By Joseph Garcia —
The American Sign Language department and the LGBT Center teamed up with the Student Activities Board to bring actor, model and deaf activist Nyle DiMarco to U of L to give the Keynote Address for Deaf Awareness and Pride Week.
The SAC’s Ballroom was bustling Sept. 27 with hundreds from all over the Louisville community who showed up to see DiMarco, but more importantly, support both the LGBTQ and deaf communities.
The event was accessible, with many of the front seats in the room reserved for the deaf community and much of the staff themselves, who knew sign language.
“Watching how excited the deaf community was for this event was half the fun,” sophomore Carrington Padgett, an American Sign Language Interpreting Studies major said.
“It fills my heart with pride to know my university cares so much about the minorities on our campus.”
DiMarco, winner of both season 22 of America’s Next Top Model and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, took to the stage after brief introductions and the crowd went wild. The deaf model and actor recounted growing up in a deaf family and the struggles he faced both in deaf schools and public education.
“All of my deaf peers couldn’t sign as well as me. The reason being was that their parents were hearing and didn’t want to learn sign. All of the teachers at that time couldn’t sign either, I mean, they could sign, but they weren’t as fluent,” DiMarco said.
DiMarco went on to talk about how it severely hindered his learning experience.
“My mother was furious and after approaching the school board and nothing being done, moved us out to Austin, Texas to one of the best deaf schools in the nation,” he said.
DiMarco also talked about his travels abroad and how deaf people around the world face similar challenges in terms of lack of education. This was the origin story for the Nyle DiMarco Foundation he explained.
“Two percent of the world’s Deaf population has access to education in sign language,” DiMarco said. “The first day we started the foundation, we got thousands of emails from hearing parents begging for resources.”
DiMarco’s foundation partnered with another organization to pass a bill in eight states stating that any deaf child would have access to proper education from the day they are born.
Before concluding his talk, DiMarco reminded the audience about the importance of his identity.
“I’ve never once wished I could hear because I cherish my identity as a deaf man,” Dimarco said.
He also finished by teaching the audience two important words in sign, “Love. Yourself.”
“Like I said at the beginning, you have to love yourself first. In order to find yourself in life, you have to be authentic and in order to do that you have to love yourself as much as you can,” said DiMarco.
Photo by Joseph Garcia / The Louisville Cardinal