Tomi Lisoyi and her brother Tobi, were born in Nigeria, but it wasn’t until they moved to Frederick that they found their true home.
Both are deaf and and have spent time at schools for the deaf in Ghana and England. However, It wasn’t until 2012, when they enrolled at the Maryland School for the Deaf, that they began to find themselves.
Tomi and Tobi made friends with the other students immediately. They learned American sign language within weeks. The stigma they felt in other places over being deaf was mostly vanquished in Frederick.
“It was amazing,” said Tomi, 19, through an interpreter. “I had tried all of those other places and they didn’t feel right. Once I got to Frederick, I thought ‘This is it. This is the place for us.’”
Tomi and Tobi, 21, were two of the 21 students who graduated from the Maryland School for the Deaf on Saturday. The students were surrounded by family members, school officials and community members in the school’s auditorium, as they bid farewell to the school that some have called home since the age of 2.
Other students came to the school from different places, at different ages, each with different stories. Each of them contributed to the unique spirit and creativity at the tight-knit school, many staff members said.
School superintendent James E. Tucker told the graduates that he defined their class by the motto “Quality over Quantity.”
The 2016 class is smaller than most, he said, but they’ve made important contributions to the school’s nearly 150-year lineage. Tucker asked the students to remember the progress that has been made by deaf people in recent decades, and to not let their talents be wasted by their perceived disability.
“The energy that has flown through you guys has been truly amazing,” he said. “You’re a smaller class than normal, but you’ve left your mark on all of us. Now go out and make things happen.”
The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Joe Dannis, founder of DawnSignPress, a leading publisher of American Sign Language books, software and DVDs. Dannis, who is also deaf, reiterated Tucker’s point.
Dannis told the graduates that while he was growing up in the 1970s, being deaf was difficult. He pointed out that the use of sign language by people who could hear was more rare. Public places such as restaurants and stores were not equipped for them, and technology for the hard of hearing was almost nonexistent.
Dannis said at first, nobody believed that he could start a successful business. He chose to persevere. He started the business with $1,000. He worked side jobs to make extra money while the business grew. Before long, DawnSignPress had become his full-time job, he said.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” he said. “Deaf America has made a lot of progress in recent years. It’s your job to push our culture even further.”
Tomi said after the ceremony that she plans to attend Gallaudet University, the Washington institute for the deaf and hard-of-hearing in the fall. She hopes to become a mental health counselor. Tobi plans to attend the Workforce Trade Center in Baltimore to learn to become a mechanic.
Adele Daniels, 18, said she attended the Maryland School for the Deaf until the first grade, but left when her parents moved. She returned in 2014, and since then, she learned to paint, draw and take photographs. Daniels wants to make a living off of those talents and plans to attend Gallaudet University, where she’ll major in art.
“Art makes people feel good,” she said. “I’d like to contribute to that.”
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