview mirror of my car.”

We encourage all interested students to sign up by clicking here! All 2020 graduates are welcomed to participate, including May, August, and December graduates as well as graduate and doctoral students. The Pride Center will be accepting graduates and sending packages until June 1. Get in touch at pridecenter@utk.edu with questions and concerns.

Multicultural Graduation and Recognition Ceremony

Multicultural Student Life is celebrating its 11th Graduation and Recognition Ceremony this year! This celebration is an opportunity to highlight seniors and student leaders from marginalized backgrounds for their accomplishments. MSL wants to recognize the work that goes into navigating a PWI (predominately white institution) as a student of color. “The Class of 2020 has been resilient and we are extremely proud of them,” says Tanisha. “We celebrate them and wish them much success in their future endeavors!

Ronni adds, “We want the chance to celebrate the excellence of these seniors and the chance to recognize the persistence of all undergraduate students.” MSL typically has a Multicultural Graduation and Recognition Ceremony that highlights the accomplishments of our graduating seniors that hold marginalized identities, as well as undergraduate student leaders that excel in leadership, academics, and involvement.

...Tanisha explains “We host this event annually to bring our diverse student body together in order to honor their successes and to recognize this important step in their life’s journey. This ceremony also serves as a way for Students of Color to pay tribute to those who have helped them along the way. Students, family, friends, faculty, staff, and alumni, are each valuable component of the support system for many graduates and our ceremony provides an opportunity for the graduates to say thank you.” Traditionally, this program would allow students to hear from Student Life leadership, the office, and the different academic colleges. The seniors are given the opportunity to walk across the stage and receive gifts from both MSL and their academic college. Now, MSL is recognizing graduating students through social media posts, sending out graduation gifts to the seniors, and a celebratory video that will be released next week. “As we celebrate our graduating seniors virtually this year, we will work with Student Life Communications to develop a celebratory video that will be released next week,” says Tanisha. “The video includes messages from many of our campus leaders, as well as, the diversity leaders in the academic colleges who normally partner with us on this event. During the month of May, graduating seniors who register with us for their graduation gift will receive a special package in the mail at their home address.” We encourage all interested students to sign up by clicking here! MSL will be accepting graduates until May 8.

The purpose of affinity graduation is to provide a space and celebration to name, acknowledge, and celebrate the identities of these students. Celebrations like this are so important for UT. Tanisha and Ronni believe that it’s an opportunity to recognize the different paths of each student for four years at the university. “This is important because it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the students we serve and dedicate time to celebrating them and their accomplishments.” This time filled with excited and happy emotions is truly one of Ronni’s favorite parts of the year!

...Ronni ends with telling us how we as students and a university can support fellow graduating students by sending messages of congratulations and support. She says “Let them know how you have learned and grown from them and find a way to make it personalized. Sending a message, an email, or a letter for those feeling extra thoughtful. It takes very little time and I think it is worth it.”

The university, campus community, MSL, and Pride center are so proud of the class of 2020. Affinity graduations like MSL’s Multicultural Graduation and Recognition Ceremony and Pride Center’s Lavender Graduation are an amazing way to recognize graduating students within marginalized groups. Show some support by recognizing fellow graduates through social media!

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Bailey Ly is a sophomore majoring in public relations with a minor in business administration. She is the undergraduate public relations intern for Student Life  Communications. Bailey is also the marketing chair for Campus Events Board Arts and Culture. She loves cooking and learning about new cultures.

 

April 30, 2020