Gary Arnold’92, an advocate for people with disabilities, delivered Beloit’s 2018 Commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. A former board member of the Little People of America, Arnold is now with the Progress Center for Independent Living in suburban Chicago. His candid message to students encouraged patience and flexibility: He recounted how it took him seven years to find his true calling through a position at Access Living, a post he landed through a Beloit alumni connection. (The pioneering, Chicago-based advocacy organization was founded by Marca Bristo’74.)
Arnold said he not only found meaningful work there, he also developed a different way of seeing the world. He recalled how he went from trying to fit in as a person with dwarfism to realizing it was “not his job to try to fit in.” Rather, through the disability rights movement, he realized that his calling was to help all people have the right to participate in a world without physical and social obstacles.
The ceremony’s usual order was turned upside down because of inclement weather. After President Bierman tore up his opening remarks in an effort to save time, he explained that students would receive their degrees first—before the speeches and awards—in case it started raining again. It did not.
For the first time at a Beloit College Commencement, those in attendance were reminded that the land where they were assembled—in front of Middle College—is a sacred indigenous place. “Recognizing and honoring Native occupancy is new at Commencement, but it is long overdue,” Bierman said.
For a number of years, anthropology department faculty, Logan Museum staff, and groups of students have worked to raise awareness of and respect for the Beloit Mound Group, which contains human remains.