Thirty-three seniors from the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick entered the school gym Friday to applause, cheers and waving hands. They were all about to graduate and take their next steps into the real world as adults.

The students entered the gym from two different side doors and walked toward the center aisle past family, friends, fellow students and teachers. When a pair met in the middle, they performed what seemed to be a planned gesture before walking down the aisle to their seats together, most arm in arm.

There were secret handshakes, fist bumps, hip bumps and even a quick dab (a popular dance move among young people) from one pair.

Each graduation cap was decorated. One with Han Solo, one with the phrase “she’s on her way” and one, in particular, was split down the middle, with the American flag covering half and the German flag covering the other half.

This cap belonged to Fabian Pufhan, an exchange student from Germany who decided to spend his final year of high school in the United States.

“It’s a really nice experience for me to get to go to graduation and have that American high school experience,” Pufhan said through an interpreter.

He wanted to come to America to learn American Sign Language and improve his English overall.

He said the American deaf school experience is different from the one in Germany because there are deaf teachers who can share their life experiences with students, instead of teachers who simply know sign language. Additionally, there are more readily available resources for the American deaf community.

“You don’t have to pay for interpreters here, whereas in Germany I have to pay for my interpreters, and it can be expensive,” Pufhan said. “[And] here, everything is captioned on TV whereas in Germany there might only be two or three channels that have captioning, so it’s limited.”

Pufhan returns to Germany in three weeks where he will attend associate school, which he explained was a sort of “pre-college” for German students.

The graduation ceremony was also live-streamed so that Pufhan’s family could watch and share in his achievement.

Many of the seniors will be taking their next steps in college, with eight going just down the road to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Gallaudet is a federally chartered private university for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Rajena Guettler is one of those eight. She plans to major in business administration and hopes to one day open her own shoe shop and design sneakers.

Guettler said her biggest challenge over the past four years was figuring out who she was, but that her MSD community stood by her every step of the way.

“My freshman and sophomore year I had long hair, I wore dresses, I was very girly. And then my sophomore year, at the end, I cut my hair,” Guettler said. “It was a challenge stepping out of my comfort zone to find myself ... [but] everybody supported me.”

Moving forward, many said they would never forget their time at MSD and that they would always keep in touch with one another.

Class speaker Tyler Glennon ended his remarks at the ceremony with a famous quote and words of encouragement.

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain,” Glennon said. “Make sure you go forward and dance in the rain. That’s what helped us make it.”

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill.

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