May 18-24, 2001
Back Issues
Waters' mission runs deep
Two graduates honored for their service to humanity
Student aids the homeless

Mellon winner redefines "Jim Crow" era

Pre-med student shares his passion for music
Fast-track grad driven to help his family
Student leads effort to install Braille on Lawn room doors
Creative recycling: Students convert crate into studio
Lawson lives richly
Can you go home again? Issues facing international students
Education delayed but not denied
Weaver finds election laws discriminatory
Quilter gets A+
Students to go abroad on Fulbright scholarships
Weddle will research Peruvian women
Graduate rich in lessons learned
Anthony defender of public good
Affinnih plays her cards strategically
After earning degree in two years, graduate going for two more
Student develops new sign language system
Student trio pushes for late-night joe
Richard Sandler
Elienne Lawson

Lawson lives richly

By Brianne M. Jones

A childhood illness instilled a sense of urgency in Elienne Lawson. As an adult, she believes the Eagles’ song “Get Over It” embodies her attitude towards life: “Don’t dwell.

Don’t waste time. Just do. And do well. And do much. And live richly.”

At age 10, after relocating from southern California to New Jersey, Lawson developed viral encephalitis, which left her comatose for three weeks. She awoke blind and deaf. Her sight was later restored, but Lawson never regained her hearing. “My lives in California and New Jersey were worlds apart,” she said, “but my life in New Jersey forced me to become stronger faster.”

Academically, Lawson is as strong as they come. She maintained a 3.9 grade point average as an Echols Scholar, focusing on art history, studied abroad in Rome and was named to Phi Beta Kappa.

Even with such academic accomplishments under her belt, Lawson feels most proud of the relationships she fostered with her professors. “They taught me academic humility and curiosity — and they taught me joy — and now they are my friends.” Many professors touched Lawson’s life but she believes Katharine Maus, Allan Megill and Lydia Gasman opened her eyes to new ways of thinking. “Every lecture was an adventure,” Lawson said.

Each day she attended those lectures aided by a court reporting system that allowed her to read transcribed words on a laptop computer almost instantaneously. Outside of class, she functioned like most other students. “I insist on learning! [In that respect] I was a particularly tough case for U.Va. to accommodate, but [they] didn’t need to accommodate my private life,” she said.

Despite being deaf, her unique academic journey involved learning several foreign languages including Latin, French, Italian, German and American Sign Language (ASL). Although modest about her influence, Lawson was pivotal in getting ASL approved to fulfill the foreign language requirement. She was pleased that a passionate speech she made convinced a group of faculty members that ASL should be considered a legitimate language. “Other people worked on that for years,” she said. “I just kind of stood up and had a beautiful moment.”

That moment was perhaps a result of Lawson’s supportive upbringing. She credits her parents with shaping her fearless approach to life. “I was raised to speak my mind — to be seen and heard at all times,” she said. “[As a result] I’ve got a lot of guts. I am not afraid to do anything.”

Lawson recently finished an internship at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. She will study Contemporary French Art at the Courtauld Institute in London and hopes to become an international art lawyer. Until then, she says, “I suppose I’ll keep doing what I always try to do — Live richly. Live much. Just live.”

Brianne M. Jones is a sociology major who also graduates May 20. She wrote this article for an upcoming issue of the Arts & Sciences magazine.


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