Actress Marlee Matlin, who at age 21 became the youngest recipient of an Oscar for Best Actress, told about 400 students at Woodbury University’s graduation Saturday that naysayers had claimed her career was “DOA — deaf on arrival.”
PHOTOS: 2014 Woodbury University commencement
There were critics, she said, who claimed she had received the award for her performance in the film “Children of a Lesser God” 27 years ago out of pity, and that she would never work in the industry again.
“But I’m still here,” she said, via sign language and an interpreter, to students on the Burbank campus.
“I’m here because I learned from people like my teachers and parents that I can simply walk around barriers rather than let barriers define who I am, and the same is true for you,” said Matlin, whose husband is a Woodbury graduate.
“You can lament … or you can move forward, persevere, engage, and make things happen, just as I have.”
The ceremony for the 130th class graduating from the private university also featured student speakers Craig Michael Tolliver, a senior from the School of Architecture, who spoke about the lessons he learned bringing a community together by designing a fence, and two seniors from the School of Business, Rumana Khan and Verginie Touloumian, who spoke, respectively, about social activism through entrepreneurship and participation in Youth Corps.
University President Luís Ma. R. Calingo delivered the closing remarks.
“The most significant challenge that we face today is we are preparing our students for jobs and careers that do not yet exist, using technology and solutions that have not yet been invented to solve problems that society does not yet recognize as problems,” Calingo said.
“The best way to prepare ourselves for that uncertain future is preparation for a process of lifelong learning,” he added.
And as students departed into their futures, it was time for two to start one of their own.
At the end of the ceremony, Vahag Sargsyan, 26, came up from the audience to propose to student Marine Hopalian, 23. To the roaring applause and cheering of students and the audience, she said yes.
Hopalian, who held a giant bouquet of flowers in her hand as both families hugged and congratulated the couple after the ceremony, said she felt great.
“I was very shocked,” she said. “I’m very happy.”
Calingo also announced that on May 9, the Assn. to Advance Collegiate Business Schools admitted Woodbury University to its group — one of 711 business schools to receive the accreditation, marking it, he said, among the top 5% of all business schools in the world.
Jacob Brody, one of the undergraduate students who earned his degree in business marketing that day, said after the ceremony that one of his favorite parts about attending Woodbury was being a part of the school’s effort to achieve the accreditation.
A Burbank resident, Brody hopes to find work in the entertainment industry.
“I feel relieved, great, ready to start doing what I’ve got to do,” he said. “I’m in the right city, in the right place, and in the right time now, too.”
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story stated Marlee Matlin was the youngest recipient of an Oscar -- in fact, she was the youngest recipient of the Oscar for the category of Best Actress. The earlier version also incorrectly spelled the proposer's name Vahag as Varmag, and said they were classmates. Varmag is not a Woodbury student.
Follow Sameea Kamal on Twitter: @SameeaKamal.