Guide

Edward M. Kennedy’s 1988 Perkins Graduation Speech

On Friday, June 17, 1988, Senator Edward M. Kennedy addressed the graduating class of Perkins School for the Blind, recognizing the work done at the school and the role that technology plays in the lives of people with disabilities.

Edward Kennedy, facing the camera, shaking Richard C. Carlson's hand. Carlson's back is to the camera.

Historical information

On Friday, June 17, 1988, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) addressed the graduating class of Perkins School for the Blind. He was introduced by C. Richard Carlson, the President of the Board of Trustees of Perkins School. Kennedy was awarded the Anne Sullivan Medal, an award that is internationally recognized as “the most prestigious award within the field of [deafblindness]” (Lantern). During his speech, Kennedy recognized the work done at Perkins, both past and present, and the role that technology plays in the lives of people with disabilities. He remarked on the advances being made in education for students with deafblindness. 

Source

“Graduation 1988.” The Lantern, Vol. LVIII, No. 1, Fall. Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA. 1988. Available on the Internet Archive.

Notice and permissions

This recording is a digitized copy of audio created in 1988. Copyright belongs to Perkins School for the Blind. This recording may be quoted if cited. A preferred citation is provided. For any other uses please contact [email protected].

This recording of the 1988 Perkins School for the Blind graduation ceremonies has been edited to only include C. Richard Carlson’s introduction and Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s speech. Other parts of the event were removed to protect student privacy. 

Preferred citation

Kennedy, Edward M. “Graduation Speech.” Recording of speech, 1988.  Historical Recordings Collection, AG206-2023-05, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.

Audio

Recording the of the speech.

Transcription

C. Richard Carlson (Carlson): It’s a pleasure for me to be with you today and bring you greetings from the Board of Trustees to Perkins School for the Blind. I am very pleased to have the honor of introducing our commencement speaker for the year 1988. Senator Edward M. Kennedy was first elected in the United States Senate in 1962 to fill the unexpired term for President John F. Kennedy. He subsequently has been re-elected four consecutive Senate terms. 

During the distinguished career, Senator Kennedy has received many meritorious and humanitarian awards. He serves as a trustee and corporation member of many hospitals, libraries, colleges, and universities throughout the United States. During his 25 years in the United States Senate, Senator Kennedy has served on the Judiciary, Armed Services, and Joint Economic Committee. 

In his capacity as chairman of the joint committee on labor and human resources, Senator Kennedy has been an ardent and strong supporter of programs and services for the handicapped and disabled population of this country. The Senate subcommittee on the handicapped falls under his jurisdiction and it is within this committee that he has been a strong advocate for the rights and needs of individuals who are deafblind. 

The Anne Sullivan Medal is recognized internationally as the most prestigious award within the field of deafblindness, given in memory of Anne Sullivan, the graduate of Perkins School for the Blind in 1886 who became affectionately known as Teacher because of her work with Helen Keller. Both Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller’s work together has had a dramatic effect on the education of the deafblind in over 120 countries. 

This is only the sixth medal to be presented in the last 10 years. And given his efforts on behalf of deafblind children, his strong advocacy for the development of housing and vocational opportunities for the handicapped, and his responsiveness to the needs of parents and special needs children, Perkins School for the Blind is pleased to present the Anne Sullivan Medal to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Please join me in expressing our appreciation to Senator Kennedy for being our commencement speaker and proudly present him with this Anne Sulllivan Medal. 

[Applause] 

Edward Kennedy (Kennedy): Thank you very much, C. Richard Carlson, for that warm and generous introduction. I know that he has done a truly outstanding job here at the Perkins School and we’re all indebted to him for his commitment to this school and the needs of those with sensory disabilities. Kevin Lessard, your director, makes such a difference for this institution. 

Members of the faculty and other trustees, let me say it is a special privilege to receive this award named for one of the greatest pioneers and teachers in the field of deafblind education, Anne Sullivan. The Perkins School deserves much of the credit for her legendary achievements. She graduated from Perkins as valedictorian of the class of 1880. 

And in the century that has passed, [it is] her example has inspired millions of Americans to become miracle workers in their own communities and in public and private life. I shall cherish this Anne Sullivan Award as a symbol of the miracles that are still possible and that are happening every day in our Commonwealth and country, whenever people of goodwill work together to help our fellow citizens in need. I’m honored by your invitation to speak here today. 

