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Alumni of Merit Award

The Alumni of Merit Award, the highest honor the Alumni Association bestows on an alumna/us of Whitman College, is given to alumni who have achieved distinction in their chosen field, or rendered outstanding service to their community, or rendered outstanding service to, and demonstrated loyal interest in, Whitman College.

The 2023 Alumna of Merit is Ceil Lucas ’73

Ceil Lucas

Lucas served as Chair and Professor of Linguistics at Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts college in the world exclusively devoted to deaf and hard-of-hearing students. She taught linguistics at Gallaudet from 1982 to 2013, and was named Professor Emerita upon her retirement. The Alumni Association Board of Directors chose to honor her lifetime of work teaching, researching and lifting up American Sign Language (ASL), during her professional career and continuing into retirement.

Lucas majored in French and art history at Whitman. She was selected for the Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1973. She completed a master's in French and Italian at the University of Texas, Austin in 1975 and went on to earn a second master’s degree (1977) and a doctoral degree in sociolinguistics at Georgetown University in 1980. Lucas is past editor of Sign Language Studies, a peer-reviewed journal from Gallaudet University Press. Since 1989, she has co-author or edited of 22 books.

A highlight of her research, The Black ASL Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a language project which aims to describe the linguistic features of a variety of ASL used by African American signers and usually known as Black ASL. In 2022, The Black ASL Project was awarded the Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award by the Linguistic Society of America.

Lucas was an associate producer of a documentary about Black ASL, “Signing Black in America,” highlighting the history and development of Black ASL, exploring relevant topics such as code switching, interpreting and language change, and celebrating the important role that Black ASL plays in the lives of its users. In the spring of 2021, in collaboration with her colleagues Carolyn McCaskill and Joseph Hill, she presented a virtual alumni event with a screening of the documentary and a Q&A session, accompanied by ASL interpreters.

Lucas was most recently named a 2023 Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America. The Fellows are selected for their distinguished contributions to the discipline. The Whitman College Alumni Association Board of Directors believes that this lifetime of work, continuing a decade after official retirement, deserves this recognition.

“I absolutely share this award with the entire Whitman community.... [after a childhood spent in Guatemala and Italy] I very obviously needed a proper introduction to American life and Whitman College was the perfect place,” said Lucas.

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