Gallaudet University conferred 216 undergraduate and 178 graduate degrees at its 144th Commencement exercises, held in the University’s Field House on May 17.*
Commencement was highlighted by a motivational address to the Class of 2013 by U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former Gallaudet trustee Ray LaHood, who was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by University President T. Alan Hurwitz. Dr. Harry Lang, professor emeritus at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology and a highly respected educator and leader in the deaf community, was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

“These newly minted alumni are leaving Gallaudet University with the solid foundation of a college education, prepared to make a great impact on the world,” said Dr. Hurwitz. “Commencement is an important milestone, and I applaud the perseverance and dedication our graduates have demonstrated. I look forward to the brighter future each alumnus creates for deaf and hearing communities around the world.”

Gallaudet also invited three student speakers to talk about their lives and what Gallaudet means to them: Natalie Delgado, representing the undergraduate class, and Felicia Williams and Dr. Concetta Pucci, both representing the graduate class.

Delgado’s family is from Ecuador, but she was born in Baton Rouge, La. Being on the Dean’s List throughout her Gallaudet career, Delgado also graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in psychology and University honors. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in deaf education and work with deaf and hard of hearing infants, toddlers, and their families. Her Honors Capstone project, “The Unheard Needs of the Deaf in Ecuador,” attracted representatives from the Ecuadorian Embassy who came to campus on May 9 for her presentation, because of the country’s recent initiative to improve life for people with disabilities.

“For many of us, Gallaudet has been a gateway to opportunity. It has given us the freedom to accomplish our dreams, and to do so in an environment where communication flows freely and easily,” said Delgado, who learned American Sign Language (ASL) at Gallaudet following her transfer from Louisiana State University. “Gallaudet has given me confidence, strength, and assertiveness,” she added.

Williams, from Marlton, N.J., earned her B.A. degree in ASL and will be earning her master’s in sign language teaching. During her years at Gallaudet, Williams was actively involved with organizations like the Black Deaf Student Union, the Delta Epsilon Sorority, Sisters of Color, and Keeping the Promise-the latter a program that supports and encourages black and Latino deaf students to be successful.

Williams said she learned a lot about social justice, empowerment, and diversity as a Gallaudet student. “It is my hope that our time at Gallaudet has transformed us into agents of social justice and that we will be part of a transformative social change within our society,” Williams said. “Each of us must experience our own transformation in order to believe that others have the capacity to be transformed. For many of us, our time at Gallaudet has given us this opportunity. In my time here, I have become a strong black deaf woman and I know this will be one of my greatest assets as I join the education field, where I will have the opportunity to inspire and empower my students.”

Pucci is from Canada, the daughter of Italian parents. She received her bachelor’s degree in social work from Rochester Institute of Technology, and her master’s in social work from New York University. Pucci earned her doctorate in special education administration at Gallaudet in December. For the past four years, Pucci was involved with the National Science Foundation’s Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) at Gallaudet as a graduate research assistant. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Social Work and the General Studies Program, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses.

“Our education was not just in the classroom. Gallaudet has taught us how important it is to be accountable, and how to be effective advocates and allies,” Pucci told her fellow graduates. “We learned to be proactive about what we believed, and at the same time to examine who we are and to embrace the richness of our diverse and multilayered community.” As a deaf person with Usher Syndrome, Pucci said she supports the deaf-blind community’s efforts to be proactive. “I can say without hesitation that we represent intersectionality at its finest,” she said. “These challenges and changes sometimes seem like they are tearing us apart, but this is what will bring us together as a strong community. We are Gallaudet!”

LaHood was a member of Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2009 during the time he was a U.S. Congressman from Illinois. Today, as secretary of transportation, he oversees an agency of more than 55,000 employees and a $70 million budget for air, maritime, and surface transportation missions.

“I’m challenging each of you to be your own visionary leader. Boldness is in your blood. It’s been there all along, helping you through every challenge,” said LaHood. “As you leave this campus, boldness is going to help you become a leader. Gallaudet gave you the tools you need to be a leader. Now it’s your job to dream big and to be bold. The world beyond Gallaudet is yours for the taking.”

LaHood mentioned President Barack Obama’s initiative to hire 100,000 people with disabilities, and encouraged the graduates to visit to look for prospective jobs. “Being deaf will not keep you from a life of public service. We need your skills. We need your passion,”” LaHood said. “”I’m saying this because I believe in America.”

Many of the new graduates have plans for the next phase of their lives-graduate school, travel, work, marriage-even the Olympics. Jennifer Hess of Champaign, Ill., said “I feel accomplished,” minutes after she earned her B.A. degree. She will travel this summer before applying to graduate school in the Master of Psychology Program for fall 2014. Katherine Seaton of Sunbury, Pa., earned her second B.A. in recreation and communications. “It’s been a wonderful experience here at Gallaudet,” Seaton said. “Having this second B.A. will benefit me during my job search.”

Kyle Murphy of Baton Rouge, La. plans to get married in August and train for the 2014 Heavy Weight Olympics, with a goal of lifting 216 pounds. “[Gallaudet has] been a great experience in my life, and I feel very special because Gallaudet supports the deaf community,” said Murphy, who also has plans to apply to graduate school. “Gallaudet taught me to never give up, to be successful.” Anthony DeFranco of New Jersey said, “I’ve passed one of the toughest times in my life, being apart from my family, keeping up with loads of papers, reports, and exams. But I made it through and became successful.” His immediate plans are to work for a deaf nonprofit organization in New Jersey and advocate for deaf children there to also become successful.

Whatever they do, and wherever they go, these new Gallaudet alumni have the assurance that they have a strong source of support from their alma mater. As Hurwitz told the graduates, “Gallaudet will always be home to you.”

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

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