Skip to content

Gallaudet mourns passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy; reflects on his support of disability issues and friendship with the University

August 28, 2009
By Todd Byrd and Rhea Yablon Kennedy
Arrow Buff


Hearts are heavy and flags are flying at half staff at Gallaudet following the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on August 25 at the age of 77. A great advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, Senator Kennedy shared advice and encouragement in a 1964 Commencement address at Gallaudet during its centennial year. Later, he became one of the authors of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 “Senator Kennedy was a great champion of people with disabilities, a strong supporter of education, and a good friend of Gallaudet University,” said President Robert Davila. “He was an irreplaceable force in the Senate and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

Kennedy’s address to Gallaudet graduates 45 years ago came at a time when civil rights was in its infancy, but already he showed the support of equality that would become a hallmark of his career. “When this college was founded, on Kendall Green, 100 years ago,” Kennedy said that day, “our nation was emerging from a war fought to determine whether we would be half slave or half free. That issue was decided in favor of freedom…. The establishment of Gallaudet College in 1864 showed the humanitarism of the United States even in time of trouble. The progress of Gallaudet today is proof to the world that we still feel for our fellow-man.”

He showed great insight in the speech, as well, suggesting that not only must Americans feel compassion for one another; they must recognize the equal merit of all, or deny it at their peril. He expressed his belief that “people who discriminate-whether it is against another race or another nation or against people with physical defects-have a great handicap of their own. Theirs is a handicap of mind and spirit…”

Gallaudet graduates had already made impressive contributions in professional fields,  Kennedy noted, “building dams and bridges; working on atomic projects; searching into the mysteries of cancer,” and he encouraged the new alumni to continue that proud tradition. And, like commencement speakers to this day, Kennedy urged the graduates “to make a difference” in their careers, in their families, and in the community.

Read the full Commencement address by the late senator (PDF).


28 August 2009
By Todd Byrd and Rhea Yablon Kennedy


Recent Posts

Roberto E. Wirth, E-’74 & H-’09, passed away on June 5 in Rome, Italy. Mr. Wirth was owner and managing director of the Hotel Hassler in Rome, one of the most prestigious family-owned hotels in the world, and owned several other hotels and resorts throughout Italy. He was a strong advocate for deaf people in...

Alumnus Timel Benton has signed a contract with the Bay Area Panthers of the Indoor Football League (IFL). Benton, who graduated last month, is the first Gallaudet Bison to sign a professional football contract since Tony Tatum signed on with the Utah Blaze in the now-disbanded Arena Football League (AFL) in May 2013. Benton was...

James Caverly, ’11, who plays Theo Dimas in Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, will play Professor Harold Hill in the Olney Theatre Center’s summer production of Meredith Willson’s Tony-winning musical The Music Man, which opens tonight and runs through July 23. The show’s official opening is on Thursday, June 23. Sandra Mae Frank, ’13,...

About the Author

Todd Byrd and Rhea Yablon Kennedy

Recent Posts
Deaf hotelier Roberto Wirth passes away
Alumnus Timel Benton to play professional football
Alumni, faculty featured in The Music Man at Olney Theatre Center
Related Categories
Media Inquiries

For any other media inquiry, please contact:

No media contact found!

Stay up to date on all the Gallaudet happenings, both stories and initiatives we are doing with our Signing community!​

Admissions Requirements

Hearing Undergraduate