When Richard Blanco agreed to speak at Lavender ceremony, the alumnus, presidential inaugural poet and associate professor at FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education had no idea he’d be giving his first virtual keynote from home.
The staff at LGBTQA Initiatives had spent months preparing for the Lavender ceremony, an annual event that honors graduating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally students at FIU and acknowledges their achievements and contributions.
Then as a result of COVID-19, all campus events were cancelled. Without skipping a beat, the LGBTQA Initiatives team set out to find an alternative way to celebrate the spring class of 2020.
Staff put together festive packages complete with a tassel and a Lavender medallion—and mailed them to each of the honored 21 graduate and undergraduate students. Students were instructed to open the packages together during a virtual ceremony.
“Lavender [ceremony] is to me the most important event that we could have especially in our current crisis,” said Erica Friedman, associate director. “We need(ed) to take time and effort to celebrate our graduating seniors and to mark our communities’ continued strength and resilience against all odds.”
No stranger to overcoming obstacles, Blanco was quick to pivot. Instead of a traditional speech, he shared an intimate chat with the 60-plus students and guests who joined the virtual festivities.
"... reach out and make a better world not somewhere over the rainbow, but right in the rainbow.”
Blanco recited two powerful poems which described his grandmother’s unwillingness to accept his sexuality. He recalled the coping mechanisms he developed and how that life experience contributed to him flourishing as a gay writer and member of the LGBTQA community.
“While our lives aren’t easy and are filled with many struggles and adversity, that’s exactly what makes us stronger,” said Blanco. “Those kinds of things make us more aware, more capable, more forgiving, more healing, more compassionate human beings, capable of ultimately truly loving ourselves and others—capable of holding our heads up high with our hard-earned degrees— and your virtual hats ready to reach out and make a better world not somewhere over the rainbow, but right in the rainbow.”
Check out the 2020 spring Lavender ceremony in its entirety.