On May 20, Collins Gym was filled with people waiting to watch the graduates walk across Baker’s commencement stage. Parents vied for the best view, alumni chatted with one another, and the soon-to-be graduates eagerly waited backstage.
Amid the bustling crowd and chatter that accompanies an event like this, Mike Ellis focused on his graduating son, Grant, and the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters on stage translating from spoken English to ASL. As the cheering began, Mike was surrounded by family, friends, and a profound sense of pride at how far both he and Grant had come in a world full of challenges and change.
Mike, a 1984 Baker graduate who overcame adversity late in college before becoming an advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing worldwide, celebrated his son’s commencement as Grant continued the family legacy, earning a degree in communication studies with a minor in conflict management.
Mike’s memories of Baker paint a picture of an involved and hardworking student. He remembers walks across campus, “critical thinking” debates in classes, studying at the University of Denmark under the guidance of Alice Callahan for his sophomore interterm, and Zeta Chi activities. He was president of the student body and Interfraternity Council, participated in the marching band and was involved with the music and University Ambassadors programs. He also interned for President Ralph Tanner.
A week before his senior year, Mike’s experience at Baker was transformed. A music and psychology major, he had hopes of becoming a music therapist. While on a Drum Corps International summer tour in Miami, performing with the Sky Ryders Drum and Bugle Corps, he was injured in a diving accident, sustaining permanent hearing loss. He was overcome with a range of emotions: disbelief, denial, and shock. But he also learned just how much he could rely on the Baker community.
The Baker community didn’t hesitate to support Mike, and immediately set to work developing a new academic plan. Psychology professors John Clippinger and Rand Ziegler, and Tanner suggested he use his psychology degree and personal experience with hearing loss to attend Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. The school is regarded as the premier institution of learning, teaching, and research for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Mike was accepted into the university’s master of counseling program. He enrolled at Gallaudet in the fall of 1984 and earned his master’s degree two years later.
“They really helped me determine the best way to turn adversity into a positive and Dr. Ralph Tanner encouraged me to never give up, keep my faith, and find God’s purpose for my new path in life,” Mike said. “I am forever grateful for their wisdom, encouragement, and guidance.”
The diving accident was a turning point in Mike’s life, opening up new career and personal opportunities.
“Living with a disability creates unique opportunities that you most likely would not have otherwise, he said, and finding a way to turn a disability into a positive opportunity has been the best thing that ever happened to me.”
As global vice president of accessibility at Sprint, Mike leads a team of accessibility experts that empower and improve the quality of life for many individuals across the world.
“Being a part of a transformation that can improve the quality of life for many is a passion I discovered at Baker,” Mike said, “and I’ve been able to take what I learned from the Baker experience and tap that passion to do some really cool things, meet incredibly talented professionals in the field of accessibility, and find a real sense of purpose in life.”
In 2015 with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mike was honored as a Champion of Change by the White House for his leadership and developing innovative solutions that increase communication and information access for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf and blind, or have a mobility, cognitive, or speech disability.
Because of the value Mike placed on his Baker experience, he always envisioned his youngest child and only son attending Baker University, enjoying the experiences as much as he had in the early 1980s. He wanted Grant to take advantage of the unique opportunities offered on a small campus where you could become involved in a close-knit community and make lifelong connections.
When Grant began his own college search he visited bigger universities, but his father’s message was in the back of his mind: Baker was special and would provide him opportunities to explore interests and passions that may not be realized at a larger university.
Grant chose his father’s alma mater, and Mike was thrilled to watch as his son experienced the same encouraging community he had. Like his father, Grant became involved with campus activities and gravitated toward communications as a professional interest. He played trumpet in the jazz ensemble, was a radio show host, member of Zeta Chi, and tutored students in speech and writing. He was involved with the Interfraternity Council as a delegate for all fraternity life.
“I enjoy talking to people,” Grant said. “It is interesting to study why people do the things they do and how people react to certain situations. Baker goes in-depth into the actual interpersonal communication. It gives you the advantage on how to speak to people in certain situations, learn how to manage conflict in certain situations and know how to communicate business to business, which a lot of sales companies are asking for these days.”
Grant recently accepted a position as a mobile expert for OSL Retail Services in Timnath, Colorado. Mike couldn’t be prouder.
“It was with great pride and a tremendous sense of ‘atta boy’ knowing Grant was able to optimize the Baker experience,” he said. “Baker transformed him into a remarkable young man who will be able to no longer follow my footsteps, but rather blaze his own trail and accomplish whatever aspirations he so chooses.”