The Lavender Graduation celebrates those students and alumni who identify as LGBTQ+ on campus — and as part of the college’s affinity groups.

By Carol Marcy

The world was different when Marilyn Tedeschi ’68 was a student. Being in same-sex relationships was not accepted and coming out was difficult, she says.

“If you go back to 1968, we were ‘in the closet’,” says Tedeschi, who is a retired dean of students at East High School in Rochester, NY, a social activist, a member of several women’s organizations and president of The Perkins Mansion. There was no support for the LGBTQ+ community on campus then, she says.

But today, students who identify as LGBTQ+ can feel at home at Geneseo’s Lavender Graduation Celebration. In its sixth year, the annual event honors LGBTQ+ seniors and their allies for their contributions to the campus community.

The 2022 event was Tedeschi’s second Lavender Graduation. She believes supporting each other is especially important and is proud the celebration is now part of Geneseo history.

“Belonging to a group that’s got your back — it’s not just tolerance,” Tedeschi says. “It’s acceptance. It will help teach people they’re not alone.”

Department of English Chair and Associate Professor Alice Rutkowski hangs a celebratory sash on Emma Celt'22

Nicole Celt ’22 receives congratulations from Alice Rutkowski, chair of the English department and associate professor of English, during the Lavender Graduation Celebration. /Photo by Keith Walters ’11

Geneseo also offers an alumni affinity chapter for LGBTQ+ persons that now has more than 250 members — who are invited to attend the graduation. The group is one of three new identity-based chapters created by the Office of Alumni Relations, the others being for Jewish alumni and alumni of color. There are more than 65 other alumni-led affinity chapters overall — from athletic and academic groups to Greek life and class years. Each group is supported by the Office of Alumni Relations.

“Affinity groups tie people together,” says Amanda McCarthy, director of alumni relations. “They provide opportunities to reconnect with each other and students and help strengthen our community.”

LGBTQ+ affinity group member Elle Deacon ’20 participated in the Lavender Graduation as a graduating senior. As a student, Deacon was out; they led Safe Zone and ally education workshops on campus to teach others about LGBTQ+ identities, gender and sexuality and to help straight people become better allies.

“The Lavender Graduation for me was a celebration of all that camaraderie and hard work that all my peers had gone through, both academically and extracurricularly,” Deacon says. “It’s important we can celebrate those identities and how those identities impact our education and what we do.”

Charlotte Wade, assistant director of Multicultural Affairs for LGBTQ+ Life at Geneseo, coordinates the Lavender Graduation celebrations. Honoring LGBTQ+ students is meaningful, she says, as some LGBTQ+ students are disproportionately impacted by challenges.

“Their families may not accept them for being LGBTQ+,” says Wade. “Not everybody has someone to say congratulations or tell them they did a good job. It’s a time separate from commencement to recognize the things we’ve accomplished together and celebrate everyone.”