Friday, July 18, 2008
ASL-CI USER Heading for Harvard: He Thanks his Mom:)
A typical summer day in Grosseto lasts approximately three years, so when I don't post for a day, it's like I've missed a lifetime. One of the moms on the Circle posted this article, and I just wanted to share it, because it is yet another inspirational story...
Graduating St. George’s School senior turns stereotypes about the deaf on their ears
01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Editor’s note: Westley Resendes, of Middletown, graduated from St. George’s School on Memorial Day and is off to Harvard University in the fall but his story is much more complex. He tells it here in his own words.
I’ll start from the beginning: I was born profoundly deaf, and could not hear anything at all — not even if a 747 jet took off right over my head.
I would not truly hear until I was nine years old. When I was six, my parents inquired about a cochlear implant for me. At first the doctors were hesitant about my age, feeling that I was too old to benefit from it. Yet my parents still fought for my opportunity to hear.
The doctors from Children’s Hospital in Boston finally agreed to meet me and see if I was truly a viable candidate for a cochlear implant. Once they did, they realized that my lifelong dream was always to be part of the hearing world and I got my first implant in 1998, but my body rejected it.
I was sick for quite a while and eventually had to have it removed, taking away the newfound hearing I had had for only six months. However, the doctors, surprisingly, were willing to give me a second chance when I was 9, and in 1999 I heard successfully when my speech processor was activated.
My mom saying, “I love you,” was the first thing that came into my once-silent ears.
I wept because of the pain of the sound flooding the previously unused ears and, simultaneously, because of the joy that I had finally succeeded in my dream.
However, just because I could hear didn’t mean that I would necessarily understand everything. I had been attending speech therapy since I was six years old on a weekly basis — and still do today — to work on my listening and speaking skills. Even today, when the speech processor is not on my head, I cannot hear anything — not even my own voice.
However, I do not think of myself as deaf, as people tend to classify me.
I have always viewed myself as hearing impaired, but I can hear, just like everyone — only a little differently.
I attended the Rhode Island School for the Deaf (RISD) in Providence from kindergarten through third grade full time, as I couldn’t hear at all.
In the summer before fourth grade, I received my cochlear implant, and there began my journey into the hearing world.
I began to attend Community Preparatory School in Providence part time in fourth grade (spending the rest of my time at RISD) with the help of a sign-language interpreter.
Over the next five years, the balance of my time would shift to Community Prep; and by eighth grade I only went to RISD once a week to serve as director of periodicals in the school library.
Before I graduated from Community Prep, I began my search for high schools. I was primarily interested in staying closer to home, as I was not enthusiastic about the hour-long bus rides I had taken to Providence for the last nine years of my life.
I recall meeting Peter Anderson, an admissions officer at St. George’s School, at the high school fair at Community Prep. My dad and I asked whether it would be OK if I had an interpreter for classes at St. George’s.
Contrary to the reactions from officials of many other schools, he immediately showed great enthusiasm and acceptance for me and assured us that an interpreter would be perfectly fine. At that point, I knew that St. George’s was my dream school. I ultimately decided that I wouldn’t apply anywhere else. Fortunately, the admissions office at St. George’s liked me too, and they decided that I would be a good fit for their close community.
I have to mention my mom, who has been truly the most important factor in my success.
When she found out that I was hearing-impaired, she took it in stride and resolved to raise me the best way possible. She sacrificed everything for me, and became my first and most influential teacher. She helped me to start speech therapy when I was six and she made the decision to apply for a cochlear implant. I would not be in the hearing world — at Community Prep, St. George’s or Harvard without her. I owe everything to her.
I went to St. George’s knowing no one at the school except my interpreter — Michele Neiley, whom I had the luck to work with since sixth grade at Community Prep. My new classmates were curious to see an additional adult in the room, signing to a student who happened to have a funny thing on his head (the speech processor for the cochlear implant).
I got through my first academic day fine, but then I was left alone for the required sports period. My interpreter would only be with me for the class day, not after school. I did not know this, so I was somewhat lost. I decided to manage football, as a doctor’s note barred me from playing contact sports because it posed too great of a risk to losing my hearing (by a head collision).
The football coaches were eager to take me under their wings and show me how to do things. Their investment soon paid off. I immediately enjoyed managing, knowing that my contributions would help the team for the better.
A strong memory of my first day at St. George’s was the freshman picnic outside Diman Hall (the freshman boys’ dormitory). That was my first social, non-academic, interaction with my classmates.
I recall that a circle of boys surrounded me and began to pepper me with questions like, “What’s that on your head?” and “Can you read lips?” With the help of a new friend that I had just made, I was able to explain who I was. They immediately met my response with remarks of enthusiastic interest, and I felt at that point that I had made the right decision to attend St. George’s.
