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After A Push From Students, Ohio State Will Offer Commencement Translations

Ohio State University

As Daniella Vieira began her final semester studying business at The Ohio State University and started to contemplate her commencement in May, she was filled with hope, pride - and concern.

Vieira will have family members traveling all the way from Brazil to watch her cross the stage, and she worried they wouldn’t be able to understand the bulk of the ceremony.

"The commencement speaker is kind of a really important, motivational part," Viera says. "And I realized that some of my family members wouldn't feel that excitement themselves, because they wouldn't understand what was going on."

She didn't want her family to be left out of the celebration. So she reached out to Ohio State in January, asking them to provide translation.

Now, after three months of back-and-forth, Ohio State has announced they will offer translation services at spring commencement for the first time, in Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese and Somali.

Chris Davey, a spokesman for the university, says this year is a sort of pilot program.

“This will be a telephonic based system where people interested in the language translation would be able to call an 800 number and have real time translation," Davey says.

It won't include all of the languages that Vieira and her fellow students petitioned for, but at least two will be represented. Davey says they were limited by the availability of qualified translators.

“So far we’ve been able to identify real-time qualified translators in Mandarin and Spanish, and we still are looking for qualified translators that people are interested in," Davey says.

Davey said in a follow-up email on Thursday that the school found Somali and Portuguese interpreters as well, and that the university may offer more languages in future years.

Vieira is cautiously optimistic about the move. She and other students who pushed for the translation wish there were more languages offered, and that the university could better guarantee the quality of the audio and translation.

“It’s a good step forward. And even though we’re graduating we’re going to continue to be involved and push OSU to make sure that, at following commencement ceremonies, they do what they’re say going to do and expand to other languages and improve the service," Vieria says. "So I think it’s a solid step one, but I’m not celebrating quite yet.”

Vieira recognizes that commencement is an important moment of pride for any family. But she says there's a special significance for students whose families immigrated here.

"For most of us, we're not only first generation Americans," Vieria said. "We're first generation college students, and preparing for college seems like a totally unlikely milestone. And so to not only have been accepted, and enrolled, and then have been successful throughout my university years - to be graduating, it's like, 'Woah.' It's really big."

Ohio State is expecting about 60,000 people at the May 7 commencement in Ohio Stadium. Vieira’s family will be among them, witnessing the first person in their family receive their college diploma.

Story updated April 27, 2017.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.