Honoring graduating members of the University’s LGBTQ+ community and celebrating their accomplishments as Chargers, the University’s first Lavender Graduation marked the start of a new tradition.
May 24, 2021
Throughout his time at the University of New Haven, Daniel Stott ’21 was an active member of the University’s LGBTQ+ community. Dedicated to fostering inclusion and a sense of belonging for everyone in the University community, he served as a source of support to his fellow Chargers.
A student ambassador in the University’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) program and a member of the University’s People Rejoicing In Diversity Everywhere (PRIDE) executive board, Stott recently spoke to his fellow graduates as part of the University’s inaugural Lavender Graduation. The event honored graduating LGBTQ+ students and celebrated their achievements.
“Somewhere along the way, a spark lit in me,” said Stott, who earned degrees in criminal justice and national security. “I began to realize my purpose and to be a model for queer success and confidence. It helped me to be visible for those who couldn’t.”
‘Continue to live your authentic lives’
As part of the ceremony, Andrew McDonald, an associate justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, shared his own story. He told students that, when he was in college, there were no LGBTQ+ groups to offer support or a sense of belonging. He said that, as a closeted gay man, when he was in law school, he did not know if he would have a future in the field since there were no judges who were out at that time.
Justice McDonald kept his sexual identity a secret when he started his career. He went on to become a partner in a law firm, and, eventually, the first openly gay member of Connecticut’s highest court. He looked back on the challenging legislative fight for marriage equality in Connecticut. He says that, although there has been significant progress, there is much more work to be done.
“It was through those battles that society began to change,” he explained. “Because of advocacy and hard work, society’s approval has grown. A lot of what we take for granted today is because of long-fought battles. Continue to live your authentic lives, and I have no doubt that progress will continue."
‘This event really shows the power of community and of gathering’
Beth Bye, commissioner for the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, also joined the program to reflect on the progress that has been made. She credited Justice McDonald and Mike Lawlor, J.D., an associate professor of criminal justice at the University and a former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives who led the push for legislation that made Connecticut the second state in the country to pass a law allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.
Discussing the importance of sharing one’s story, Commissioner Bye shared her own with students. She and her wife were the first gay couple to be married in Connecticut, and she says that sharing her story has been healing. She encouraged students to think about their own stories.
“This event really shows the power of community and of gathering,” said Commissioner Bye, who spoke to students virtually. “It gives you a sense of belonging, which is so important. That sense of being ‘other’ is so powerful, and it can affect us in the classroom and in other activities. Celebrations like this, where you’re celebrating exactly who you are, are so important. Your stories matter. You matter.”
‘Each of us has the ability to spread knowledge and kindness’
Dylan Kohere ’21 also spoke as part of the ceremony. After he was barred from joining the ROTC Program following former President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, he became a plaintiff in the first lawsuit against the ban.
“My community had my back every step of the way,” said Kohere, a criminal justice major. “When I started my time at the University, I didn’t know about intersectionality. My exposure to diverse students gave me a much more holistic view of the world. I have all of you to thank for the person I have grown into. I cannot wait to see the amazing things we’ll accomplish in the world.”
In addressing his fellow members of the Class of 2021, Michael Calabrese ’21 said that the University community made him “feel loved every day.” He encouraged graduates to continue to make a difference in the world after they leave the University.
“Each person here possesses the inner strength to create a world that is better and brighter,” said Calabrese, a sport management major. “All that we have endured through our entire lives speaks volumes to the strength each of us holds. Each of has the ability to spread knowledge and kindness and to make the world a better place.”
‘You are uniquely you’
The ceremony, which was held as a hybrid event with guests attending virtually and in person at the University’s Bucknall Theater, enabled students to celebrate and support each other as a community. Graduates were called to the stage, and Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, a public health professor and the University’s assistant provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion, presented them with lavender cords they wore on Commencement Day.
The Lavender Graduation marks the start of a new University tradition, and it will be held every year to honor graduating members of the University’s LGBTQ+ community.
“The students we celebrate this evening have accomplished so much, and their achievements are only surpassed by the limitless potential and the passion they have to make their mark on the world as agents of change and advocates for others,” said President Steven H. Kaplan, Ph.D.
In her concluding remarks, Carrie Robinson, director of the University’s Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion, urged students to celebrate everything they have overcome to reach this point in their lives. She acknowledged that their journey hasn’t been easy, but she urged them to celebrate who they are and to share that with the world.
“Now you get to make a more just and equitable world,” she said. “We see things as we make them. The gift of our queerness is that we can redefine what it means to be essential in America. Make your queerness essential to your lives. Don’t diminish your queerness. Don’t diminish yourselves. You are uniquely you.”