Honoring achievements of LGBTQ+ Mavericks

From left, Emma Warneke, Justin Sandoval, Joshua Mackrill, Jessica Sanchez, Rodelynn Yamba-Garcia and Liam Rhodes.

The University of Texas at Arlington celebrated the achievements of LGBTQ+ students and their allies as they embark on life after graduation.

UTA’s largest Lavender Graduation honored spring 2022 graduates as part of a series of specialized commencement celebrations.

Justin Sandoval is graduating with his bachelor’s degree in social work and is pursuing his master’s at UTA starting this fall. He hopes to one day open his own private practice focused on mental health. He said he enjoyed being able to celebrate his accomplishments, especially in a smaller, more intimate ceremony.

“I think being able to focus on the LGBTQ+ community meant a lot,” Sandoval said.

After receiving lavender stoles to be worn at commencement, honorees heard from several speakers, including Jessica Sanchez, director of student advocacy services, and Milaun Murry, experiential learning librarian and one of UTA’s first Pride Peers. They encouraged the honorees to “take up space,” be more visible to others and be who they are openly, no matter where life after graduation may take them. That message stuck out to Sandoval.

“I was inspired to not be afraid to be at the forefront, whether that is part of a movement, at a company or maybe just within a position at work,” Sandoval said.

UTA is one of more than 200 institutions around the country to hold a Lavender Graduation. The tradition began in 1995 at the University of Michigan as an annual ceremony to acknowledge the university achievements and contributions of LGBTQ+ students and their allies.

Josh Mackrill, UTA’s first LGBTQ+ Program coordinator, acknowledged the obstacles that some members of the LGBTQ+ community have to overcome to reach graduation, including mental health issues, lack of acceptance by family members or friends or being deadnamed, the term referring to calling a person the name they are no longer using as part of a gender transition. Mackrill sees the Lavender Graduation as a recognition of perseverance in the face of these struggles.

“It’s important to showcase that UTA has all sorts of students coming here and graduating,” Mackrill said. “When I think about the significance of Lavender Graduation, it’s not only to show overcoming obstacles, but it’s helping students express a message: ‘I have a similar identity. If I can do it, you can, too.'”

The Lavender Graduation was hosted by the UTA Division of Student Affairs and LGBTQ+ Program.

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