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President Roberta J. Cordano officially installed on September 30, 2016

October 7, 2016
By Phil Dignan

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The highly anticipated installation of President Roberta J. Cordano took place in front of a huge, enthusiastic crowd at the Field House on the afternoon of September 30, 2016, highlighted with the investiture of Cordano by Duane Haliburton, ’85, acting chair, and Claire Bugen, acting vice chair, of the Board of Trustees, and Gallaudet’s first three deaf presidents, Drs. I. King Jordan, ’70 & H-’14, Robert Davila, ’53 & H-’96, and T. Alan Hurwitz.

Batalá Washington, an all-women Afro-Brazilian percussion band, led a rousing processional, followed by Haliburton’s welcome on behalf of the Board. 

“The installation … is a bridging of the past and the future; we are celebrating both what Gallaudet is and what it will become,” said Haliburton. “Under the leadership of President Roberta “Bobbi” Cordano, we are eager to strengthen this University and to enhance deaf lives throughout the world. We hope you leave today inspired to connect, discover, and influence, and that you continue to build the Gallaudet community wherever you live.”  

The national anthem, “The Star-spangled Banner,” was sung by Dr. Dennis Galvan, professor and chair of the Psychology department, and Thomas Baldridge, professor of Law, Ethics, and Entrepreneurship, and director of the Business Administration Program, and signed by Kendall Elementary Demonstration School (KDES) students Jovana Hajek Delgado, Jeremy Novas, Kaze Ogork, Mackenzie Smith, Lily Spicer, and Gabrielle West.  

Colin Denny, a Navajo transfer student from Dine College (Tsaile, Arizona) majoring in Art and Media Design, gave the invocation.  

Greetings from Provost Carol J. Erting and Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University, followed. Erting reflected on the week’s inauguration events, which focused on advancing deaf leadership throughout the world, the need for natural, sign language acquisition, and the ground-breaking research regarding language learning by Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2). She also spoke about the importance of the arts in deaf education, referencing the installation performances of KDES and Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) students, and Gallaudet alumni involved in the Deaf West Theatre production of Spring Awakening.  

“Today is a day of celebration, a day of renewal for all of us,” said Erting. “This University is our University; this presidency is our presidency. Today we are reinvigorated and rededicated to making Gallaudet University thrive.”  

Erting closed her comments with a focus on diversity, which was reiterated by Frederick, who spoke on behalf of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, of which both Gallaudet and Howard are members.  

“The consortium provides a mechanism for schools to band together, creating strength – a strength that would not be possible if we tried to go it alone,” said Frederick. “However, Howard and Gallaudet are linked together by more than just the consortium. We have similar histories and missions. Both universities were established in the District of Columbia in the 1860’s, to educate underserved minority populations. This goal of providing higher education to populations left behind in society creates a bond of understanding between our schools. I am proud to connect with this great institution.”  

Frederick’s final two words showed another connection between Howard and Gallaudet, a shared mascot;  

“Go Bison!”  

Following the ASL poem “The Quest for Gallaudet’s First Deaf Woman President,” performed by MSSD students Eliyas Assefa, Chanice Coles, Bailey Doleac, Tai Jensen, and Diana Mendez-Leon, Dr. Harvey Goodstein, ’65, of the Board of Trustees introduced the first keynote speaker, Dr. Liisa Kauppinen of Finland.  

Kauppinen, who has worked with the World Federation of the Deaf for more than 30 years and was its first woman president, was the first deaf person and the first from Finland to receive the United Nations Human Rights Prize (December 2013). Known for her human rights advocacy work for women, especially women with disabilities, Kauppinen also worked to have sign languages, deaf culture, and deaf identities included in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  

“This is a great day, especially for women; this is an important day… the world needs women leaders,” said Kauppinen. “She (Cordano) is a strong model for deaf people around the world.”  

Kauppinen talked about Gallaudet’s role in advocating for the deaf community, explaining, among other topics, the need for linguistic rights, moving from a medical model and paternalistic thinking approach to a human rights-based approach toward deafness, increasing accessibility for deaf people worldwide, and acceptance of diversity.  

“People with disabilities should be a natural part of humankind,” said Kauppinen. “Empowerment is the key; through this we can change the world.”  

Dr. Jorge L. Diaz-Herrera, a member of the Board of Trustees, introduced keynote speaker, Frank H. Wu, J.D., a distinguished professor at the University of California, Hastings College of Law and former member of the Gallaudet Board of Trustees (2000-2010 – final four years as vice chair).  

“We are always living through history, yet we rarely pause to notice it,” said Wu. “We are not always aware of the importance of a great occasion … This is a moment that deserves to be celebrated.”  

Wu spoke of the need to accept the cultural diversity of the United States, and how the deaf community mirrored its diversity and intersectionality. While acknowledging the progress made for deaf people, Wu also emphasized a continued need to address diversity and disability rights issues.  

“As we welcome President Cordano, the most important point to emphasize is that civil rights and social justice are made real and concrete through higher education,” said Wu. “It is on our college campuses more than anywhere else that we come to open our minds and be introduced to new information, new ideas. These concepts can and should challenge us … all universities teach, but only a few transform.”

