NEIT grads learn signs for success

Marlee Matlin, Congressman James R. Langevin awarded honorary degrees for work in disability justice, public service

Posted 5/11/23

The New England Institute of Technology prides itself on being on the cutting edge of technology whether it is robotics or cybersecurity, so it seemed out of place Sunday when commencement speaker …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

NEIT grads learn signs for success

Marlee Matlin, Congressman James R. Langevin awarded honorary degrees for work in disability justice, public service


The New England Institute of Technology prides itself on being on the cutting edge of technology whether it is robotics or cybersecurity, so it seemed out of place Sunday when commencement speaker Marlee Matlin asked 815 graduates and those attending the ceremony at Amica Mutual Pavilion to put their devices away. She then asked the audience to join her in using American Sign Language to sign out the “formula” she’s determined for success.  Everyone complied.

Matlin is an Academy-Award winning actress and activist who spent decades breaking down barriers and paving her own way in the entertainment industry as a deaf person. At 21 years old, Matlin became the youngest recipient of the Best Actress Oscar — and the first deaf actor to ever receive the award. Matlin’s 2021 film “CODA” — which stands for children of deaf adults — won in every category of the Academy Awards that it was nominated for in 2022, including Best Picture. Matlin, having lost almost all of her hearing at 18 months old, delivered her speech with the help of her sign language interpreter of 37 years, Jack Jason.

Halfway through her speech, Matlin asked every person in the empty their hands.

“Social media and selfies can wait,” she said. “We’re going to sign together: courage, dreams, success.” Matlin demonstrated the sign for each word twice before asking those seated across the stadium to join in.

“Courage, dreams, success,” the audience reflected each sign back to Matlin as she led them in a united signed-repetition of each value – her formula for success.

This, Matlin said, established “a common ground” among everyone in attendance.

Ethan Carrera, an NEIT student who graduated on Sunday with an associate’s degree in information technology and software engineering, felt that Matlin’s request succeeded in allowing everyone in attendance to “be fully present in this special moment together.”

“I think in these days of technology, we don’t put the phones down to really look people in their eyes and just be with what transpires,” he said. “And being able to practice — even if it was a little bit — of sign language was very interesting. I think in the political climate of America today, people should do things like that more often.”

After signing in tandem with the audience, Matlin continued delving into her formula for success — focusing on how each of her three core values have proved vital in her allegiance to hope, belief in herself and perseverance.

Power of three words

“These three words helped me realize, even with people doubting my abilities as someone who happens to be deaf, that it’s the best way to overcome any barrier,” she said. “I’ve come to understand that regardless of one’s ability or disability, regardless of whatever gender, or race, age, whatever beliefs you hold — having the ability to live, love, think freely without prejudice or hatred will eventually allow all of you to soar and succeed.”

Matlin advised graduates that “there is a world of possibilities out there waiting” for them.

“When you begin here today, you will continue with great success,” she said. “But only if you apply what you’ve learned here and the experiences you’ve had. If it worked for me, it can certainly work for you.”

Matlin spoke to graduates about the choices her parents made in order for her to prosper as a child, recalling an instance where a doctor suggested she be “sent to a school for the deaf that was hundreds of miles away from home.”

“But after visiting a number of great schools, my parents chose a different path for me,” she explained. “They simply said ‘no,’ because no matter where any doctors said I should be sent away for school, my parents wanted to be there each night when it was time for them to say ‘I love you.’”

For audience member Betsy Shealy, Matlin’s parental anecdotes were particularly resonant. Shealy was in attendance with her son Andrew, who is deaf. The pair drove from Warwick so Andrew could watch Matlin speak on his thirteenth birthday.

“It was unbelievable just to see her when she was coming onto the stage,” Shealy said. “We waved and told her it was his birthday and she signed ‘happy birthday’ to Andrew, which was the high point of the day.”

“Everything she said was spot on,” Shealey added. “My family is here and we have on deaf kid of four, and it was a totally different world for us.”

“I’m glad that Andrew and these kids graduating down there could see that whatever your barriers are, you’ve got places to go,” she said. “Whatever your circumstances are, you can overcome it.”

Rachel DePasquale, an NEIT student who graduated on Sunday with a masters degree in occupational therapy, expressed a similar sentiment as Shealy.

“I felt like everything that she said was so applicable to all of us, especially those of us with care degrees,” DePasquale said. “I’m just so proud to have been here and to have heard her words and take her message as I go forward into this next step.”

DePasquale said that she is a longtime fan of Matlin. From favoring Matlin as ‘Jodi Lerner’ in the hit Showtime drama ‘The L Word,’ to using the star’s “Marlee Signs” app to learn sign language in her free time, Matlin has remained an important figure in DePasquale’s life over the years.

“I’m in the occupational therapy degree, so I do a lot of work with people in the deaf community,” she said. “I’ve seen all of her movies and I’ve had her app, which is really useful. I loved her on the L word and just generally respect her a lot.”

Matlin was invited to deliver the annual commencement address after former NEIT commencement speaker, actor Henry Winkler, recommended her as someone with a truly impactful story to commencement organizers. Winkler himself has delivered the commencement address at NEIT twice — in 2006 and 2022 — sharing his struggles of growing up with dyslexia to graduates and their families. This year, NEIT has demonstrated again its commitment to bringing in speakers with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. Alongside Matlin, NEIT recognized longtime congressman and disability rights advocate, James R. Langevin with an honorary degree from the institute.

In an interview, Matlin said that she was “honored” to have been invited, but even more thrilled to have delivered her speech.

“I thought it was important for these graduating students because my message probably resonates with someone who has experienced life with barriers that I’ve experienced,” Matlin explained. “And what they will hear and deal with, issues that they will see, after they leave.”

Just before concluding her speech, Matlin reminded the 2023 graduates “to revel in the world of possibilities.”

“There’s something out there waiting for you,” she said. “So go out and grab it.”

The following Warwick students were awarded degrees;

AS Degree

Anne L. Augustin*, James E. Bond, Daniel M. Carvalho*, Andrew Castro*, Jordan C. Cruz+, Julia DeBlasio, Leonardo Del Rosario, Jacquelyn R. DiNardi*, Alyssa M. Giguere+, Lila Giguere*+, Zane Henley*, Nicholas G. Krasnov+, Aidan S. Lawrence*, Allexus J. Little, Ethan D. Margotta, William J. Martin+, Michelle L. Pelletier*+, Nikolas M. Poulios, Shane M. Renfree*+, Alexander G. Rizk, Maia E. Robert*, Jessica M. Rogall, Emily N. Russell, Hamilton Saxon, David W. Shah*+, Alicia M. Short*, Eric A. Stevens*, Christine M. Storti*, Brianna Studmire*, Allison G. Thorpe, Emily T. Turco, Madison G. Yehle+

BS Degree

Kristen R. Boyd, Sean F. Breslin, Jenna Daigle*, Raymond J. Ho*, Kerri Leary, David B. Martins, Aaron R. Meyers-Webb, Jose P. Samayoa Juarez*, Krysta P. Soulliere*+, Heather Vickers*

MS Degree

Courtney E. Bucci*, Tyler J. Rapson, Katharine M. Truchon*

Honors: *

Potential June Grad: +

NEIT, graduation, disability


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here