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Senator Edward M. Kennedy dies

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 times of trouble. The progress of Gallaudet today is proof to the world that we still feel for our fellow-man.”

The equal merit of all

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.

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