Marlee Matlin and John Gurda Will Speak at Marquette’s Commencement Ceremonies

Both will receive honorary degrees from the university.

Academy Award-winning actress and disability rights advocate Marlee Matlin will serve as Marquette University’s undergraduate commencement speaker at the May 20 ceremony at Fiserv Forum.

“Marlee Matlin is a gifted actress who carries forward the Marquette spirit beyond the screen as a strong advocate for others,” Marquette President Michael Lovell said in a news release. “She has illuminated new perspectives in her art, from those experiencing deafness to living with disabilities, which have touched multiple generations. I look forward to hearing her inspiring message for our graduates.”

John Gurda; Photo courtesy of Marquette University

Noted writer and Milwaukee historian John Gurda will speak at the Graduate School and Graduate School of Management ceremony that same day.

As part of the university’s commencement ceremonies, Matlin will receive an honorary doctor of fine arts degree and Gurda will be presented an honorary doctor of letters degree.

Matlin made her professional acting debut in the film Children of a Lesser God, winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1987. She was the first deaf person to win an Academy Award and is the youngest winner in the Best Actress category. Since then, she has appeared in scores of films and television series, earning four Primetime Emmy Award nominations. Recently, she was part of the cast of the film CODA, which won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, as well as the Academy Award for Best Picture.



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Matlin accepts roles only if producers commit to caption the film or television program. She is the ALCU’s celebrity ambassador for disability rights, and in that role focuses specifically on bridging the gap between law enforcement and the deaf community. She won the Henry Viscardi Achievement Award for disability advocacy and, in 1987, she received an honorary degree from Gallaudet University. She was appointed to the Gallaudet board of trustees in 2007.

A published author, Matlin wrote a novel titled “Deaf Child Crossing,” which is loosely based on her childhood. Her New York Times best-selling autobiography, “I’ll Scream Later,” was published in 2009.

Matlin is also committed to working with charitable organizations including Easter Seals, American Red Cross, the ACLU, and other charities supporting children, victims of domestic violence and addiction, and various Jewish charities. She was also nominated by the U.S. Congress and approved by then-President Bill Clinton to be on the board of Americorps and spoke on the White House South Lawn with then-President Barack Obama on the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2015.

Gurda is a Milwaukee-born writer and historian who has been studying his hometown since 1972. He is the author of 23 books, including histories of Milwaukee-area neighborhoods, industries and places of worship. His most ambitious efforts are The Making of Milwaukee, the first full-length history of the community published since 1948; and Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods, a geographic companion that has quickly become the standard work on grassroots Milwaukee. “The Making of Milwaukee” was the basis for an Emmy Award-winning documentary series that premiered on Milwaukee Public Television in 2006.

In addition to his work as an author, Gurda is a lecturer, tour guide and was a longtime local history columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He now writes monthly columns in Milwaukee Magazine. A graduate of Marquette University High School, he received a bachelor’s degree in English from Boston College and a master’s degree in cultural geography from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Marquette will host two commencement ceremonies — one for undergraduate students and one for Graduate School and Graduate School of Management students — on May 20 at Fiserv Forum. The undergraduate ceremony will begin at 9 a.m.; the Graduate School and Graduate School of Management ceremony will start at 2 p.m.



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.