My experience in Washington DC was like a dandelion that finally bloomed on a stone street. Ten years ago, I was a fresh teen girl who had just graduated from high school and had moved to study abroad alone. I entered the English Language Institute (ELI) at Gallaudet University, the only university for deaf students in the United States. I studied American Sign Language (ASL) and English, and began to stay in touch with Yoshiko Dart. Although at that time we had never met in person, she left a tiny seed in my heart, sharing strength with her statement of “POWER! POWER OF DEAF PEOPLE! LEAD ON!”

Yoshiko Dart and Manako Yabe

Yoshiko Dart and Manako Yabe

Ten years later, I never imagined that I would become an Illinois LEND self-advocate and come back to gather my uncountable harvest at the 2016 Disability Policy Seminar. During my visit, I was surprised to meet Christopher Samp, a deaf staff assistant from Senator Durbin’s office. I also met my former colleagues and clients from Access Living. Finally, I was very honored to meet Yoshiko in person. Her messages always remained so powerful: “YOU HAVE POWER! LIVE THE DREAM!”

After these meetings, I had to hurry and try to grab a cab to visit Gallaudet University before my flight. However, when I got into the cab, I gasped at my experience. The cab driver smiled and signed to me, “I have a deaf brother. His wife and children are also deaf, and they graduated from Gallaudet University.” I could not believe the coincidence.

When I arrived at Gallaudet University, it was so quiet – Students were still in their classrooms but my heart was beating loudly. The environment and atmosphere were still same. It reminded me of the days when I struggled with learning ASL and English. I entered the ELI office, and I found my former instructors and colleagues. They looked puzzled and stared at me for a few seconds. Then they realized who I was, and they said, round-eyed with amazement, “You are so grown up!”

At that moment, I found that the seed which had been left with me ten years ago was no longer just a tiny seed. It had now blossomed, and that blossom had hundreds of new seeds – seeds of advocacy, seeds of empowerment, seeds of leadership, and seeds of social justice. I walked outside and looked into the bright blue sky. I could see the hundreds of seeds now flying away into the sunshine around Washington DC, and I was fraught with mixed emotions and great joy.