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Helen Rose ’38 Honored with Room in Walker Building

Family, friends, and Emerson students too young to have known the late Helen Rose ’38, but who nonetheless benefitted from her generosity, gathered Friday, December 8, to honor the longtime trustee who is credited with saving the College more than 65 years ago.

Room 231 of the Walker Building was rededicated the Helen Rose Room in a ceremony that featured dramatic literary readings, a documentary about Rose, and testimonials to her life and work. In 1994, the College – then located across Boston Common at the foot of Beacon Hill — dedicated a room to Rose, who died in 2014; Friday’s ceremony was to rededicate a Rose Room on Emerson’s present campus.

“My mother would have been so awed by the rededication of this room,” said Jane Rose. “We talked about Emerson every day at our family meals. We knew all the Emerson presidents as if they were part of our family.”

Helen Rose majored in Speech Pathology at Emerson, and over the course of her career, became a passionate and forceful advocate for the deaf community.

She helped raise money to establish the Robbins Speech, Language and Hearing Center, and founded the Speech and Hearing Foundation of Massachusetts in 1961, serving as president for 11 years. She lobbied lawmakers to include sign language in the state’s educational curriculum, and thanks to her, Emerson offered the first sign language classes in Massachusetts.

But the fact that Emerson was able to offer any classes can be traced to Rose’s fundraising efforts back in 1951, said Dr. Vito Silvestri, chair emeritus of Communication Studies.

Facing low enrollment, the Trustees announced that they would have to close Emerson’s doors. The news distressed Rose, who, with the encouragement of her husband, Cecil, embarked on a campaign to raise money from her fellow alumni, many of whom were financially successful and cared about Emerson as much as she did, Silvestri said. When her organizing paid off, the Board of Trustees made Rose a lifetime member.

Rose’s son, Stuart, said his mother was so committed to keeping Emerson afloat because of how the College treated its students during the Great Depression. There was no financial aid in the 1930s, so at most colleges and universities, if a family missed a tuition payment the student was tracked down and unceremoniously asked to leave, he said.

But Emerson refused to eject students for lack of payment – even as more and more families saw their resources wiped out from the Depression.

“[Alumni] were so grateful to the school… they all joined forces [to save it],” Stuart Rose said.

During her decades as a trustee, Rose was instrumental in the campaign to restore the Cutler Majestic Theatre. She established the Cecil and Helen Rose Ethics in Communication Scholarship in 1994 – the first endowed full-tuition scholarship created at the College – as well as numerous endowed awards for Forensics, Political Communication, and Advocacy; Oral Interpretation; and Graduate Scholarship.

“She actively modeled Emersonian citizenship,” Silvestri said. “She believed in the College when it lost faith in itself…. This tiny, elegant woman left a huge imprint on the future of the College and of us.”

Rose also was a huge believer the Communication Studies Department, and worked to make a wide range of learning experiences and conferences open to students. In 1998, after Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, Communication Studies Chair Gregory Payne said he had wanted to do a conference on celebrity spectacle. It was Rose’s idea to do a series of conferences at Emerson, in London, and in Paris; she personally took 10 students to Paris, Payne said.

A group of current students and recent graduates who had been able to attend various conferences and international courses thanks to Rose came to the rededication to express their gratitude.  

Josiah Seet ’19, president of Emerson Esports and one of the students instrumental in bringing an esports academic program to Emerson, was able to attend E3, a huge technology and gaming conference in Los Angeles last summer. While there, Seet networked with people in the esports industry and gained connections and insights that helped him in his role as an esports ambassador at Emerson. 

“Obviously, E3 was a dream come true, but I wasn’t there just as a fan, I was there as an agent,” Seet said.

“I didn’t know Helen personally,” Seet told the Rose family, “but I hope you can see that her legacy stays.”

To honor Rose’s interest in oral interpretation, Caroline King ’20 read an excerpt of Joyce Carol Oates’ short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” and Professor Emeritus John Anderson returned to Emerson to read an excerpt from Henry James’ The Ambassadors. Organizers screened a documentary about Rose made by alumnus Jerome Lewis.

The event ended with Professor Richard West honoring the graduating class of Lambda Pi Eta, the Communication Studies honor society of the National Communication Association.

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