Lavender Ceremony

20162015201420132012201120102009 - InauguralPoem


Date: May 12, 2016
Keynote Speaker: TBD
Artist: TBD


Name & Major Presenter



Date: May 14, 2015
Keynote Speaker: Cordel Faulk
Artist: Travis Whaley, Pianist


Name & Major Presenter
 Ashish Agrawal
M.S. , Electrical Engineering
Jordan Wetzig
Em Basso 
B.S., Industrial & Systems Engineering
 Kyle Gentle
 Isaac Magana
M.S., Information Technology
 Lani Roberts
 Christian Matheis
 Brian Britt
 Ashley Meyer
B.S., English
 Megan Nguyen
 Amanda SavadB
B.S., Food Science and Technology
 The Knee Deepers
 Jordan Wetzig
B.S., Biological Systems Engineering
 Ashish Agrawal
 Katie White
B.A., History & Classics
 Meaghan Curtis


Date: May 15, 2014
Keynote Speaker: Bruce C. Carver
Artist: Richard Masters


Name & Major Presenter
Karen Ascetta
Biological Sciences
Lavanaya Chakarapani
David Cabrera
Computer Science
Ojaswi Adhikari
Dane Folsom
Human Nutrition, Foods,
and Exercise
Austin Folsom
Zachary Fry
Michelle Currier
David Hernandez
Computer Science & Applied
Discreet Mathematics
John Gray Williams
Ayanda Masilela
John Gray Williams
Matthew Pagnotti
Sociology & Psychology
Kevin Aviles
Caroline Sapyta
Environmental Resource
Catherine Cotrupi
Ethan Poole
Michael Stephens
Public and International
Ayanda Masilela
Veterinary Medicine
Michael Sutphin


Date: May 16, 2013
Keynote Speaker: Dolly Davis
Artist: Highland Jazz Group


Name & Major Presenter
Victoria Bowling
Catherine Cotrupi
Zachary Cabot
Computer Engineering
Rickey Hill
Brandon Holland
Haley Krem
Sean Huynh
Mathematics & Chemistry
Jonathan Waldron
Brittany Maffett
Educational Leadership
and Policy Studies
Tricia Smith
Ken O’Donnell Mike Meyer
Alli Page Garrett Compton
Alexander Sanyer
Chris Dusold


Date: May 10, 2012
Keynote Speaker: Debbie Meade
Artist: Dwight Bigler


Name & Major Presenter
Kimberly Anderson
Industrial Design
Peregine Chock
Scott Burton
Michele Davis
Garrett Compton
Animal and Poultry Sciences
Collette Dougherty
Chelisa Elmore
Classical Studies & Spanish
Audra Vasiliauskas
Zoey Greer
Computer Science & Philosophy
Joseph C. Pitt
Olivia Kasik
English & Psychology
Caroline Sapyta
Mic Le
Julia Collett
Sean Lewis
Public and International Affairs
Matt Bozzonetti
David McGrath
Computer Science
Susan Ledford
Ian Michalski
Public and International Affairs
Alexandra Sommers
Patricia Middleton
Ocean Engineering
Bret Gresham
David Merryman
Computer Science
Tommy Phannareth
Horticulture & Biochemistry & Philosophy
Austin Fergusson
Jarret Rhyner
Psychology & Sociology
Heather Marie Tiffany
Traci Woody
Ruth Mikre

4th Annual Lavender Commencement Ceremony

The LGBT Caucus sponsored the 4th Annual Lavender Commencement Ceremony on May 10, 2012, in the Old Dominion Ballroom at Squires Student Center. The ceremony recognized 15 lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual students and their allies from all majors, both graduate and undergraduates.

“The Lavender Commencement Ceremony is a celebration of the academic achievements of LGBT students here at Virginia Tech,” said Dayna Murphree, co-chair of the caucus and adjunct professor in the Departments of History and of Religion and Culture. “But I also like to think of it as a big goodbye hug from the faculty and staff for these students who are leaving our community here at Virginia Tech and moving on to other pursuits.”

The caucus bestowed two honors: a $500 scholarship to Alexander Sanyer, a creative writing major with minors in math and computer science, for his leadership and service contributions to the LGBT community. The Ally of the Year award was presented to Katie Barrow, a Ph.D. candidate in human development.

