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Office of Provost announces student speakers for 2018 Commencement

April 25, 2018

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Every year, Gallaudet University selects two graduating students to share personal messages about their lives and their impressions of what Gallaudet has meant to them in front of families, friends, and fellow students gathered at Commencement. It is my honor and pleasure to announce the student speakers for the 148th annual Commencement Exercises, which will be held on Friday, May 11, 2018, beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the Gallaudet University Field House. Eunice Avigail “Yuni” Vazquez is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, in Spanish. She will speak on behalf of the undergraduate Class of 2018. Dr. Naomi Sheneman, who is graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Interpretation, will speak on behalf of the graduate student class.

Eunice Avigail “Yuni” Vazquez, undergraduate student speaker

Eunice Vasquez

Eunice Avigail “Yuni” Vazquez was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado. Her parents moved to the United States from northern Mexico as teenagers. After graduating from high school, her father became a food service employee of the University of Colorado. One day, a year before Yuni was born, her parents were walking on the University of Colorado campus, and came across a group of deaf people who were conversing in American Sign Language. Yuni’s mother said to her husband that she wanted to learn ASL. This desire was shelved for a time, but an opportunity came two years later when Yuni, then eight months old, was diagnosed with a hearing loss. One of Yuni’s two younger sisters is also deaf. As a result, Yuni’s entire family and extended family embraced ASL. The family is trilingual, with American Sign Language, English, and Spanish as the primary languages in their home.


Yuni attended public schools her entire life, except for a three-month sojourn to Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. She was a good student, and graduated from Jefferson High School in Edgewater, Colorado, but felt an obligation to stay close to home and help take care of her younger sisters. When she was a teenager, her parents separated. Subsequently, her father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At her father’s funeral, Yuni said to herself, “Life is too short. What have I achieved in my time on Earth? I graduated from high school, and I will be stuck with a dead-end job. This is not what I want. That’s it! I am going to Gallaudet.”

Yuni came to Gallaudet in the fall of 2013. She remembers that the first person she met was Kristy Ramos, then a student and now an Admissions Counselor in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. At the time, Kristy was president of the Latinx Student Union and an employee of the Office of Campus Activities. Yuni looked up to Kristy as a role model, and resolved to obtain the same positions. Indeed she did, serving as president of the renamed Latinx Student Union during the 2016-2017 academic year, and as volunteer coordinator for ColorFEST the same year. This past year, she worked in Campus Activities as a student organization assistant. She has received several awards and recognitions, and was inducted into the Phi Kappa Zeta Sorority this spring.

Yuni will be the first member of her family to receive a bachelor’s degree. After graduation, Yuni plans to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, and hopes to work with Latinx youth in nonprofit settings.

Says Yuni, “Being a member of the Gallaudet University community has given me opportunities to discover my intersectional identity as a Latinx Deaf female. This is turn has made me a strong advocate of the rights for the Latinx Deaf and women’s communities. My journey shows us that nothing is impossible with a positive attitude. Life is a roller coaster–just enjoy the ride!”

Dr. Naomi Sheneman, graduate student speakerNaomi Sheneman

Earlier this month, Dr. Naomi Sheneman, currently based in Rochester, New York, became the first deaf woman to complete a Ph.D. degree in Interpretation and Translation at Gallaudet. She has worked in the interpreting profession since 2000 in various roles as interpreter, educator, mentor, supervisor, diagnostician, and consultant. She completed her undergraduate studies at Gallaudet in 1998 in Psychology with a minor in Communication Arts, and earned a Master of Science degree in Educational Administration from the University of Rochester and a Master of Arts degree in Bilingual Education from the University of California, San Diego.

In January 2015, when she was close to finalizing her dissertation proposal, Dr. Sheneman was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. After taking off one and one-half years to focus on treatment and recovery, she decided she wanted to focus her dissertation research on cancer and interpreting. She began the dissertation process anew and created a new proposal, titled “Does Extralinguistic Knowledge Really Matter? An Examination of the Impact of Deaf Interpreters’ Personal and Professional Experience on Cancer-Related Translated Texts.” She passed her proposal defense on May 8, 2017 and defended her dissertation on April 10, 2018.

Dr. Sheneman is currently a freelance interpreter/translator, trainer, and consultant, and she looks forward to new challenges. Prior to beginning her doctoral program, she co-developed Interpreting Diagnostic Assessment Rubrics (ASL-English/English-ASL), which appears in The Mentor’s Companion (Gordon & Magler, 2007). She also co-authored with Pamela C. Collins, a faculty member in the Department of Interpretation and Translation, a study of hearing and deaf interpreters’ work in an international conference involving several signed languages. Dr. Sheneman published a study of deaf interpreters’ ethics. During her doctoral studies, she gave 29 talks in local, national and international contexts.

Armed with her new doctoral degree, Dr. Sheneman plans to conduct research on multiple and intersectional deaf epistemologies. She says, “For so long, deaf voices have been excluded from the interpreting profession. It is time to improve engagement with the deaf community through research.”

The student speakers were chosen by a committee of faculty and students, co-chaired by Professor Felicia Williams of the Department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies and Dr. Kathleen Wood of the General Studies Program. Other committee members were Dr. Patrick Boudreault, Department of Interpretation and Translation; Jehanne McCullough, representing the Student Body Government; and Nichelle Steffen, representing the Graduate Student Association. I thank the student speaker selection committee members for their hard work, and for recommending such outstanding speakers.

Written by Carol J. Erting, Provost.

25 April 2018

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