Sunday evening, lovin’cup was packed — not because it was the first football Sunday of the season, but because friends and colleagues gathered to honor Jennifer Hayes. Co-workers of Hayes, Colleen Freeman and Kathleen Darroch, set up the event in order raise money for an endowed scholarship in her name. The scholarship will fund one deaf and one interpreting student to study abroad.

Jennifer was an RIT staff interpreter for 15 years who lost her seven-year battle with cancer last January. Hayes refused to let her illness triumph over her, and maintained a courageous and relentless attitude throughout her bout with the cancer. Her husband, Will Hayes, compared Jennifer’s unwillingness to know how much time she had left to live to an expecting couple waiting to learn the gender of their baby. It was certainly a graceful win against the fear of mortality for the two of them. 

Musically inclined RIT staff, including interpreter Kathleen Darroch and liberal arts professors John Kruger, Carl Atkins, Joe Fornieri, Grant Cos and Babak Elahi, took the stage alongside musicians from the Eastman School of Music. Deaf theater and cultural icon Patrick Graybill performed ASL stories to honor Jennifer and signed along as all the performers assembled on stage together to perform a beautifully unrehearsed rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”

A teary-eyed Will Hayes recalled his wife’s remarkable career, stubborn work ethic and humble disposition as a slideshow of her happiest moments served as the backdrop on stage. She worked through the local interpreting agency, Interpretek, Strong Memorial Hospital and at RIT. She made personal sacrifices to ensure that her mission was satisfied: that communication was successful and accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Most importantly, she spent her last years still in love with life. Hayes had a passion for traveling and didn’t let a surgery in which she had a metal rod put in her leg stop her from going to interpret at RIT’s campus in Croatia for five weeks.

NTID Student Congress posthumously awarded Jennifer the Outstanding Interpreting Award last May, which Will accepted. He recalled Timothy Holmes’ presence at the ceremony and took the time to honor Holmes, who unexpectedly died two weeks ago. Jennifer had interpreted often for Holmes during his years as an undergraduate. As Holmes was a very active member of the RIT/NTID student body, Will assured us all that Jennifer is interpreting all of Timothy’s meetings in heaven. 

At the close of the evening, Patrick Graybill spoke with interpreting students and reemphasized Jennifer’s dedication to improve the field of interpreting and impressed how much he misses her. His sincerity, along with the legacy she left, is the most profound inspiration to anyone in or on the verge of entering this field. 

Correction: Louis Armstrong's song is entitled "What a Wonderful World," not "It's a Wonderful World."