The keynote speaker was the president and publisher of the Roanoke Times, Debra C. Meade, a Virginia Tech alumna. Meade is responsible for all the operations of western Virginia’s leading daily newspaper and, the area’s most-viewed website, along with a growing suite of digital and targeted products and services for audiences across media platforms.

Under her leadership, the Times has won numerous awards for public service and journalistic excellence and sustained its position as one of the nation’s best-read newspapers in its home market. All the while, according to Meade, aggressively building audience and revenues online, enabling it to inform and entertain readers “where they want us, when they want us, on smart phones and tablets as well as on a computer screen or newsprint.”

A Norfolk native, Meade earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech. A visible leader in the community, Meade serves on the boards and executive committees of United Way of Roanoke Valley, the Taubman Museum of Art, and the Roanoke Higher Education Center. She is a member of the Smart Beginnings Greater Roanoke steering committee and Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Business Council.

Dwight Bigler, an assistant professor in the Department of Music, contributed his special talents to the event with a special performance from the piano.



Date: May 12, 2011
Keynote Speakers: Eugene Lawson & Scott Sterl
Artist: Kat Mills


Name & Major Presenter
Lindsey Aitcheson
AK Kanode
Heather Albrecht
Poultry Sciences
Rebecca Peltonen
Allison Athey
Chemical Engineering
& Chemistry
Matt Borsinger
Matt Borsinger
Chemical Engineering
Allison Athey
Sara Brickman
Biology & Psychology
Tami Grossman
Catherine Cotrupi
Michael Sutphin
Erin Davis
Theatre Arts
Scott Burton
Tami Grossman
Sara Brickman
Cathryn Kichinko
Wildlife Science
John Gray Williams
Ben Avery Loftis
Psychology & Philosophy
Michael Sutphin
Sean Naleid
Ruth Mikre

3rd Annual Lavender Commencement Ceremony

The LGBT Caucus at Virginia Tech sponsored the Third Annual Lavender Commencement Ceremony on May 12, 2011, at 11:00 a.m. in the Old Dominion Ballroom of Squires Student Center. The ceremony recognized 11 lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual students and their allies from all majors, both graduate and undergraduates, who earned their degrees this spring.
The keynote speakers for this celebratory event were Virginia Tech alumni Eugene Lawson (’69) and Scott Sterl (’74).

Meet the 2011 Lavender Commencement Speakers
by Kelly Shannon

Eugene M. Lawson Jr., Class of ’69, and Scott W. Sterl, Class of ’74, met at Virginia Tech in 1972 when Sterl was a student in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. Sterl knew at an early age that he wanted to be an architect. He chose to attend Virginia Tech because, at that time, Tech was one of a few schools to offer a professional undergraduate degree in architecture.

Lawson came to Tech in 1965 to major in math and physics, then transferred to electrical engineering. By 1972, Lawson was out of school and in business doing remodeling and light construction when a friend, Olivio Ferrari (one of the visionaries in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies), referred Sterl to him for summer employment. Shortly thereafter, Lawson decided to go back to school, enrolling in architecture at Ferrari’s suggestion. As it happened, another of Lawson’s friends, Robert Heterick (a major player in the world of computers at Tech), was going to build a new home and asked Lawson and Sterl to submit designs.
The Hetericks loved Sterl’s design, and he and Lawson built the residence over the summer, which attracted attention to Sterl’s talents as an architect. This led to Lawson and Sterl building many more homes in Blacksburg, developing the Mount Tabor Village and Forest Hills subdivisions. In 1979, when growth slowed at Virginia Tech and in Blacksburg, Lawson and Sterl moved to Northern Virginia.

Today, Lawson is an attorney and principal of The Lawson Firm LLC, practicing in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and D.C., focusing on business law, estate planning, and civil litigation. Sterl is an architect and principal of Scott W. Sterl, AIA, PLLC, also practicing in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and D.C. Sterl’s firm focuses on residential design, remodeling, additions, and historic preservation. He recently designed a residence in Hyattsville, Md., that was featured on the ABC television show Extreme Makeover Home Edition. Lawson and Sterl have homes and offices in McLean, Va., and Rehoboth Beach, Del., and this June will mark their 38th anniversary together.