Following Kauppinen and Wu’s keynote addresses, Dr. Khadijat Rashid, ’90, introduced Cordano. Rashid remembered Cordano’s response to the January 2016 “Snowzilla” blizzard that hit the D.C. region, during which Cordano worked with the community to shovel snow and hosted families at House One.  

“We saw our leader willing to jump in and serve this community in our time of need,” said Rashid.  

Rashid spoke of Cordano’s accomplishments regarding bilingual education and community building. “President Cordano is passionate about bilingual and bicultural education. She brings her energy and enthusiasm for bilingual learning to Gallaudet. As a faculty member myself, I am delighted by President Cordano’s commitment to making this University a center of excellence. She is committed to our students and their experiences here. But we equally know that she cares about the people that work here.”  

Prior to her inaugural address, Cordano was officially installed as president during the investiture and presented with the University charter and seal. Cordano began her address by recognizing, among many, her family in attendance, including her spouse Mary Baremore, her sons Jonathan and Elliot, and her sisters Mary Dall, ’84, and Patricia Cordano. She also honored the memory of her parents, Waldo T., ’49, and Margaret Jean Kelsch, ’51, Cordano. “They taught me about their love for Gallaudet, and that is the reason why I am here,” said Cordano.  

Cordano shared a story about her mother being one of four women at Gallaudet who convinced the administration to allow women to study mathematics for the first time, giving emphasis to their “strength and character.”  

In her speech, Cordano embraced the campus community. “I see every single day, day in and day out, the learning, the research, the work, and the commitment that makes Gallaudet a place like no other in the world. It is because of you that I am honored to accept this presidency.”  

Cordano continued, speaking of Gallaudet’s legacy and the signing of the charter by Abraham Lincoln in 1864.  

“When we consider our history and the signing of this charter, it remains today one of the most courageous acts in the world’s history,” said Cordano.  “It was the first time in human history, the only time in human history, that a government believed and recognized that deaf people should be granted the right to a college education provided in sign language.”  

Regarding Gallaudet’s history, Cordano mentioned the importance of the 1988 Deaf President Now (DPN) movement and how it stood for the self-determination and civil rights of deaf people, and its influence on the passing of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA); she attributed these events to the increase in career and leadership opportunities for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind people.  

“Gallaudet has become a beacon of knowledge and hope, not only for our community here in Northeast D.C., not only in our nation but around the world,” said Cordano. “This is our story at Gallaudet; this is our legacy, and this is our time, our time to lead into the 21st century.”  

For the remainder of her speech, Cordano highlighted three priorities: a bilingual community framework; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and innovation and leadership. Cordano, a founding member of two bilingual-bicultural charter schools for deaf and hard of hearing students in Minnesota in which she served for 16 years, spoke passionately about Gallaudet’s bilingual mission.  

“It is important to our future that we define our values and our principles as a bilingual community,” said Cordano.  “From that, we will preserve our beautiful language and the cultural environment that we have here at Gallaudet.  

With equal passion, Cordano talked about diversity, inclusion, and equity, recognizing that it took 90 years after the charter was signed that Gallaudet had its first African-American  graduate, Andrew Foster, ’54, but also acknowledging that a mentee of Foster, Dr. Isaac Agboola, ’81 & G-’83, is now dean of the School of Business, Education, and Human Services, and that students have pushed this issue to the forefront.  

“We have one advantage that other institutions don’t have, and that is our common identity in sign language,” said Cordano. “It’s not about our ability to hear or not hear, our commonality is our commitment and our love for sign language. Whether you are fluent or not, perhaps new to the language, you are here because you understand this is a bilingual university, and I believe that identity as signers is what brings us together.  

“It’s what binds us together as a community. And it provides us connection that supports us in many ways, and in doing so, we navigate our differences, our identities, and our cultures because of the shared identity that we all have… When there is diversity, there is strength, hope and possibility.”  

On innovation and leadership, Cordano stressed that a “robust, liberal education” is needed to prepare students for careers, strong personal awareness, and civic engagement. She mentioned the Sixth Street development and the recently opened Pigmental Studios, an animation development company located on campus, as potential outlets for students.  

“Gallaudet creates leaders, innovators, and changemakers; we must continue to create and instill new knowledge about leadership not only here but throughout our community,” said Cordano.  

She also referenced Jack Gannon, ’59: “If Gallaudet can’t demonstrate leadership, nobody will. It must be Gallaudet.”  

The program concluded with a performance of the song “Purple Summer” from cast members of Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening, including Sandra Mae Frank, ’13, and Amelia Hensley, ’13. The cast was introduced by Trevor Anderson, Student Body Government (SBG) president, who also led the program’s community closing, featuring Mary Harman, past SBG president; Ardavan Guity, ’16, undergraduate speaker at the 2016 Commencement;  Alyce Slater Reynolds, ’76 & G-’78, GUAA president; and David Poland, ’15, Graduate Student Association president.  

To watch the complete installation program, visit http://webcast.gallaudet.edu/?id=286

7 October 2016
By Phil Dignan

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Phil Dignan

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