It was 2003 when I was finally placed in a stable home. My biological mother was young, unable to care for a child, and spent her life in and out of prison struggling with addiction, so it wasn’t unusual for me to be tossed from one person to another before I met my forever mom. Although she was finishing school to become a teacher while working multiple jobs, she still stepped up to care for a little girl and her selflessness and determination inspires me every day.
She gave me the tools to conquer any obstacles I encounter, including teaching me American Sign Language (ASL) so we could communicate. When I was adopted, I did not speak for a long time due to high-functioning autism – which I continue to manage today. I struggled to express myself, but my mom taught me how to communicate and today, I often give speeches for my school, clubs, and Rotary organization. She is a teacher and instilled the value of both education and service in me from a young age. We always volunteered as a family, and in my junior year, I became president of my high school’s Rotary Interact club – whose motto is “service before self” – to encourage my peers to give back to the community.
One Sunday morning, I volunteered with members of the Rotary Interact club at a local soup kitchen, where we made and served breakfast to the homeless community. My duty was to serve drinks, so as each person came through the line I asked them whether they would like water, orange juice, or milk. I met one woman through the line, who when I asked her the question, gestured that she was Deaf and did not understand. Being proficient in ASL and understanding what it was like to encounter a language barrier, I signed the question for her instead. Her eyes widened then became watery, and she signed back to me she had not communicated with anyone in years. We had a short conversation, and the experience inspired me to found Bridge the Gap American Sign Language Club, in which I teach ASL vocabulary and grammar as well as Deaf culture facts through daily, online lessons and monthly meetings. By leading this club, I hope to foster a culture of understanding and appreciation towards Deaf culture and ASL, ultimately bridging the gap between the hearing and Deaf community. Through awareness, I also strive to eliminate language deprivation in Deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
Over 90 percent of Deaf children are born to hearing parents, however, a majority of those parents do not learn sign language, meaning their children have no access to language which causes them to suffer from language deprivation. Language deprivation can hinder cognitive development and create an achievement gap. Though I am not Deaf, I am high-functioning autistic which affected my communication skills, but was lucky enough to have a mom who taught me ASL to avoid language deprivation. I hope that by increasing the accessibility and awareness of ASL, I can help to reduce the language deprivation of others and even eliminate the achievement gap.
I will continue to lead Bridge the Gap American Sign Language Club and expand it to teach as many people as possible about ASL and inspire them to spread awareness as well to reduce language deprivation. When I enter college, I plan to double-major in Elementary Education and Deaf Studies: Educational Interpreting Emphasis so that I can become an interpreter as well as a teacher for my community, specifically for elementary and middle school students. With my career, I want to teach hearing children American Sign Language and help them become aware of Deaf Culture, and I want to help Deaf and hard-of-hearing students obtain the quality education they deserve if they choose to attend a mainstream school. I hope to give someone the help that my mother gave me with communication, and I feel that to do that on a larger scale, the best place to start is by educating the children.
Teaching children important values and discussions from a young age – such as including all people and treating them with kindness and inclusivity – cultivates a society of informed and respectful individuals who will improve the world for the better. Not to mention, eliminating the gap between the hearing and the Deaf community will improve societal progress as the Deaf and hard-of-hearing take their rightful places in society without discrimination. Education is the key to awareness which is ultimately the key to change for the better. In the wise words of Sir Francis Bacon, “knowledge is power.”
Scholarship Essay by Dakota Kirk
UCA’s most recent Scholarship Essay Contest for High School Juniors and Seniors officially ended on May 15, 2020. While the theme has always been to explore ways to make a more caring world, our most recent Essay Contest specifically asked how they would make a more caring world in one of four categories – Children – Animals – Reforestation – Elderly. The winning essays have been posted and awards distributed.
Because there were so many impressive essays submitted from across the U.S., we decided to share many of these students’ inspiring caring actions with you in this publication. Through their essays, the students provide a refreshing insight into their minds and hearts, offering an in depth view of our world that we often overlook. They take us on a journey rich in knowledge, personal experience and creative solutions. It is our hope you will feel as informed and inspired as we do. We are proud to present to you the writings, thoughts and dreams for a more caring future through these articles.