As a student, Lawson was active in extracurricular activities that included the YMCA, the varsity glee club (as its technical director), the university choir, and the drama club. Sterl said that he was not able to participate in many extracurricular activities since the architecture program was “so encompassing that he hardly had time to eat or sleep,” although he does recall attending his first-ever classical concert – a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth given by the Melbourne Symphony in Cassell Coliseum. As students and later as residents of Blacksburg, both were active in the gay community. They participated in panel discussions about gay couples and opened their home for holiday parties and other events at which gay students, faculty, and others in the community could meet and socialize.

Both Lawson and Sterl consider themselves “major Hokies,” with Lawson adding, “I could go on without end about the effect Virginia Tech had on my life beyond being a rabid fan of college sports, bowls, and such.” They both credit Virginia Tech with preparing them for their careers and for life. “Since I am an attorney,” Lawson said, “it would seem that my profession would have no connection with Tech. However, I have had an eclectic career ranging from real estate development and construction to retail to hospitality business owner (restaurants, bars, bed and breakfast) to corporate executive. In every facet of my life, I can say that my experiences at Virginia Tech provided me the knowledge and skills I needed to succeed.”

Sterl enjoyed his years as a student, although “the path was sometimes long and arduous.” He said, “ I absolutely attribute my ability to generate several alternative solutions to a design problem to the training I received under Olivio Ferrari, Tom Regan, and Gene Egger” (current/former faculty in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies).

When asked what advice they would offer to students considering entering their particular fields, both Sterl and Lawson said they should “gain whatever supplementary experience you can in your chosen field.” Sterl added, “I believe that my having worked for an architect as a draftsman during my junior and senior years in high school benefitted my college career immensely.”

Even after they relocated from Blacksburg to Northern Virginia, Lawson and Sterl took the university’s motto of Ut Prosim seriously by being active in organizations that are “very near to our hearts.” They are patrons of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Va., (Lawson’s hometown) and Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., which “has been a cutting edge organization supporting new talent and respecting established icons of the theatre.”

Their most significant service has been with The Kennedy Center, where they sit on the Circles Board, and the Washington Committee for the Arts. Their work supports the educational outreach of the center, which brings the arts into schools and communities throughout the country. They believe that “through the arts, civility and community can be brought to all, whether rich, poor, educated, or not.” They find great solace in their appreciation of the arts and are excited about assisting Virginia Tech with the new Center for the Arts in any way they can and encouraging other Hokies to help.

Lawson and Sterl feel that Virginia Tech prepared them for their careers and life “through academic and extracurricular programs that provided a foundation for our future. But far more importantly, we believe that the personal interactions and the experiences at the university and in the town molded us into Hokies, which makes us part of a very special family through which we draw strength and support no matter where we are in the world.”


Eugene & Scott

The music for the 2011 ceremony was provided by Kat Mills, a radiant, class-act songwriter who showcases the raw energy of a single voice and acoustic guitar.  Based in Blacksburg, Kat entertained the Lavender crowd with voice and guitar accompaniment.



Date: May 13, 2010
Keynote Speaker: Tom Brobson
Artists: Carol Burch-Brown & Ann Kilkelly


Name & Major Presenter
Kaitlin Bookbinder
Sean Naleid
Thomas Beckwith
Kenneth Belcher
Cheryl Cordingley
Theatre Arts
Matt Stoll
Christopher Cox
& Humanities, Sciences,
and Environment
Shelli Fowler
Aimee Kanode
Humanities, Sciences,
and Environment
Jess Martin

2nd Annual Lavender Commencement Ceremony

The LGBT Caucus at Virginia Tech sponsored the Second Annual Lavender Commencement Ceremony May 13, 2010 at 11:00 a.m. in the Old Dominion Ballroom of Squires Student Center. The ceremony recognized lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual students and their allies from all majors, both graduate and undergraduates, who earned their degrees this spring.

