Academy Award Winner Marlee Matlin to serve as Marquette University’s 2023 Commencement speaker

March 21, 2023

John Gurda to speak at Graduate School and Graduate School of Management ceremony

Marlee MatlinMILWAUKEE — Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin will serve as Marquette University's undergraduate Commencement speaker on Saturday, May 20, at 9 a.m. John Gurda, noted writer and Milwaukee historian, will speak at the Graduate School and Graduate School of Management ceremony at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 20. 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.

“Marlee Matlin is a gifted actress who carries forward the Marquette spirit beyond the screen as a strong advocate for others,” Marquette President Michael R. Lovell said. “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.”

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.

Matlin accepts roles only if producers commit to caption the film or television program and is considered the best-known deaf person in the United States. 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.

Beyond her acting, Matlin is 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.

John GurdaGurda 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. Together the books total more than 900 pages and feature 2,000 illustrations. “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 longtime local history columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A graduate of Marquette University High School, he received his bachelor’s degree in English from Boston College and a master’s degree in cultural geography from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. UWM honored Gurda with an honorary doctorate — Doctor of Milwaukee History and Geography — in 2017.

Marquette University will host two Commencement ceremonies — one for undergraduate students and one for Graduate School and Graduate School of Management students — on Saturday, 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. Both ceremonies will be livestreamed via the Commencement 2023 website.

Media interested in attending either ceremony need to contact Kevin Conway, associate director of university communication, at Interview requests for Commencement speakers should be made in advance and will be coordinated closer to the date of the event if there is availability.

About Marquette University

Marquette University is a Catholic, Jesuit university located near the heart of downtown Milwaukee that offers a comprehensive range of majors in 11 nationally and internationally recognized colleges and schools. Through the formation of hearts and minds, Marquette prepares our 11,100 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and professional students to lead, excel and serve as agents of positive change. And, we deliver results. Ranked in the top 20% of national universities, Marquette is recognized for its undergraduate teaching, innovation and career preparation as the sixth-best university in the country for job placement. Our focus on student success and immersive, personalized learning experiences encourages students to think critically and engage with the world around them. When students graduate with a Marquette degree, they are truly prepared and called to Be The Difference.

About Kevin Conway

Kevin Conway

Kevin is the associate director for university communication in the Office of University Relations. Contact Kevin at (414) 288-4745 or