‘One day at a time’: Katie Irwin’s journey to commencement

Katie Irwin.jpg
Photo credit: Chase Burnett

On Dec. 16, hundreds of UAA students will gather in the Alaska Airlines Center and receive their hard-earned diplomas. Before walking the stage though, fall Class of 2018’s commencement speaker, Katie Irwin, will deliver a message to the almost-alumni.

Irwin will receive her bachelor’s degree in journalism and public communications with a minor in art. Three words that she said best described her time are wonderful, a worthwhile journey and enriching. 


“The great thing about UAA is their wonderful faculty, great students and improving accommodations,” Irwin wrote in an email. “I wouldn’t have made it through without any of these. I have gained good friends, great memories and a better understanding of a lot of things I learned from my courses.”

She’s a mother to her 14-year-old son, a part-time employee and a good-grade striver. Balancing the three was a challenge through the years, but Irwin is excited to finish her degree. After graduating, she’s considering a graduate degree and hoping to continue to help with her workplace, UAA’s Disability Support Services, but nothing is for sure at the moment. She’s taken on the motto “one day at a time” and has a positive outlook on her future ahead, wherever she ends up.


A Worthwhile Journey

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Irwin is profoundly Deaf. “Deaf” with a capital “d” indicates the person with hearing loss is part of the Deaf community and uses sign language, which is how Irwin identifies herself.

There are a few schools in the U.S. that are primarily for benefitting Deaf students but none in Alaska. Irwin had high praise for UAA and all it has offered her.

“UAA is the next best thing for any Deaf people who want to complete their higher education, and [within a] reasonable tuition fee,” Irwin wrote.

She said that another challenge through college was getting faculty to provide accommodations for her as well as others but noted that the accommodations are improving, and she hopes to continue helping with improving student accommodations after graduation.

“[UAA] is a wonderful place for a non-traditional student and myself. I am just finally completing my [lifelong] dream of getting a bachelor’s degree, and it does still feel surreal,” she said.



In a university with primarily hearing professors and students, a few tweaks may have been needed in the classrooms for Irwin. But she has not made that a barrier in her education, saying that being Deaf has never been an issue in college.

“Being the only Deaf student in all of my [classes] has been interesting and I know I have taught [many], if not all, students and professors something about Deaf people in general,” she said.

No closed captioning on videos shown in class was something that often came up but Irwin said it was “quickly fixed” and that the professor or student presenting the video learned something new about adding closed captioning or learning how to enable them.

After being both her middle school and high school graduation speaker, it’s only fitting Irwin finishes up her last moments at UAA as the commencement speaker as well. She was encouraged to apply by journalism and communications professor, Shawnalee Whitney. Irwin applied, was chosen and now sees the role as an opportunity of encouragement.

“The more I thought about it, I am honored to be the speaker because I am one of the few Deaf students on the UAA campus, a member of Delta Alpha Pi and work with DSS office. [It] would be a good role to show to everyone that a person like myself can do anything as any other person can do,” she said.

UAA Fall Commencement 2018 is Sunday, Dec. 16 from 1 – 3 p.m. in the Alaska Airlines Center. Tickets are not required for Fall Commencement.