Perkins School for the Blind has a brilliant record of providing quality education to its students. And I’m proud to be a part of this special day for the graduates. Indeed, the Perkins School is not only a source of pride in Massachusetts but a model for the nation as a whole. Our Commonwealth is world renowned for its excellent education system. 

And the Perkins School is a distinguished part of that record. Over 150 years ago, Dr. Samuel Gridley opened up educational opportunities for blind children. Since that time, blind children have been integrated into classrooms in public schools across the country, in large part due to the pioneering efforts that were done right here at Perkins. 

Today, you are graduating from an institution rich in tradition and at the cutting edge of innovation and technology. The Perkins School has not only given all of the graduates a fine education. It has provided a wealth of knowledge to the New England area and the nation as a whole. All of you here, your families, are aware of the obstacles you have overcome to receive this education. 

Many of you traveled great distances to receive your education, and often at real sacrifices to your families and to yourselves. But because of your experience here at Perkins and the academic and social education you have gained, you’ll have fuller and richer lives, an extraordinary opportunity for careers, and a lifetime of achievements.

 I want to acknowledge the wise counsel I received in Congress from many of you here over the years in the disability community. Few things have brought me greater satisfaction in my years in the Senate than my work on the handicap subcommittee and the progress we have made bringing hope and dignity to millions of disabled Americans. I recently celebrated my 25th anniversary in the United States Senate. Those years have seen great progress in improving the quality of life for those who are physically and mentally challenged. 

Rehabilitation Act, the Developmental Disabilities Act, and the Education of the Handicapped Act are just a few of the landmark pieces of federal legislation that have been enacted and strengthened in recent years and have made an enormous difference in the quality of life for millions of our nation’s citizens. Through my work in the Senate, I’ve witnessed firsthand the talents and contributions that disabled children and adults have made to our society. Many initiatives have succeeded in the past quarter century in improving their lives. 

Legislative efforts in Congress cannot change the harsh stereotypes and cruel attitudes overnight. But in recognizing the rights and opportunities of those who have been victims of discrimination, we have taken an important step towards a society based on merit and accomplishment and not on prejudice. We have much to learn from those once thought incapable of independent living or achievement. 

Their examples inspire us all to try harder to eliminate the barriers that remain. Our nation has prospered by recognizing the contributions that physically and mentally challenged individuals can make. More and more disabled citizens are finding employers who recognize their productive ability in the workplace. 

More and more children are receiving a free and appropriate education in public schools as a result of a landmark Education of the Handicapped Act. One of the best examples of new opportunities becoming available is a group recently formed with the help of the faculty at Perkins called the National Coalition on Deaf-Blindness. The organization was established to counteract repeated attempts in Washington to cut funding for the hearing and visually impaired, including many programs similar to those at Perkins. 

Because of the resounding success of the Perkins School, I am well aware of the importance of programs specifically designed to help the deafblind population. With the continued support of the newly-formed coalition, many of my colleagues in Congress are confident that we’ll be able to present future attempts [to get the] proper funding for these important programs. There is also a strong effort in Congress to help all 50 states do more to tap the rich potential of technology for the disabled. 

We have witnessed this recently in the Senate the difference that technology can make. Last month, the handicapped subcommittee invited dozens of companies to demonstrate their remarkable devices. Kurzweil Company of Cambridge has developed a machine that can actually read the text of a book or magazine by converting it into a computerized voice. 

Through such technology, new horizons are becoming available to the visually impaired. The pace of change is extraordinary. The technology is creating a revolution in opportunity for the disabled. And I’m proud to say that Massachusetts is at the cutting edge of these extremely important developments. Without these miracles, many disabled individuals would be unable to attend school, find jobs, or become participating and productive members of society. 

The cost is low. The benefits are extremely high. Assistive technology has already made an enormous difference. And the best is yet to come. 

Once again, it is a privilege for me to be here with you today on this special day. For each of you and for your loved ones, may the best be yet to come. Be grateful to your families for the love they have given you and the sacrifice they have made to bring you safely to this day. My best advice to you in the years ahead is contained in the words of this famous Irish prayer. 

“Take time to work. It is the price of success. Take time to think. It is the source of power. Take time to play. It is the secret of perpetual youth. Take time to be friendly. It is the road to happiness. Take time to love and be loved. It is the privilege of God. Take time to share, for life is too short to be selfish. Take time to laugh, for laughter is the music of God.” I urge each of you in the years to come and the careers that lie before you to follow that advice. And together, we can make America a fairer land for all the people of our nation. 

[Applause]

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