2018 Commencement Speaker Katherine Irwin

Katherine IrwinAll eyes on Katherine Irwin, December 2018 commencement speaker

“Why not?” That’s what Katherine Irwin thought when Communication Associate Professor Shawnalee Whitney suggested she apply to be the December commencement speaker.

The fact that Katie is Deaf and uses sign language to communicate didn’t deter her. She is proud to be the first Deaf person to speak at commencement. She hopes that her audience “will become more aware of disability and Deaf people around them, that they can do about anything as anyone else can do and that their disability does not deter them from reaching their goals.”

Katie is majoring in Journalism and Public Communications and is also getting a minor in Art. She says she has had several pivotal learning moments and opportunities during her four and half years of study.

One learning moment, she said, was more for true for others at UAA than for herself. “I, as a Deaf person, can do anything when I put my mind to it.” Another opportunity she won’t forget is being part of Disabilities Support Services (DSS) and representing the “Don’t Dis My Ability” campaign on campus. The campaign highlights the multiple ways in which people with disabilities are empowered and active.

Katie is preparing for Commencement on Dec. 16 with Professor Whitney, who has coached many commencement speakers, and with Anne Lazenby, ASL staff interpreter/coordinator, for the interpretation part of the speech.

“It's going to be interesting and at the same time, I am internally psyching out,” she said.

Katie is planning to continue working with UAA, contributing her skills for DSS and to help improve supports for the Deaf if she can.

She has worked on an undergraduate research project with Dr. Joy Mapaye about the Deaf community in Anchorage.

“One big thing that I would like people to know about myself, is that as a Deaf person, it doesn't make me any less than anyone,” she said.

She has liked the versatility and broad approach of the journalism program, she said.

“UAA has been an amazing place and I love it here,” Katie said. “I am happy/excited to graduate, but sad to leave this place. My experience here has been nothing but wonderful.”