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Gallaudet Celebrates Sesquicentennial Commencement

Image: Undergraduate class.

Undergraduate class.

Image: Graduate class.

Graduate class.

Gallaudet University conferred 209 undergraduate and 198 graduate degrees at its Sesquicentennial Commencement exercises May 16, 2014, held at the university's Field House.

Chartered in 1864, Gallaudet University is the world's only liberal arts university in which all programs and services are designed for deaf and hard of hearing students.

"The Class of 2014 graduated during a very special year in university history- our 150th anniversary," said Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz. "Today we celebrated an important milestone in their lives: college graduation. The students came from all over the country and the world to receive a top-notch education from Gallaudet University and I commend the dedication each alumnus demonstrated and look forward to seeing how they will impact the world."

The Commencement speaker was Philip Bravin, '66, the first deaf chairperson of the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees. Bravin also received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa. During his speech, Bravin impressed upon the graduates that they have a duty to represent Gallaudet and share the university's story with the world. Bravin advised the Class of 2014 that all big changes begin one small action at a time.

"Today is no doubt bittersweet. You are experiencing the joy of earning a college degree, but it is tempered by the fact that your friends and classmates will soon be dispersed all over the world. Your lives will change," said Bravin. "Gallaudet has nurtured you and given you wings. Gallaudet has given you the tools to break the glass ceiling. Spread your wings, fly, and make Gallaudet proud!"

President Emeritus I. King Jordan, '70, the university's first deaf president who served from 1988 to 2006, received the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. Father Thomas Coughlin, '72, one of the first deaf priests in North America, received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa also addressed the graduating class. During his time in the Senate, and as Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Harkin was an unwavering supporter of Gallaudet. This year, Harkin will retire from office after 40 years of service in Congress.

Harkin's passion for advocating for the rights of people with disabilities was fueled by witnessing the discrimination his deaf brother faced. While serving in Congress, Harkin was an integral part in the passage of the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as ADA.

"Today's Gallaudet graduates are entering a very different workplace and world," said Harkin. "You are members of what I call the ADA Generation - young adults who grew up since passage of the ADA. Your generation sees disability as a natural part of human diversity, you reject the prejudices and stereotypes of earlier generations, you don't put up with the discrimination and patronizing that my brother experienced, and you have high expectations of yourselves. Indeed, you should have the highest expectations. You are graduating from a great university that has prepared you extremely well."

Two student speakers, Roberta Dunlap and Kara-Reneé Pepin, also addressed the graduating class. Dunlap graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in Communication Studies and a double minor in Psychology and Family and Child Studies.

"Gallaudet opens doors of opportunities for everyone to have accessible bilingual communication and an education, to achieve our dreams, to receive recognitions and awards for our hard work, and to collect memories of events we could look back on and share," said Dunlap.

Pepin graduated with a master's degree in Deaf Studies, in the language and human rights program. Pepin also received her bachelor of arts degree in Interpretation from Gallaudet. Her master's thesis was on the linguistic rights of trilingual deaf students in the United States.

"Our work does not end here, there is much work left to be done," said Pepin. "We have proven to ourselves that we have no limits. Carry that with you to your next endeavor. We have created networks, gained recognition and received support from the Gallaudet community. All of this gives us new opportunities that await us tomorrow."

Also at Commencement, Rachel Hartig, Robert E. Johnson, Carol LaSasso, Scott Liddell, Ellen Loughran, Ceil Lucas, and Donald Peterson received professor emeriti status.

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.                 

Contact:
Kaitlin Luna, Coordinator of Media and Public Relations
(202) 448-7106 voice
(202) 250-2973 VP
(585) 507-1705 mobile/text
kaitlin.luna@gallaudet.edu

The number of degrees conferred is approximate and has not yet been confirmed by the university's Office of the Registrar.

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