January 24, 2011

Erik Weihenmayer summits Mount Cook in New Zealand.

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Erik Weihenmayer, a mountain climber, author, filmmaker and humanitarian, who in 2001 became the only blind person in history to reach the summit of Mount Everest and has since completed his quest to ascend the highest peaks on all seven continents, has been selected as Bucknell University's 161st Commencement speaker. He will address the Class of 2011 at a ceremony on Sunday, May 22. || Bucknell to graduate 900 at Commencement

A former middle school teacher and wrestling coach, Weihenmayer was born with a disease called retinoschisis. It led to his becoming totally blind by age 13. He became a nationally competitive high school wrestler and went on to establish himself as a world-renowned adventurer and champion of those with special challenges to live more active lives.

"Erik Weihenmayer serves as a dramatic example of how a belief in one's dreams and a commitment to others can lead to remarkable personal and humanitarian accomplishments," Bucknell President John Bravman said. "I am sure he will be a great inspiration to the Class of 2011 and to all of us at Bucknell."  

Matt Hotard, president of the Class of 2011, said, "We as a class are thrilled that Mr. Weihenmayer will be addressing us at Commencement. His daring achievements as a pioneer speak for themselves, but his work to help and to inspire others truly is an inspiration, and we look forward to his message on a day we will never forget."

Erik WeihenmayerSeven Summits
In 1995, Weihenmayer reached the 20,320-foot peak of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, with the sponsorship of the American Foundation for the Blind. In 1997, Weihenmayer climbed his second continental summit, Mount Kilimanjaro. Two years later, he joined Mark Wellman, the first paraplegic to climb the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite, and Hugh Herr, a double-leg amputee and scientist at Harvard's prosthetics laboratory, to climb an 800-foot rock tower in Moab, Utah.

The three later formed No Barriers, a not-for-profit organization that promotes innovative technologies and techniques to help people with disabilities live full and active lives. Since 2006, Weihenmayer has led teams of sighted and blind students on major expeditions for the nonprofit Global Explorers program.

He has received numerous honors, including an ESPY award, recognition by Time magazine for one of the greatest sporting achievements of 2001 for his Everest climb, induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, the Helen Keller Lifetime Achievement award, and the Freedom Foundation's Free Spirit Award. He also carried the Olympic Torch in Phoenix in 1996.

Acclaimed Author
Weihenmayer's first book, Touch the Top of the World (Plume 2002), has been published in 10 languages. The book was made into a feature film that aired on A&E in June 2006. Weihenmayer's second book, The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles into Everyday Greatness (Simon and Schuster, 2007), was co-authored with businessman and best-selling author Paul Stoltz.

Weihenmayer's film, "Farther Than the Eye Can See," was named one of the top 20 adventure films of all time by Men's Journal and nominated for two Emmys.

The highly regarded documentary "Blindsight" chronicles his successful efforts to help lead six blind Tibetan teenagers up the north side of Mount Everest after they had contacted him to visit their school in Lhasa. They eventually stood together at the 21,500-foot high Advanced Base Camp, higher than any team of blind people in history. Echoing many film reviewers, The New York Times said, "Astonishing ... ("Blindsight" has) the power to make you re-examine your entire life." The film has raised more than $500,000 for Braille Without Borders. The University plans to show "Blindsight" later in the spring semester.

Weihenmayer's accomplishments have been featured on the "Today" show, "NBC Nightly News," "Oprah," "Good Morning America," "Nightline" and "The Tonight Show," and on the covers of Time, Outside and Climbing magazines.

The Bucknell Commencement ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. and is expected to last until 1 p.m. It will be simulcast live on the Bucknell website. More details will be provided in the coming months.

A complete schedule of events, registration and general information, including accommodations and dining, is available at Commencement 2011.

Contact: Division of Communications