Spring Returning and other news!

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here! I had a busy summer, and while I was working I didn’t get online too much, believe it or not. I spent my summer working in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) internship. I know what you’re thinking and no, I did not do any science. But I did interpret it! The program was built for students who want to spend their summer doing practical chemistry research, and applications are extended to both hearing and deaf students. Because the program is inclusive in nature, they also hire two student interpreters who want to spend their summer getting hands-on experience interpreting (literally). I was hired for the second time as a student interpreter for REU 2015.

Every student has an advisor for the summer, including the interpreting students, and everyone spends ten weeks doing research. The interpreting students don’t get off easy; the chemistry kids are doing their research in lab while we conduct our own research based in American Sign Language (ASL), typically linguistics in particular. This summer our research was rooted in the reception and practice of fingerspelling, and we used the chemistry students (who were not familiar with ASL at the beginning of the summer) as our subjects.

But the research isn’t what makes this internship so ideal, it’s the practical experience. Not only are we working in the labs 9-5 every day observing interpreters, or working on supplemental activities elsewhere, everyone in the REU lives together in one dorm, deaf and hearing alike. So, the student interpreters facilitate communication in the dorm as well. It is an incredible learning experience, and all of the Deaf (and hearing) students were incredibly patient; we are just students, after all! It is complete immersion and it truly is the best way to learn, I had so much fun. I still have a lot to learn, but I always love opportunities to improve and work on my sign skills, especially with all of the people that became my family this summer.

Now that the summer is ending I am getting myself ready to start school. I am currently visiting Nashville and acclimating to the idea of calling this my new home! As I type this I am currently sitting on the floor of my very empty bedroom; none of our furniture has been moved from our house in Chesapeake to our new house out here yet. Still, it’s an exciting adventure for my family that I will have to witness from afar as I finish up my senior year at JMU!

It is almost time to for my 21st birthday and I couldn’t be more excited! Not because I will get to drink legally since my health doesn’t allow it (I joked with my dad about getting a rental car in California to celebrate my birthday instead of going out for a drink), but because on my birthday weekend I am headed up to New York to see Spring Awakening on Broadway!! I would be shocked if most of you reading didn’t know this already…I could act as the one-woman sales rep for this production what with all of the promoting I’ve been doing on social media. I swear it’s for good reason, not just to annoy everyone.

It’s pretty remarkable that this show is on Broadway; it is opening so many doors for anyone that has been told they can’t do something because of who they are. This isn’t just making history for the Deaf and theatre communities, but for anyone who has ever been called “different” in a negative context. It’s also changing the face of Broadway and the idea of accessibility not only on the Great White Way, but in theaters across the country. I feel indescribably proud knowing how big of an impact this show will have on this country, and I’m not even involved in the show!

In past semesters, particularly last spring, I was feeling pretty discouraged about my education. I thought I was paying $20,000 a year for a school that wasn’t giving me exactly what I needed. After a major shift in perspective, I realized that I won’t ever get an education that is 100% perfect and suited for me. I want to go into something incredibly specialized, and who knows if I will even end up exactly where I envision myself. However, I have learned to make the best of my education in this final year as an undergraduate. I will be doing an independent study this semester focusing on adapting plays/musicals for a Deaf theatre (similar to what Deaf West did with Spring Awakening). I will be reading 10-12 plays throughout the semester and studying adaptation methods and practices in order to apply them to each script I read. The goal is that I end up with 2 plays to carry over into my senior thesis and pick one of them to adapt. If you are interested in the work I will be doing, keep your eye out on my blog. Part of my syllabus includes assignments that are simply to post my progress right here, so stay tuned!

This independent study was largely inspired by Spring Awakening…I know people get sick of me talking about the show, but it has taught me so much since I saw it in November. It taught me to dream big, that this kind of thing is possible, that there is a lot still to learn, that I might be the odd duck among my peers and that’s ok, that I have a crazy amount of passion and drive with more still to uncover, and to pursue that passion with reckless abandon. I owe a lot to that production, to the friends I made who are in the production, and to the people who funded my trip (Dean Sparks is the man!). In the past few months I really wanted to work on Spring Awakening; I was willing to leave school and do anything for the show…hell, I would’ve been the guy who sweeps up at the end of the night just to be in the same space as these artists. I may not be working on the show, but now I have hope that it’s possible to do something similar someday because of this transfer to Broadway. And, more importantly, I have the motivation and excitement to finish school strong. Even if it isn’t 100% perfect, it’s pretty damn close.

I did want to conclude this post with a note about the shooting that took place the other day in Roanoke, killing two innocent journalists. I have grown up with a journalist as a father, constantly hearing stories about the business and watching the news every night at dinner. I have friends who are anchors, reporters, meteorologists, producers, editors, etc., so this shooting hit a little closer to home (not to mention one of the victims was a JMU alum). It hurts my heart to know that these two journalists were out doing what they do every single day, focused on being a vehicle for the people to provide honest, uncovered news, and they were shot and killed when they were the most vulnerable and unsuspecting.
It is important to remember what we know of these two people, Alison and Adam; that they were good at their jobs, that they both were in love, they had families, they dedicated themselves to do good work. Let us remember that the man who killed them was not in a normal state of mind, that when he claims Alison “made racist comments,” that this statement is coming from someone who thought it was ok to shoot two people and film himself doing it. Let us remember that Alison is not here to defend herself against these remarks, and now the shooter isn’t able to provide any further evidence to support the claims he made against her on social media. Let us remember the legacy that these two journalists left behind. Let us remember that families, friends, colleagues, fellow journalists, and so many more are grieving over this loss and should not have to think about the shallow, unsupported claims made by Vester Lee Flanagan II. Let us remember that despite the grief most of us feel, the conversation about gun violence should not stop here. Let us remember Alison Parker and Adam Ward.

Thanks for reading!