PAGEANT WINNER SHOWS SIGNS OF DETERMINATION
When Jessica Burke, Ms. Deaf
Illinois, visited their class November 24, students in Patti Powell's sign
language course saw an example of the willpower and resolve that often
characterizes people with special needs.
Burke, a native of South
America, was chosen from among seven contestants as Ms. Deaf Illinois in
July, at a pageant sponsored by the Illinois Association for the Deaf and
Hard of Hearing. She will hold the title for two years and compete for
the Ms. Deaf America crown next year.
"I wanted to do something
for the deaf community and bring more awareness about deaf people," she
said through her interpreter and adoptive mother, Joan Burke. "One of my
high school teachers encouraged me to enter the pageant, and I thought
it would be a fun opportunity and allow me to meet new people."
Born in Colombia, she spent
the first 11 months of her life in an orphanage where her hearing loss
went undetected. Her caregivers concluded that she was not as responsive
as the other children. It was not until she was adopted 19 years ago by
the Burke family that her disability became evident.
Burke lives in LaGrange Park,
Illinois, and is a freshman at Rochester Institute of Technology in New
York, where she is studying digital imaging and publishing technology.
During the sign language class, she presented a children's story and fielded
questions from the students, who used sign language to converse with her.
She described some of her hobbies, which include hand-painted and computer-generated
artwork, and a few memories of last summer's pageant.
"Her story is remarkable,"
Powell said. "She's overcome a lot of adversity in her life, and her accomplishments
are a testament to her determination and perseverance. Her visit reinforced
to my students that children with special needs have the capabilities to
achieve great things."
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