By Melissa Barclay, senior communication specialist in the Office of University Relations
It’s not unusual for Brandon Grandalski’s mom to call him every day — there have even been occasions when she’s called him four times in one day. But he doesn’t mind. It’s a testament to the great relationship they have formed over the years.
So, when the public relations major saw his mom’s name light up on his phone one day this spring, he picked it up expecting the same kind of conversation filled with encouragement and a gentle push to try new things. Instead, he was taken aback by the revelation that awaited him on the other end.
“I’m going to be the Commencement speaker for your graduating class.”
Even though Grandalski’s mom is Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, he still couldn’t believe it.
“I can confidently say that was the last thing I expected to hear,” Grandalski says. “I remember saying, ‘Like, the actual Commencement speaker?’ I just didn’t believe her. I continued to ask how and why and what because it just didn’t seem real, but it was. Both of us were smiling ear to ear for the entire conversation.”
Grandalski wasn’t the only one in shock. Matlin says she was even surprised by the invitation to speak at Commencement, but most of all she was honored.
“I was surprised because I didn’t expect to be attending my son’s graduation beyond just being a proud mom, and honored because I hold Marquette in such high regard,” Matlin says.
This kind of opportunity comes once in a lifetime; for Matlin, it’s also a unique honor.
“I’m not embarrassed to say that I never graduated from college, so having the chance to deliver a Commencement address gives me the chance to make up for it all,” she says. “And of course, being that it’s my son’s graduating class makes it more special because I’ll be speaking to him and his class. Not to worry; I won’t get all ‘mom’ on everyone! (Well, maybe a little).”
None of this would have happened without Dr. Sarah Feldner, dean of the Diederich College of Communication, who nominated Matlin as a potential Commencement speaker. She says Matlin is someone who can motivate and inspire students while being real and relatable.
“I had the privilege of meeting her, and in a casual conversation she shared wisdom. She believes in people and can look at you and tell you that you matter. What more could we want for a graduation message?” Feldner says. “Matlin believes in creating space for those who may go unseen and offers compelling stories on how to do this work. She focuses on the Deaf community and women, but the message extends far beyond this.”
When it comes to her message on Commencement day, Matlin says she will speak from the heart.
“My speech will be based on my journey, as someone who has defied expectations, and how the life lessons I’ve learned are applicable to everyone,” Matlin says. “I’ll also challenge everyone to not take life for granted, to always ask questions and never be satisfied with the status quo. In a nutshell, I want the graduating class to continue to think and speak their minds as if they were still in the classroom.”
As the final chapter of his college life comes to an end, Grandalski says his mom’s support has meant the world to him over the course of this life and his time at Marquette.
“She has been the best. She is and always will be me and my siblings’ biggest supporter. Love the lady,” Grandalski says. “It’s not every day that someone can say their mom will be the Commencement speaker, so I am truly going to relish the moment.”
‘Full circle’ is the latest piece in Marquette Today’s 2023 Commencement Series. Read more stories of how our graduates are setting off to Be The Difference beyond campus:
- Full circle: Senior co-op with Findorff helps build O’Brien Hall — and leads to full-time job with construction firm
- Mission of service: Nursing seniors graduate with expertise in veterans’ care
- Following in their fathers’ footsteps
- Ready for liftoff: Marquette senior prepares for role at NASA
- Helping at home: New Marquette Law School grad to help asylum seekers in native south Texas