Gallaudet University celebrated its 143rd Commencement on Friday, May 11, conferring 211 undergraduate and 151 graduate diplomas to the Class of 2012.*

“Gallaudet has been strong for 148 years because of the students we educate and send into the world,” said Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz. “We look forward to the future each of you will create.”

The Commencement’s keynote speaker featured Markku Juhani Jokinen, chief executive officer of the Finnish Association of the Deaf, who served as president of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) from 2003 to 2011. His work with the WFD contributed to the development of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been ratified by 112 countries to date. Jokinen was also awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree during the Commencement program.

In his address to the Class of 2012, Jokinen recalled his own graduation from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland in 1992, a time when there was no clear legal recognition of sign languages and few deaf lawyers.

“Today, all this has changed remarkably. Does this mean our work is done? Does this mean we are finally equal citizens in our countries? No, not yet.” Jokinen encouraged the graduates to continue the human rights work done by previous generations by “taking up the torch we have carried for you and your children.”

He said that — himself included — one doesn’t have to be an expert in human rights to be effective in this area.

“You will soon learn that the more you fulfill your potential and the more you develop you skills, the better you will practice human rights work for yourself, for other deaf people, and for all people.”

Gallaudet also awarded alumna Audree Lauraine Norton, Class of 1952, an honorary doctor of humane letters. Norton was the first deaf actor to appear on American network television and is a founding member of the National Theatre of the Deaf. Norton also had a career as an educator at Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif., the site of the Gallaudet Regional Center — West.

Dr. Mary Claveau Malzkuhn, professor of history and government, and Dr. Irene Leigh, professor of psychology, were named professors emeritae. Undergraduate student Joy Ann Fraychineaud and graduate student Tammy Demetrius Jacobs were selected as this year’s student commencement speakers.

Fraychineaud, a physical education major, said she “came to Gallaudet to play basketball, but found much more here.” She said the well-rounded blend of academics, internships, volunteer activities, and involvement with campus organizations that the University offers, “have helped me to become a strong woman and leader.”

Jacobs said that becoming deaf at age 7 “took me in a different direction from my family and gave me opportunities my siblings did not have.” She enrolled at Gallaudet to pursue her dream of becoming a counselor. “Gallaudet has given us knowledge,” she said, and with it “a deeper understanding that anything worth doing is not easy, and success is not guaranteed.” But thanks to a Gallaudet education, she and her fellow graduates have boundless opportunities to make the world a better place.

Gallaudet diplomas are historically unique in that each diploma is signed by the sitting U.S. president. The tradition began with Gallaudet’s first graduating class in 1869 when President Ulysses S. Grant presided over Commencement and signed the diplomas of the three graduating students. Gallaudet University recently launched a campaign for its 18,000 alumni to “give back their diplomas and donate them to the University’s Library Collections and Archives, which will display these historic documents to preserve a part of the University’s 150th Anniversary celebrations in 2014.

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.

*These numbers are approximate and have not yet been confirmed by the University’s Office of the Registrar.

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