Famed mountain climber to speak at University's 161st Commencement

By Olivia Seecof

Contributing Writer

Erik Weihenmayer has been selected as the speaker for the University’s 161st Commencement on May 22.

Weihenmayer is an author, filmmaker, humanitarian and mountain climber who, in 2001, became the only blind person in history to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He then worked to ascend the highest peaks on all seven continents.

“As a graduating senior soon to enter a world that can at times seem intimidating and untouchable, Mr. Weihenmayer reminds me of the great capacity for achievement that every one of us possesses,” said Gar Waterman ’11, a four-year member of the Outdoor Club.

The speaker also co-founded a not-for-profit organization, No Barriers, that promotes technologies and techniques to help people with disabilities lead active lives.

Weihenmayer has received multiple awards and honors including the Helen Keller Lifetime Achievement award and the Freedom Foundation’s Free Spirit Award.

While Weihenmayer is extremely accomplished, many are unaware of his story. “At first I was disappointed [in the choice of the speaker] because I was not familiar with him, whereas I had prior knowledge of the speakers for the past two graduation ceremonies.  However, after reading about Weihenmayer and his impressive achievements, I highly anticipate his speech,” Sarah Leung ’11 said.

“He had the drive and passion to achieve his dreams. I think he will be inspiring and will be a great voice to usher us into our own future,” Lexie Rueckle said .

Weihenmayer’s film “Farther Than the Eye Can See” was nominated for two Emmys and was named one of the top 20 adventure films of all time by “Men’s Journal.”

Another film production, the highly acclaimed documentary “BlindSight”, accounts Mr. Weihenmayer’s successful efforts to aid six blind Tibetan adolescents up the north side of Mount Everest.

The University plans to show “BlindSight” later in the semester to introduce Weihenmayer’s story.

“At Buckwild we did ledge climbing that was difficult, so I can’t imagine climbing Everest blind!  His story inspires me, and I’m sure all other outdoorsy people as well,” Maddie Pucciarello ’14 said.

“I think it will be very motivational, inspirational and a unifying time of reflection for the entire class,” Chelsea Burghoff ’11 said.

Mr. Weihenmayer’s story is remarkable, and he understands that there is more in the world than physical ability.  The class of 2011 and the University community are looking forward to his commencement speech.

“I believe Mr. Weihenmayer would probably be the person that best understands that climbing mountains is not just about the view from the top,” Waterman said.

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