The keynote speaker for this event was Virginia Tech alumnus Tom Brobson, a 1982 graduate of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. Brobson, a former member of the LGBT Caucus, served as VT’s Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations from 2000-2005 and currently oversees major donor relations for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Virginia Tech’s own talented duo of Carol Burch-Brown and Ann Kilkelly provided the live arts segment of the celebration. These two collectively cover many of the bases when it comes to the arts. A professor in the School of Visual Arts, Carol’s artistic practice includes videography, drawing, book-arts, photography and performance-based work with visual and music dimensions. Ann, a professor in the School of Performing Arts and Cinema, is a tap dancer who has researched its historical roots. She is a creative leader in community arts and is well-versed in dramatic literature and women’s studies as well as dance, movement arts and music. They have both been very active in TWISTS – which is an acronym for Theatre Workshop in Science and Technology Studies. These colleagues have a penchant for bringing just the right touch to the right space to the right people when needed… and today, that actually means a love song.

Scholarships were awarded to Sara Brickman and Tami Grossman while the Ally of the Year award went to Anita Nankam.

About Sara:
A rising senior, Sara excels academically in a demanding double major of biological science and psychology. A strong advocate for human rights, Sara’s goal is to create a welcoming environment for every student. She has attended the state of Virginia’s Generation Equality Conference and the National Equality March in 2009. She has served as the Gay Awareness Week chair – planning and carrying out an ambitious agenda. It is Sara’s approach to life that I find most interesting…let’s call it education through conversation. She often talks to people who have views that “I don’t necessarily agree with” but “The way I plan to change the tide towards acceptance for the LGBT community: is one person at a time.” She edits a weekly satirical newspaper called Hillpress; participated in Relay for Life and helped with a local daycare; and will serve as the 2010-11 president of the LGBTA, Ms. Sara Brickman.

Thanks, in large part to politics – we all had many opportunities to bond this past year. During Club Red Ribbon, students actually forfeited some of their dance time to sign over 100 postcards that encouraged our then governor and governor-elect to add one qualified adult to state health care plans. With the change in administration, we found new reasons to join forces. Sexual orientation was threatened to be removed from out discrimination policies, so we met with various administrative leaders to voice our concerns. In a very positive response, outgoing LGBTA president Aimee Kanode organized a rally on a beautiful day in the graduate plaza to make our campus aware of the fifth anniversary of our Principles of Community. Weeks later, we filled the multipurpose room in an engaging forum on sexuality in Virginia. Shortly after that, let’s invoke Harry Potter here….He who must not be named….Invaded our community. This time, we united in the name of Hokie Pride as Jeff Chung and other SGA leaders spearheaded a counter-rally of a certain Kansas group. Now, as a result of Mr. Chung’s efforts (Jeff, would you please come forward)…we are proud to announce that this year, there is a second scholarship.

It is rather awkward to thank Voldemort, in the form of Fred’s follies … so instead the Lavender crowd gave Jeff a round of applause for a fund drive that benefitted Hillel, and provided $390 to the LGBTA. The Caucus has added another $110 to make a second $500 award.

And there is another worthy candidate.

Rising senior Tami Grossman has done a great deal of organizing in her own right…including the region’s protest against Proposition 8 in 2008. She has participated in National Coming Out Day rallies in DC and twice now exchanged vows on the drillfield in the LGBTA’s Freedom to Marry Day. She regularly writes and calls senators and representatives about LGBTA issues, such as the Matthew Shepard Act, ENDA, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She has served in various leadership roles in the LGBTA and has been applauded by various people for her active involvement in United Campus Ministries. She donates blood and loves to walk and play with the animals at the local Humane Shelter. She is enthusiastic and passionate…and hopes to use her sociology training to run a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth.

2009 - Inaugural


Date: May 14, 2009
Keynote Speaker: Edd Sewell
Artist: JoAnn Harvill


Name & Major Presenter
Brandon Beall
Brittany Morrison
Kaitlin Bookbinder
Mathematics Education
John Gray Williams
Zach Frye
Chemical Engineering
& Biochemistry
Russell Shrader
Katelynn L. Johnson
Psychology & Sociology
Ross C. Edmonds
Sarah Saville
Interdisciplinary Studies
& Biological Sciences
Alison Wood
Eric Tobin
Wildlife Science & Biology
Carolyn Kidd

First Lavender Commencement Ceremony at Virginia Tech Honors LGBT Graduates

The LGBT Caucus at Virginia Tech and the LGBTA student organization collaborated to sponsor a special graduation ceremony to celebrate achievement at Virginia Tech. A first in the history of the university, the Lavender Commencement Ceremony was held on May 14, 2009 and recognized lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual students and their allies from all majors, both graduate and undergraduates, who earned their degrees this spring. The celebration was held in the Old Dominion Ballroom in Squires.

