As senior Will Bruno walked to the front of McKinnon Hall on April 29, the room filled with cheers and applause. At Elon University’s 10th annual Lavender Graduation, Bruno was about to accept the Outstanding Graduate award.

Hosted by the Gender and LGBTQIA Center, Lavender Graduation is a ceremony that honors graduating students who identify within the LGBTQIA communities. With 48 students participating, the 2022 celebration had the largest class of graduates in the event’s history. Bruno was one of five students recognized with a peer-nominated award this year.

“I didn't do anything special, but I guess people disagreed. It feels amazing,” Bruno said. “There is something to that. I feel like in my time here, I've been able to live unapologetically queer and been able to just lead by example and lead by action.”

Senior Matthew Conkling participated in the event and said Lavender Graduation is a place where he can feel comfortable in his identity. Conkling came out during his senior year of high school and said his experiences of being open with his sexuality while going to college in the South were not always positive. He said Lavender Graduation is an opportunity to be surrounded by supportive people.

“It's nice to be able to share a room with other queer people and allies and celebrate our accomplishments in a way that feels different from everyone else's graduation,” Conkling said.

To commemorate the ceremony’s 10th anniversary at Elon, the GLC invited Lavender Graduation founders and alumni Jess McDonald ’12 and Raafe-Ahmaad Purnsley ’12 to attend the event.

At the first Lavender Graduation in 2012, Purnsley’s mother spoke at the ceremony. Purnsley said his mother passed out bags of lavender to the graduating cohort and told them the scent of lavender will forever connect them to that moment.

“How important it was for a lot of people to hear a family member or a Black woman from the South speak about loving their queer child — you don’t know where it ends,” Purnsley said.

GLC Director Luis Garay said in any year, but especially with the two milestones the event hit this year, they hope students involved in Lavender Graduation recognize they’re part of its legacy at Elon. 

“It connects you to something bigger than yourself to recognize that this has happened 10 times,” Garay said. “It's going to keep growing.”

The 2022 Lavender Graduation cohort will join Elon’s LGBTQIA alumni network, which funds Lavender Graduation each year. Bruno said his peers at the GLC are what he will remember most of his time at Elon.

“The people that I've been able to meet and the things I've been able to do with them, who also encouraged me to be unapologetically queer and love me for that,” Bruno said. “That's what I remember the most, the people.”

2022 Lavender Graduation Awards

  • Outstanding Graduates of the Year:
    • Andie Weinberg
    • Will Bruno
  • Employee of the Year
    • Lauren Guilmette, Philosophy & Gender and Sexuality Living Learning Community
  • Event or Initiative of the Year
    • The Kiki Ball
  • Research Project of the Year
    • Skylar Flechsig: “Breaking the Binary: Heteronormativity, Authorship, and Bisexual Invisibility in Literature”
    • Note: there is a second winner, but they have requested their information not be shared publicly.