Quiet triumph

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
Tomi McLinden’s list of high school activities would fill up the “extracurricular activities” box on any college application-student council, FFA, Girls State, Kansas House/Senate page, track, basketball, cross country, volleyball, theater, dance team and cheerleading.

But what you won’t see when you look at this active Marion High School senior and all her accomplishments is that she is special in another way-she is deaf.

McLinden is quick to say she doesn’t like to be treated differently than anyone else.

“It makes me uncomfortable, but I accept it,” she said.

She is also reluctant to say high school has been any more challenging for her than for any other teenager, although she admits that communication is sometimes difficult.

“Communication is a challenge,” she said. “I am the only deaf person in this high school, and it is really hard to communicate without an interpreter. We have to write notes, and there is no time between classes to do that.”

Interpreter Pat Nystrom is by her side in all her classes, signing to McLinden what the teacher and other students are saying, and being her voice to the class.

“I have the interpreter sit where I can see the interpreter and the instructor,” she said. “The interpreter points out who is talking. I need to see both.

“When I work with a group , when the other people talk, the interpreter signs what they are saying and then when I would add things, she tries to make her voice sound like me.”

The interpreter also signs videos the class is seeing.

“Sometimes there are closed captions. If not, the interpreter sits by the TV,” she said.

McLinden uses another interpreter for sports. She gets a lot of help from fellow team members too, she said.

“The interpreter interprets what the coach says,” she said. “But mostly, the other girls would tell me. The cheerleaders know some sign language.”

McLinden said her friends work hard to communicate with her.

“I have some friends who can sign and a few friends who can’t sign, but they try finger spelling,” she said. “Sometimes I read lips and they help. Some of my friends will be taking sign-language classes in college. They are really excited to learn sign language so they can communicate with me.”

McLinden said her teachers have also been quite helpful.

One teacher who has had a powerful impact on her is Mary Griffith, her English teacher.

“She likes to talk directly to me,” she said. “She tries to learn to sign.”

McLinden said her favorite class is photography. She has taken two photography classes this year and has found she loves expressing herself through photographs.

“I really enjoy photography-I have photos in an art show in Salina at the mall,” she said proudly.

“For traditional photography, I did night photos,” she added. “That is what is showing in the mall.”

She talks excitedly about a project she did in her digital photography class .

“You stay in one place and take different angles of different subjects, then put the pictures together-it’s almost like a puzzle,” she said.

McLinden is also proud of her “friends project” for which she took colored pictures of her friends and then used computer program to change the tones to sepia.

“I plan to take photography classes in college,” McLinden said.

She said her photography is “just for fun,” but she hasn’t ruled out doing some professional photography work.

“In the future I would really enjoy that if they need me,” she said.

Her other favorite class might surprise people who don’t know her. It is public speaking.

“I signed, and the interpreter voiced,” she said. “Also, I did some acting gestures where they could read my facial expressions.”

She found she enjoyed giving the speeches and demonstrations that were part of the class.

Getting up in front of large groups of people doesn’t bother McLinden.

“I was in a musical last year-Fiddler on the Roof,” she said. “I danced and signed some songs.”

Next fall, McLinden will begin classes at Butler County Community college in El Dorado. Like any soon-to-be college student, she is excited about college life and living in the dorm.

She said she plans to take a full load of classes including “jazz, public speech, lifetime fitness, psychology and a history class.”

She will again rely on an interpreter for assistance with lectures.

McLinden already has her post-college plans pretty well mapped out.

“I want to work with early childhood as a teacher or para and maybe teach dance,” she said.

Being a teacher has been her dream since elementary school.

“I wanted to become a teacher so bad,” she said. “I really love kids and I would like to teach them. While I am in college, I am going to work with the early childhood program at school.”

McLinden has been deaf since birth, and teachers have always been an important part of her life.

“I started school at home when I was about a year old,” she said. “The teacher would have a cup and show me the sign for the cup.”

McLinden said her family has always been supportive of her, and she appreciates that many of her family members can sign.

“Some more than others,” she said, smiling.

She has two older sisters, Amanda and Ann. Amanda is hard of hearing, McLinden said, so they share certain communication challenges.

Living in a small town doesn’t give McLinden much opportunity to interact with other deaf students. She said she does have some deaf friends, but they are out of town.

“I went to deaf camp and met some friends and got addresses, and we keep in touch,” she said.

McLinden has always attended public schools, and has much to say in praise of the education she has received.

“Public schools have better English, and you really need that to survive,” she said. “You need that to be able to get a job.”

McLinden said English, grammar and writing are all things she has learned that might not have been taught as thoroughly in a school for the deaf.

“Sign language is a different language, and those things are not always included,” she said.”If you write what sign language means, it would look different.”

McLinden offers this advice for people who are conversing with a person who is deaf.

“Look at the person when you talk,” she said. “Then it is easier to read lips or see the expressions. And use your whole body to act.”

McLinden won’t have any difficulty reading the expressions on her family’s faces at commencement on Sunday.

They will be expressions of joy and pride.

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