Accessing a quality education is not always a given, but the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick makes sure its students have the tools they need to succeed.
Graduating senior Bobga Tete was selected by his peers to represent the Class of 2017 as a student speaker on Saturday during their graduation ceremony.
Tete was born in Cameroon and became deaf at age 3 after a serious illness. He attended primary and secondary schools for the deaf in Cameroon, where he learned to communicate using gestures.
“I could communicate, but I wasn’t getting a high-quality education,” Tete signed.
Tete and his family moved from Africa to the U.S. on Nov. 7, 2011, and he enrolled in a mainstream public school.
His educational opportunities improved, but communicating remained a problem. After searching online, he found the Maryland School for the Deaf, and he told his father he wanted to go.
“The impact that it had on me was it gave me pride and confidence,” Tete told the crowd, five years after joining the school.
The Maryland School for the Deaf is a bilingual English and American Sign Language program that strives to prepare its students through education. An estimated 20 percent of the world’s deaf children receive formal education, which means 80 percent get none, Superintendent James E. Tucker said.
With high school behind them, the Class of 2017 isn’t done yet.
Ninety percent of the school’s 47 seniors are heading to college next fall, said class adviser Lisa Schwarzenberger.
Tete and his roommate, class president Maverick Obermiller, will attend Rochester Institute of Technology in New York in the fall. Both plan to study engineering.
“During the prom, you did a Night Under the Stars and now, after you leave the graduation, you look up to the stars and remember the future is yours,” Schwarzenberger said.
Eve Wood-Jacobwitz was also selected to speak on behalf of her class. Wood-Jacobwitz was adopted from Bulgaria and has attended the Maryland School for the Deaf since kindergarten.
“You hunger for knowledge, and you’re lucky that the Maryland School for the Deaf provided that example,” Wood-Jacobwitz said.
But, knowledge isn’t gained just inside the classroom.
On vacations and during the summer, Wood-Jacobwitz took time to volunteer with deaf children and aging adults. For her, it has instilled a great sense of patience and showed her a diversity of human experiences, she said.
“They really encourage us to volunteer and help in the community,” Wood-Jacobwitz said.
Wood-Jacobwitz plans to attend Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private university for Deaf and hard of hearing persons, in Washington, D.C., and plans to major in international studies.
Wood-Jacobwitz’s future plans were reinforced by Ingrid Parkin, principal of St. Vincent School for the Deaf in Johannesburg, South Africa, who gave the commencement address during the graduation.
She implored the graduates to support each other and be their own hero.
“When you help other people, that will give significance to the life you lead,” Parkin said.
The interviews in this article were translated by American Sign Language interpreters.