Sen. Tom Harkin (retired), a primary author and chief Senate sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, will address the Beacon College Class of 2017 at the commencement ceremony May 6. Beacon is the first college or university accredited to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students who learn differently.
Harkin, who claimed a Senate seat in 1984 after serving a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives, was selected by Sen. Ted Kennedy to draft a measure to safeguard the civil rights of millions of Americans living with mental and physical disabilities like his older brother Frank, who was deaf. On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law Harkin’s signature legislation, The Americans with Disabilities Act.
Not that the first Iowa Democrat to earn a fifth Senate term rested on his laurels. Concerned with enhancing both collaboration in paralysis research and the quality of life of paralyzed Americans, he launched a Clinical Trials Network to gauge rehabilitation therapies efficacy. His Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act incorporated those goals. President Obama signed the law named for the late “Superman” actor and his wife on March 20, 2009.
Realizing disability knows no borders, Harkin’s crusade to better the lives of Americans with disabilities only broadened after he exited the U.S. Senate in 2014. Last year, the Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement convened the inaugural Harkin International Disability Employment Summit. The gathering brainstormed strategies to nurture employment opportunities, respect jobseekers’ dignity, shrink poverty and boost chances that individuals living with disability can escape lives tethered to government and charity.
The former Navy jet pilot is married to the former Ruth Raduenz, the first female elected as Story County Attorney in Iowa. The couple has two daughters, Amy and Jenny, and two grandchildren.
Harkin joins an accomplished group of achievers to speak at Beacon’s commencement. In the college’s 27-year history, commencement speakers have included DeVry University President Steven F. Brown, who addressed the Class of 2009; former assistant education secretary and federal special education chief Alexa Posny, speaker for the Class of 2012; past president of the Learning Disabilities Association of America and co-founder of Beacon Patricia Horan Latham, who addressed the Class of 2014; and most recently, U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, speaker for the Class of 2016.
Harkin will receive an honorary degree at the event.
Beacon College this year will award a record number of associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees in humanities, human services, computer information systems, web and digital media, hospitality, and studio arts.