October 25th, 2016
“Mom, Dad, I’m going to RIT for college and I’m going to become an interpreter.”
“Okay honey, go ahead and finish middle school first and then we can talk about RIT.”
While most thirteen year old girls were busy making sure their jeans were skinny enough and their UGG boots were in style, you were busy discovering that sign language interpreting was the career for you and that RIT was the place to pursue your dreams. Who knew that a heartfelt quote on the television show Switched at Birth would ignite the interest of such an unsuspecting eighth grader? It was a simple but powerful conversation between two mothers Regina and Kathryn, who share a Deaf daughter, about the best way for both families to communicate with her. In an emotional exchange after weeks of back and forth, Regina grabbed Kathryn’s hands and cried, “Use these. The sooner you learn her language, the sooner you will get to know the incredible person that you gave birth to.” It was in that moment when your eyes widened and your heart raced that you knew that a new language, culture, and community would open up if you learned her language.
To that end, you scoured the Internet. Your hands raced across the keys on the computer as you perused website after website. Finally, two pivotal things spoke to you: the Atlanta International Language Institute and a certain teacher’s biography. An accomplished interpreter and longtime teacher, Sarah embodied the essence of who you aspired to be. Without hesitation, you knew her class was the one for you. On the first day of class, Sarah both spoke and signed, but you focused in on the meanings behind her hand movements. You saw her hands as your future and quickly envisioned yourself in her shoes. Week after week for three years, you soaked up the intricate concepts of ASL: everything from the thousands of new words to the unique aspects of Deaf culture and community. These experiences instilled an unshakable confidence in you to become a lifelong ASL student, born from the desire to always feed your budding knowledge.
Eight weeks into your ASL journey you ventured out beyond the walls of your classroom and composed an award winning essay titled, “What a Language Can Teach You.” With that your community recognized your aptitude for signing and expressed a curiosity to see more. This recognition led you to design and take an elective course through the gifted program at school in the sign language field. In this class, you had the opportunity to grow in your ASL knowledge. Interpreting lessons for Deaf first graders at a mainstream school as an assignment enhanced your skill level with hands on experience for your future career path. Like a sponge, you tried to soak up as much ASL as possible. Writing essays about the foundations of sign language gave you a more wholesome view and appreciation for its rich history. Researching and giving a presentation about the outrage surrounding the fake interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral reminded you that integrity is key to maintaining a sense of right and wrong when in a position of total control. Following the end of the class, you yearned to keep learning. You demonstrated your enthusiasm about passing on your knowledge to others by standing confident and comfortable in front of a group of high school students when you taught beginner level ASL at your school and your synagogue. Even things you did in your free time translated into more practice, like interpreting English into ASL by making three music interpretation videos. Early practice gave you the ability to begin developing a bilingual mastery.
Later, Gallaudet University’s Immerse Into ASL Summer Camp became a home away from home; it was a place of immediate immersion into 24/7 signing and daily classes of the highest level offered for an entire week. For three summers in a row you blossomed in its environment, fitting in immediately with eager students like yourself. Gallaudet was where you started to realize your goal of achieving a high level of fluency and cultural awareness. Both on and off the campus you interacted first hand with the Deaf community. It was the place you needed outside of your local hearing community where you could further grow your blooming skills and communicate in a real world setting.
Out into the city you went on camp experiences, voice and ears off, ready to put yourself in Deaf people’s shoes and learn about their daily lives. On these outings, you encountered situations where using your voice would have been easier. It proved difficult yet valuable to refrain from speaking. When the waitress at one restaurant rolled her eyes at you because she had to read your order off of your phone, it taught you to be patient and socially aware. When another restaurant had rice and vegetable cups set out for you to point to what you wanted, it showed you how going the extra mile to communicate can make all the difference. You realized there is a communication barrier that needs to be broken. As an interpreter, it will become part of your job to support the foundation for a bridge between communities that is actively being built by the Deaf community.
Effectively communicating with others, a skill you work hard to maintain, is essential to becoming a successful interpreter. As former communications manager and current editor-in-chief of your school’s literary magazine, leading others through active interaction and openness has instilled in you the ability to find a healthy balance when in a power role by being a calm yet assertive presence. You make proactivity a priority by generating creative solutions that meet the needs of others and are dedicated to efficiently carrying out anything that you set your mind to. What makes your communication and leadership especially strong is that while you do have weaknesses, you always work hard to be aware of them and strengthen them.
While most seventeen-year-old girls are busy making sure their shorts are short enough and their chacos are in style, you are opening your letter from RIT, ecstatic as you realize your dream of attending RIT to become a sign language interpreter is finally tangible. You visited the campus your junior year and again over this past summer. That is where you are meant to be, walking the quarter mile, eating at Gracie’s, and spending your time in the LBJ building working to turn your dream into a reality. There is a letter in your hands that screams “Congratulations!” in big orange letters. Your smile leaves you with only one thing left to say:
“Mom, Dad, I’m going to RIT for college and I’m going to become an interpreter!”