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Finding Its Place in Gallaudet’s 150-Year 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 the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) joined members of the Gallaudet community in celebrating the sesquicentennial of Charter Day.

On the afternoon of Charter Day, MSSD students were given a private tour of the new Gallaudet Museum in Chapel Hall with its exhibit "Gallaudet at 150 and Beyond." They witnessed a broad perspective on the history of education on Kendall Green.

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: Matt Thompson, "The Iron Five Basketball Team"
  • 2nd: Mikail Baptiste, "The Founding of MSSD"
  • 3rd: Justin Rutledge, "The Iron Five Basketball Team"

MSSD Essay Contest Winners Matt Thompson, Mikail Baptiste, and Jason Rutledge stand with Ed Bosso, Clerc Center Vice President and Dr. Julie Mitchner from Gallaudet

Essay contest winners stand on stage with Ed Bosso, Clerc Center Vice President and Dr. Julie Michner from Gallaudet.

View Opening Ceremony webcast from 1:10:52 - 1:05:38

In his first place essay, Thompson compared his experience with the MSSD team that won the 2014 Gallaudet National Academic Bowl with the experience of Gallaudet's 1943 men's basketball team, which stunned everyone when they played with only five players throughout a tournament in which they were seeded last and went on to win the championship. Thompson shared how the MSSD Academic Bowl team came from behind against all odds to take the regional championship. "We may not be cast of iron like the Five, but we were made of something just as resilient," he said.

Second place winner Baptiste wrote about why the founding of MSSD was important to him. "Being impacted by a college placing a school on its land may not sound like such a great thing to most people, but it is to me ... finding a new family, forming bonds, and experiencing love is one of the greatest things you have in life, and that is why Gallaudet University will very well continue to grow past 150 years and help the future of deaf generations to come," he said.

Third place winner Rutledge wrote about how learning how the Iron Five basketball team overcame obstacles to win the championship changed his view of athletics. "Before, I would join sports in order to stay in shape ... but I never learned how to love sports until I realized being on a team is a privilege .... The Iron Five from Gallaudet came in humble and played their hearts out and won, and I shall do the same," he explained.

Prior to recognizing the student winners at the opening ceremonies, Clerc Center vice president Ed Bosso remarked, "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."