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Gallaudet University collects diplomas for 150th anniversary

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May is probably best known for being college commencement season. But, just as graduates are finally handed their hard-earned diplomas, one local university is asking them to hand them back.

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It's all a part of Gallaudet University's sesquicentennial celebration in 2014. For the 150th anniversary, the school wants to collect a diploma to represent every graduating class.

But, some recent grads are reluctant to comply to the request. 

Inside Gallaudet University's archives room, staff members are working on the new collection. What makes Gallaudet's diplomas unique is the fact that each one is signed by the sitting president of the United States.

Diploma donor Dennis Galvan says, "When I heard about the donation of the diplomas to Gallaudet, that was a no brainer."

Instead of sitting in a box in some closet, Galvan felt his parents' diplomas belonged at the school. His father's was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943, his mother by Harry Truman in 1945.

"Gallaudet was a huge part of their lives, and this is a small way we can give back," Galvan adds.

In 1864, Gallaudet University was authorized by an act of Congress to confer college degrees. Its charter was signed by then-President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first graduating class and signed the diplomas of the school's first graduating seniors - all three of them.

Gallaudet University Archivist Michael Olson says, " Years and years ago, I believe the person actually signed it because there were only so many graduates."

The tradition has continued these past 150 years. Although, stamps replaced pens, and paper replaced sheepskin.

The university is now struggling to track down diplomas signed by lesser known presidents, like James Garfield and Rutherford B. Hayes.

But, they say the bigger challenge has been convincing recent grads to donate diplomas signed by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.

"It's an important piece of their life, and it's been signed by one of the current presidents. Mayb,e eventually, they'll donate it," Olson says.

It didn't take much to convince 2006 grad Allison Polk.

"No... This way i'll never lose my diploma," Polk explains. " It makes me feel like my diploma is part of American history in some ways."

She says she feels lucky to be included in such a historic collection.

So far, 107 diplomas have been collected.

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