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Commencement 2019 student speakers announcement

April 26, 2018

Dear Campus Community:

Every year, Gallaudet University selects two graduating students to share personal messages about their lives and their impressions of what Gallaudet has meant to them in front of families, friends, and fellow students gathered at Commencement. It is my honor and pleasure to announce the student speakers for the 149th annual Commencement, which will be held on Friday, May 17, 2019 beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the Gallaudet University Field House. Yunhe Bai is graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, summa cum laude, in business administration. He will speak on behalf of the undergraduate Class of 2019. Rachel Bass, who is graduating with a Master of Social Work degree, will speak on behalf of the graduate student class.

Undergraduate Student Speaker: Yunhe Bai

Yunhe Bai was born deaf and raised in the small town of Hainan, China. He began his educational journey at a school for hearing and speech in a distant city. When he was nine years old, his parents transferred him to the Wenchang School for the Deaf in his hometown where he began to learn Chinese Sign Language. While there, Yunhe discovered a passion for learning and expressed a desire to apply for the top school in his area, a hearing school. Unfortunately, his application was rejected as they would not provide interpreters there, or at any other school he applied for in China. However, his parents were committed to his education and hired a college student to teach him every afternoon after school. This experience of discrimination continued as Yunhe sought to apply for colleges. As a graduate of a deaf school, he was not allowed to sit for the national entrance examinations that would allow him to enter mainstream colleges in China. 

Unsatisfied with this limited access to education, Yunhe decided to come to the United States and apply to Gallaudet University. Once here, he became fully engaged with the Deaf community, Deaf culture and American Sign Language. He decided to major in Business Administration out of a desire to improve the labor rights of Deaf people in both public and private sectors.

As a student in the Gallaudet University Honors Program, Yunhe has done original independent research for his capstone project titled Barriers to Job Satisfaction of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Employees: Implications for Creating Deaf-Friendly Work Environments. He has also been involved with the Asian Pacific Islander Association (APIA), Multicultural Student Development and Mentoring (MSDM), the Student Body Government, the ThinkBiz Club, and several international student initiatives. He has completed internships at the Gallaudet University Office of Human Resources Services, the Peace Corps, DawnSignPress, and the Wenchang Special Education School in China. Yunhe has received many awards, including the Ernest G., '24 and Fern L., '27 Langenberg Memorial Scholarship.

Yunhe will begin the Master of Social Work program at Columbia University this fall. He plans to study in the policy practice track, focusing on the world of work. Eventually, he hopes to teach at Gallaudet University, or to join an international development organization focused on global human rights of deaf people in education and employment.

Graduate Student Speaker: Rachel Bass

Rachel Eva Bass is a native New Yorker who now resides in Boca Raton, Florida. She grew up in multiple worlds: Deaf, hearing and physical disabilities. Her life experiences have shown her not just what she is capable of doing, but how she can make an impact on others.

When Rachel was ten years old, a neurologist told her mother, “Medically speaking, Rachel should not be walking. She only walks because she wants to.” Rachel did not just walk. She performed dance routines in the plays Anything Goes, Pal Joey, and 40 Years in the Making. She has been a competitive adaptive skier. Finally, she ran (with her walker) and swam as a member of the 2004 Physically Challenged Irish and American Youth Team in Ireland.

None of this was easy. Rachel experienced much discrimination and oppression growing up, and still does today. From a very young age, she has learned and developed strong individual and systemic advocacy skills, which she uses on an almost daily basis in her life, her studies, and her work. A student at Gallaudet University since 2011, Rachel received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2014, and now is graduating with a Master of Social Work degree with a specialization in working with individuals with disabilities.

Along the way, Rachel has sat on a White House panel that discussed issues faced by members of the LGBTQ disability community. She also was a fellow for the Ruderman Family Foundation Disability Inclusion initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America, and a policy intern with the National Council on Independent Living. At Gallaudet, Rachel completed a full-year internship with Multicultural Student Development and Mentoring. She mentored other students, developed and conducted groups and events, and emceed the 2018 Lavender Graduation. She is currently a member of the university’s Diversity Advisory Council, working with the Office of the President on a university-wide accessibility plan.

Growing up with multiple disabilities and intersectionalities has made Rachel who she is today. At Gallaudet, she is an active member of the Deaf+, LGBTQ, and Jewish communities. In each of these spheres, she has demonstrated and modeled strong advocacy while emphasizing the tenets of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Rachel is inspired by the words of Helen Keller: “…character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”


The student speakers were chosen by a committee of faculty and students chaired by Dr. Kirk VanGilder of the Department of History, Philosophy, Religion. Other committee members were Professor Elizabeth Martinez of the Department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies, Professor Gregoure Youbara of the Department of World Languages and Cultures, and Ms. Shelby Easton, representing the Graduate Student Association. I thank the student speaker selection committee members for their hard work, and for recommending such outstanding speakers.

Please join me in congratulating Yunhe and Rachel. I look forward to seeing them shine at Commencement!


Carol J. Erting

Posted by Andrew Greenman | Posted April 29, 2019 at 4:28 PM


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800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002