“We hope that this ceremony becomes a tradition at Virginia Tech, and that it becomes one more way in which to show appreciation for diversity at our university, and more specifically, for our LGBT community and our allies,” said Ken Belcher, co-chair of the caucus.

Six students were awarded a unique rainbow cord that can be worn with academic regalia. The first LGBT scholarship was also presented by the LGBT Caucus. The recipient was Emily Mauger. The caucus’ inaugural Ally of the Year Award went to Kevin Ayoub.

Edd Sewell, associate professor emeritus in the Department of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, served as keynote speaker for the event. A member of the Virginia Tech community since 1972, Sewell was a founding member of the communication studies program and the Department of Communication. He led curriculum development in the areas of visual media, new communication technologies, and international communication, and initiated and developed the study abroad program for the department.

In addition, JoAnn Harvill, a faculty member in the Department of English, read a poem to conclude the celebration.

“The Lavender Ceremony allows us to share hopes and dreams, applaud courage, and honor the successes of our LGBT students at a university-supported event,” said Jean Elliott, co-chair of the caucus. “We hope that this festivity will help students to feel connected to the university and celebrate their identity. I am also delighted that we are able to sponsor our first $500 scholarship.”

Notes on the History of Lavender Graduation Ceremonies

The University of Michigan was the first university to organize a Lavender Graduation in 1995, an event specifically for LGBT and ally students. Since then many colleges and universities have followed Michigan’s lead. This is the first Lavender Graduation at Virginia Tech.
Lavender Graduation is a cultural celebration that recognizes LGBT students of all races and ethnicities and acknowledges their achievements and contributions to the university as students who survived the college experience. Through such recognition, LGBT students may leave the university with a positive last experience of the institution thereby encouraging them to become involved mentors for current students as well as contributing alumni.

Why Lavender? Lavender is important to LGBT history. It is a combination of the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps and the black triangle designating lesbians as political prisoners in Nazi Germany. The LGBT civil rights movement took these symbols of hatred and combined them to create symbols and a color of pride and community.

At Virginia Tech, graduates are asked to have a mentor speak on their behalf. Their messages proved to be insightful, powerful, and humorous. A true celebration of the human spirit.



Date: May 14, 2009
Artist: JoAnn Harvill

Lavender Reflected

Poem by JoAnn Harvill, written expressly for Virginia Tech’s inaugural Lavender Commencement Ceremony:

Lavender Reflected
To the Lavender Graduates, 14 May 2009

Lavender grew wild in the crags of Lesbos
as Sappho plucked her lyre.
Nine scrolls of the Tenth Muse
graced the library at Alexandria
before they vanished,
ravaged by time and monastic fingers.
Only fragments remain.
And how strangely they were salvaged,
centuries later, on discarded potsherds,
on papyrus strips that wrapped mummies
and stuffed the bellies of sacred effigies.
Gladly the ancients recycled.

Romans, too, knew lavender,
Lavare, to wash.
Inside the baths, heaps of fragrant stalks
awaited guests.
Vergil kept his bees near lavender banks,
only the finest honey for his table,
especially when Augustus came to dine.
And in the alabaster jar that incensed Judas,
lavender, no doubt, infused that unguent
the week that Jesus died.

Even in the next age,
not always dark,
lavender challenged Mediaeval artisans,
stained glass, a perilous combination:
blue for wisdom; red for love;
and white, innocent white,
enough to temper the blend
lest worldly purple stain the sacrifice
of Christian martyrs boiled in oil
or ripped by the jaws of beasts.

And here we stand today,
amidst clematis and lilac,
iris and rainbow—
lavender our color,
around and within us.
the fine scent of justice.
to the radiance of hope.
by the courage of living.
Commence, commence!