On Friday, May 3, the Department of Linguistics celebrated the achievements of the 2024 graduating class. The ceremony was attended by the students along with their family and friends, who gathered to recognize the graduates' successes. Annually, our department chooses outstanding students from the graduating class as commencement speakers based on their contributions inside and outside of the classroom. For this year, Thea Kendall-Green, Pristina Koon, and Brennan Yaghmour were the distinguished speakers chosen by our Undergraduate Committee.

Thea Kendall-Green

Thea Kendall-Green, double majoring in Linguistics and International Studies with a concentration in International Security, Norms, & Cooperation and a minor in Computer Science, was our first student speaker at this year's celebration. She expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the Linguistics Department, academic mentor Lisa Levinson, and her family. Thea recounted cherished memories of her grandmother's influence on her love for language and how it has shaped her understanding of the world. Thea also touched on the dynamic nature of language, recognizing its ever-changing nature while acknowledging the melancholy that can accompany the evolution of expressions. Her speech highlighted not just a celebration of language but also an acceptance of the natural progression of life and language. Thea concluded with a reflection on graduation as another change, urging her peers to adhere to the deeper meanings behind words and to embrace change with reverence for understanding, "Let us also hold fast to core principles that anchor us: a reverence for understanding, a commitment to critical thinking, and a steadfast belief in the power of words to transform the world."

Pristina Koon

Pristina Koon is a double major in Linguistics and Asian Studies, with a concentration in South Asian Studies. She discussed how her interest in linguistics was sparked by reading Arika Okrent's book on invented languages and how her passion for the field sustained her through the isolation of beginning college during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pristina highlighted the diversity of the field of linguistics and its distinctive ability to forge connections across various disciplines. Her experience teaching an HONORS 135 course allowed her to share her enthusiasm for linguistics and observe the creative ways in which her students applied linguistic concepts to a wide array of topics. She emphasized the special bond shared by the linguistics community and urged her audience to recognize how their encounters within this community have shaped their individual journeys. Reflecting on the community's shared curiosity in the very fabric of human connection—language—she shared a poignant observation: "Although I’m obviously biased, I think there’s something extraordinarily special about our community in that we’re all—at some level—curious about the actual thing that lets humans connect: language."

Brennan Yaghmour

Brennan Yaghmour, a Linguistics major with a minor in Computer Science, was honored with the Matt Alexander Award for the best honors thesis in Linguistics at this year’s celebration. Brennan's interest in linguistics had been sparked by the film "District 9," which had kindled a fascination with the potential phonetic characteristics of a language spoken by beings with wildly different physiologies. While he had explored pursuing computer science, it was his profound love for people and the role language plays in connecting us that has guided him toward a future career in speech pathology. Brennan highlighted the breadth of linguistics and its relevance in multiple career paths, demonstrating the field's adaptability. The importance of linguistic accessibility and translation was illustrated by an example from the translated works of a Palestinian poet, showcasing the expansive influence linguists can wield. Brennan captured his perspective on language by saying that "Language was my way of transporting my ideas into your mind and yours into mine. This is how we build things—by exchanging thoughts so that they could be enriched by multitudes of minds."

Along with our traditional honors thesis award, we've expanded our accolades to include a series of new awards to more broadly celebrate and acknowledge the achievements and contributions of our graduating class. Here are the recipients of this year's awards:

The Matt Alexander Award for the best honors thesis

Brennan Yaghmour

The Matt Alexander Award for the best honors thesis in Linguistics was awarded to Brennan Yaghmour for his outstanding thesis, "Perceptual Effects of Emphasis Spread on Non-Arabic Speakers." His research focused on the way non-native speakers perceive differences in Arabic consonants, showing that listeners rely more on the influence of these consonants on neighboring vowels than on the consonants themselves.. His findings enhance the understanding of speech perception and could influence Arabic language teaching and speech recognition technology development.

Service to the Linguistics Department Award

Oona Lee Woodbury

The Service to the Linguistics Department Award was awarded to Oona Lee Woodbury. She has made notable contributions as the Linguistics Club President, creating a hospitable and stimulating space for undergraduate students. Her peers see her as an inspiring mentor, and the faculty applauds Oona's dedication to making linguistics enjoyable and accessible.

Outstanding Pre-Speech and Hearing Senior Award

Madison Mitchell

The Outstanding Pre-Speech and Hearing Senior Award was awarded to Madison Mitchell. Madison stands out for her strong academic performance and deep passion for speech pathology. She has gained practical experience by volunteering and interning, positively impacting individuals with communication difficulties. Maddie is set to carry her dedication and caring approach into graduate studies in Speech-Language Pathology this fall.

Outstanding Overall Senior in Linguistics Award

Drue Daley

Drue Daley has been selected for the Outstanding Overall Senior in Linguistics Award. She exemplifies excellence as a scholar, has actively contributed to our department, and has showcased her leadership talents as the President of the Pre-Speech and Hearing Club, where she provided guidance to her peers. Additionally, Drue served as a student representative on the department's Undergraduate Committee, offering valuable perspectives on behalf of the student body.