President Scott Bierman opened the outdoor event by challenging graduates to contemplate who their most important mentors were and why. Later, he asked the class to stand and “in their very best outdoor voice,” call out the names of those faculty and staff members. The students enthusiastically complied, shouting an abundance of names across the large crowd.
The class invited alumna Roberta “Bobbi” Cordano’86, above, to give the 2017 Commencement address. Inaugurated as the president of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in 2016, she is the first deaf woman to lead the only bilingual university (American Sign Language and English) for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Cordano urged graduates to continue to be active citizens, look for unexpected invitations to do good work, and focus not only on incidents of concern but also on the work that can be done in response.
“All of us are looking to you for solutions,” she said. “I’m calling on each of you to be the leaders, the innovators, and the change makers of this world. That’s what Beloit made me.”
An advocate for access, inclusion, diversity, and social justice, Cordano has devoted her life to cultivating exceptional opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. A trailblazer as a lawyer, she was only the 17th deaf person in the United States to have earned a law degree in 1990, when she completed her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Beloit College at Commencement.