It will be an historic moment for those in attendance during Gallaudet University’s 2006 Spring Commencement Exercises, taking place May 12.
The festivities will mark the final time retiring President I. King Jordan will lead the graduation. Dr. Jordan, the university’s first deaf president, is stepping down after 18 years of service. He will officially leave office Dec. 31, 2006.
When he announced his retirement last year, Dr. Jordan said that he is "very proud of what has been accomplished since 1988" and that he has had "the good fortune to be president during a period of growth and prosperity at Gallaudet and during a new era of recognition for the rights and abilities of people who are deaf or hard of hearing."
In 1988, Gallaudet students, with support from many alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of the University, protested the Board of Trustees’ appointment of a hearing person to the presidency. Called Deaf President Now (DPN), the week-long protest was a watershed event in the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people all over the world. At its conclusion, the Board reversed its decision and named Dr. Jordan, one of the three finalists for the position, the eighth president of Gallaudet and the first deaf president since the institution was established in 1864.
This year’s graduation also honors two pioneers in the performing arts. Honorary degrees will be given to Bernice Johnson Reagon and Ed Waterstreet, '68. In 1973, Johnson Reagon established Sweet Honey in the Rock, an a cappella women’s group based in Washington. Waterstreet founded Deaf West Theatre and served as producer of the nationally-acclaimed play "Big River."
Ken Chlouber, this year’s Commencement speaker, is an innovator in another field. When faced with the extinction of a small town in Colorado, Chlouber devised a plan to resuscitate the town. He proposed to create what one writer calls "Colorado’s most amazing and punishing [and magical] race," the Leadville 100. The first race was held in 1983 with 45 participants attempting to run the 100 miles of mountain terrain. In August 2005, there were 450 runners, among them Gallaudet President Jordan, competing in his 11th Leadville 100 ultramarathon.
The undergraduate speaker will be Benjamin Lewis. As a Dean's List student, Mr. Lewis is a Communication Studies major. Having completed two international internships during his undergraduate studies -- one in the Phillippines and the other in Denmark -- his Commencement address will focus on "Living in a Global Society." Faculty and staff alike noted that Mr. Lewis is a driven, enthusiastic and positive student.
The graduate student speaker will be Larisa Aranbayeva. Ms. Aranbayeva, a Master's student in Social Work, will share her personal story and discuss how her Gallaudet education has given her the tools she needs in the coming years. Having grown up in Tajikistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, she has completed both undergraduate and graduate degrees at Gallaudet. Her address, "Against the Odds: from Tajikistan to Gallaudet," will discuss the importance of paying attention to the needs of deaf people in developing countries
There are a number of notable campus accomplishments during Dr. Jordan’s presidency. He led the University’s first ever capital campaign, raising nearly $40 million which supported the construction of the state-of-the-art Student Academic Center and contributed to the extraordinary increase in the University’s endowment. Dr. Jordan also planted an integral part in the passing of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.
Dr. Jordan holds eleven honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous awards, among them: the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, presented by Bill Clinton in 2001; the Washingtonian of the Year Award; the James L. Fisher Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE); the Larry Stewart Award from the American Psychological Association and the Distinguished Leadership Award from the National Association for Community Leadership. President George H. W. Bush appointed Dr. Jordan Vice Chair of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD) in 1990, and President Clinton reappointed Dr. Jordan to that role in 1993. In the summer of 2005, Dr. Jordan was presented the George Bush Medal for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities from President George H. W. Bush.
Posted: 3 May 2006