Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin to address grads
Issue date: 3/26/07
Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Paul Adams confirmed last week that hearing impaired actress Marlee Matlin will deliver the keynote address at the University’s 60th annual spring commencement to be held on May 19, 2007.
“I think her story is great…what she’s overcome,” he said.
The Morton Grove, Illinois native, began acting at the age of seven when she took on the role of Dorothy in a stage production of The Wizard of Oz. After being discovered in the stage production of Children of a Lesser God, a story that takes place at a school for the hearing impaired, she was cast to star alongside William Hurt in the film version.
Receiving critical acclaim worldwide in 1986, Matlin won the Academy Award for Best Actress in her silver screen debut at age 21—making her the youngest recipient of the prestigious honor, and only one of four actresses to win in their motion picture debut. Since then, Matlin has appeared in various sitcoms on television shows such as Picket Fences, The West Wing, The Outer Limits, Spin City, Desperate Housewives, My Name is Earl, and most notably, Seinfeld, where she played a deaf tennis player in a popular episode.
“You name it, she’s been in it,” Adams commented.
But it is her spirit—not just her talent—that makes her such a great choice to speak at this year’s spring commencement, Adams noted. Matlin currently serves as the national celebrity spokesperson for The American Red Cross, was a major force in persuading Congress to pass a federal legislation in 1992 for all television sets to be equipped with a closed-caption technology, and serving on the boards of other charitable organizations such as the Easter Seals and the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation.
“She’s a very talented lady if you look at the list of things she’s done, but she gives back. She’s very philanthropic, the sort of character Wilkes would want for a commencement speaker,” said Dr. Bonnie Culver, English professor and director of the MA in creative writing program, whose screenplay Raining Rainbows was optioned by Matlin’s production company, Solo One Productions.
Culver’s ties to Matlin are what ultimately led her and Dr. Adams to bring her to campus.
“I’ve never met her in person, so it will be great for me to meet her,” Culver said. “I’m just as excited as everyone else.”
Matlin has played the lead role in Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story, a made for television movie based on the true story of a landmark Supreme Court case that addressed the experimental sterlization of mentally challenged women. Most fans who have seen Matlin’s performances on television or in film agree that her ability to speak is so refined that they cannot tell she is hearing impaired.
“She is someone who has lived most of her life without being able to hear. She’s become a tremendously accomplished actress, performer as well as a philanthropist and somebody who does advocacy to all of those less advantaged. I hope the respect will resonate with the graduates,” Adams said.
Wilkes University has a long history of offering a sign language interpreter for its graduation ceremonies. There is no word as to whether Matlin will sign for herself throughout the speech.