Graduation Ceremony to be Translated into Spanish

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

For the first time this year, the Swarthmore College commencement ceremony will be translated into Spanish. For several years the ceremony has been translated into American Sign Language, but the college recently purchased the equipment necessary to make verbal simultaneous translation possible.

This year parents and other family members of graduating students will have the option of requesting a translating device. The devices are small and hand-held, with headphones. The listener puts on the headphones and then chooses a channel that will correspond to an audio feed in a certain language.

This year the translation will only be in Spanish. But the devices do have multiple channels, so in the future the ceremony could be simultaneously translated into more than one language. The user would simply set the device to the channel with their language of choice.

The Spanish translation will be done by Spanish Professor Aurora Camacho de Schmidt. She explained the process of translation, saying that the translators receives through headphones a very clear feed of the speaker’s words and then translates it, speaking into a microphone which will broadcast to the hand-held devices.

She said that it is much easier to translate a person reading a prepared speech than someone speaking freely, as they speak more slowly, but she still described the process as exhausting and is looking for an alternate translator to work for part of the graduation ceremony.

Camacho de Schmidt has been advocating for the equipment for several years, both for when lecturers who are not English speakers come to campus, and to help teach students the craft of simultaneous translation. A recent decrease in the price and physical size of the equipment has now made the purchase possible, and she says that it will be used for events other than graduation.

“It creates a bigger community and brings everyone inside the circle showing that everyone matters. It honors the students whose families cannot speak English by showing that they are thought of and considered,” said Camacho de Schmidt.

Deivid Rojas ’11, a former Student Council Vice President and the originator of the idea to translate the ceremony, agreed with Professor Schmidt.

“This comes from the process of thinking about accessibility and discussing strategic planning and key terms that have been mentioned and emphasized like globalization. If we are to grow in this globalized world, we need to make sure that our own students and our own student’s parents have equitable access,” said Rojas.

“There are lots of small but important things to do to improve how parents approach the school and feel close,” he continued. “A person who does not speak English will have a different response and relationship to the College. Hispanics are the largest minority in America and we need to keep up with these trends, not just with this issue, but also with the percentage of students and faculty and staff. […] This is just one piece of the process.”

Rojas first conceived the idea two years ago. His mother speaks English, but his father only speaks Spanish, and he noticed a discrepancy in how they could interact with the College. Rojas brought his concern directly to Vice President Maurice Eldridge, who was receptive and immediately began the process, using some of Professor Schmidt’s previous research to decide which translation devices to purchase.

“The administration’s response to this specific need was excellent. I made the case and made myself available to help, but Eldridge understood the necessity and got things moving along,” said Rojas.

After a two year planning process, the graduation ceremony will now be available in Spanish, with possibly more languages to come.

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