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Honoring 150 Years of Gallaudet’s History

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In the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a federal charter on April 8, 1864, that established the first college for deaf students in the world. One hundred and fifty years later, on April 8, 2014, the students of Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) joined members of the Gallaudet community in celebrating the sesquicentennial of Charter Day.

Eighth grader Zhencheng Chen addressed the gathering in front of Chapel Hall at the grand opening of the Gallaudet Museum. Chen shared how he enjoyed visiting the Smithsonian museums with his KDES classmates but explained that now he has a new favorite museum-at Gallaudet-because it is a museum of his history, his community. KDES students were given a private tour of the new museum.

Zhencheng Chen at Chapel Hall

View Chen's remarks on webcast from 24:00-25:05

KDES middle school students were also invited to submit signed or written essays on how a particular event in Gallaudet's history has inspired or impacted them. On Charter Day, the student winners were recognized on stage during the opening ceremonies.

The winners were:

  • 1st: Diana Mendez-Leon, "Deaf President Now"
  • 2nd: Jennida Willoughby, "Gallaudet Alumna Agatha Tiegel Hanson"
  • 3rd: Trevor Bottiglieri, "My Favorite Part of Gallaudet's History"

View Opening Ceremony webcast starting at 1:01:36

In her first place essay, Mendez-Leon said she chose Deaf President Now (DPN) because she believes that if DPN had never happened, she would not believe she could be successful in the future. "I am grateful to the deaf people who protested at DPN ... Deaf students felt injustice and unfairness when they found the Board of Trustees appointed a hearing president over a deaf president."

Second place winner Willoughy did a video essay on Agatha Tiegel Hanson, Gallaudet Class of 1893, who was the first woman to graduate with a four-year degree. In her video, Willoughby thanked Hanson for "creating a place for female students at Gallaudet." She was inspired by Hanson and envisioned how at graduation "in a long line of males, she was the only female, and yet she was the valedictorian."

View Willoughby's video essay

Third place winner Bottiglieri focused his essay on the importance of the college's founding. "This school was the first deaf college in America, and that is very cool. What if there were no deaf school or college where deaf students go to participate or learn?" he asked. He gave thanks for his school to Amos Kendall, Edward Miner Gallaudet, and Abraham Lincoln.

Prior to recognizing the student winners at the opening ceremonies, Clerc Center vice president Ed Bosso remarked, "Kendall School was truly the birthplace of Gallaudet University. Now we can celebrate 150 years of Gallaudet University and see how the Clerc Center is reaching out to the world." In a letter to the Clerc Center community, he summed up the experience of Charter Day: "There is no greater way to embrace our future than to celebrate our history."