From that very first day, I was accepted there, and that is the one thing that I will miss the most about the school. It is a very close-knit community and you will meet practically everyone on the campus at least once. The overall sense of acceptance of everyone there is truly incredible.
Later that week, I was walking by the chapel to [teacher] Doug Lewis’s geometry class and this very old, old man approached me over the hill, like the Ghost of Christmas Past.
It turned out that he was the conductor of the brass ensemble, Tony du Bourg. He pointed at me, and said, “Hey! Are you that West Resendes boy?” I timidly whispered yes. He said, “I want you to play music!”
I laughed, but then thought, “Okay, I’ll do it,” — primarily to make this man happy and secondly, to see if I could really do it.
I’ve always wanted to disprove stereotypes. Here is a piece of advice I always give out: Never allow a stereotype to define you. That’s why I joined the brass ensemble, that’s why I gave a speech to the whole school when I ran for senior prefect last year (and lost) and that’s why I gave a “chapel talk” in April of my senior year.
All of these were challenges that I overcame.
Once Tony du Bourg met me, I started out on the cymbals and I would play for chapel services (the school meets in chapel twice weekly, once for a formal Episcopalian Mass, and once for a senior chapel talk).
After a month, I started taking lessons on the baritone horn — which is a slightly smaller version of the tuba — and I’ve played both instruments for services as the only dual-instrumentalist for the brass ensemble for the past four years. (Sometimes, I had to use both instruments in the course of one song — there would be some quick instrument changes!)
I ran for senior prefect, which is St. George’s version of student government. There are 5 senior prefects selected from a field of usually 30 candidates through a school-wide election process.
I decided that I should run, regardless of my disability, so I would know that I had pursued my goal of “sameness” to my fullest.
I spend a month or so preparing my speech, practicing it endless times. The moment came and I was assigned the first speech of the night. I had never spoken to an audience of 350 students before and I must say that it was slightly intimidating, but rewarding at the same time, because for that moment everyone was listening to me, the first hearing-impaired student to attend St. George’s, give a speech on why I should be their senior prefect.
As I spoke, the pit in my stomach began to dissipate and that rousing feeling of success took its place. I had defied everyone’s expectations in speaking, in expressing my opinions in a public arena. Apparently, enough students understood and valued my message of student-faculty communication to propel me to the coveted Top Ten candidates through their votes.
In the end, I didn’t get the spot but it prepared me for the annual rite of passage for seniors — the chapel talk. Just like any other St. George’s senior, I was to have an opportunity to tell my peers about my journey.
I began penning my chapel talk months before I was scheduled to speak and I practiced it countless times in speech therapy.
When the day came, I chose “Amazing Grace” as the hymn to be sung that day, and after singing it, I walked up to the podium of the chapel.
Looking upon my audience of about 400 people, including students, faculty, staff and my parents, I felt wonderful.
I began my talk with a moment of silence, lasting a scant 15 seconds, so that the school community could have some idea of what it was like for me for my first 9 years. As I spoke my words, my peers listened to me attentively. As I concluded my talk, the school community rose from their seats and applauded for me. It was a truly wonderful moment for me.
I participated in a good number of extracurricular activities, and those certainly are my hobbies and interests. In the fall, I managed football and in the spring it was baseball. This spring I had a small moment of glory when I pinch-ran for a batter for the last home game against Thayer Academy.
Unfortunately, the batter after me grounded into a double play, but it was truly a pleasure to have a small taste of a varsity baseball game.
In the winter I served on the stage crew for the musical. That was truly a pleasure, as I was able to get my hands dirty with power tools and help to construct a fully functional set for the actors and actresses.
I had a cameo role in the musical every year, served as property master for junior and senior years, and was captain of the stage crew my senior year. I’ve written feature stories for the school newspaper for the last three years. I also was head of the Young Liberals Club this year and was a day prefect (a mentor for younger day students) for the last two years.
I expect my academic focus at Harvard to be on biology and neuroscience because it will help me toward my goal — one that some may call lofty.
One in every thousand people in the world has a problem with their auditory system. I am one of those people, and I want to change that.
I’ve kept a close eye on the development of the controversial research of stem cells and always wondered, could stem cells help us hear again?
I want to find a nonmechanical solution to help the hearing-impaired. I currently depend on a cochlear implant, which is a technological achievement in itself but I want to do better.
I want to be able to plant stem cells in the cochlea of the inner ear in place of the broken hair cells that are the most prominent cause of hearing impairment. My hope is that if stem cells can live up to the vaunted expectations, they should be able to regrow into hair cells, and restore hearing among millions.
I hope to work at the Stem Cell Institute at Harvard and just jump into the research that they are already conducting on stem cells and the regeneration of hair cells. College will be a continuation of my boundary-breaking journey, and I plan, just like stem cells, to live up to my own expectations.