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!”
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.