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June 8, 2003

Jennifer Burnett, Katie Spencer: Obstacle overcome

From: Everett Herald, WA - Jun 8, 2003

GRANITE FALLS -- Jennifer Burnett and Katie Spencer followed different paths through Granite Falls High School.

Burnett was the athlete, always at home on a softball field or volleyball court and ever eager to take on student leadership roles. As graduation neared last week, she was still preparing photos for the senior slide show and her commencement remarks.

Spencer was the artist and yearbook editor, a classmate more on the periphery but always searching for ways to help others, whether on a church mission to Ukraine or donating long locks of her hair to cancer patients. Truth be told, her best friend in high school was her cat, Julie.

Burnett worked for a law firm and wants to become a lawyer; Spencer worked at a library and aspires to become a teacher.

On the journey to graduation, Burnett and Spencer shared a few trails. Both became National Honor Society students, earned scholarships and were accepted to out-of-state colleges.

"We are good students and we worked hard," Spencer said.

Harder, perhaps, than many of their peers.

Burnett and Spencer are deaf.

Years of long bus rides to schools that specialized in helping deaf students prepared them well for high school in the small town.

Both credit their parents, who pushed them to succeed and helped them with studies when they needed it.

For as long as she can remember, Burnett yearned for the mainstream, to be a part of her community.

"I wanted to be here for my graduation," she said through a sign language interpreter. "I am really glad that I could be.

"I will miss everybody here," she said. "I will miss school. I know life is going to change."

From the time she was 2 years old, Spencer has been in school.

Last week, all of her bus drivers over the 11 years she commuted to Seattle signed a congratulatory card.

By her estimate, the trips to and from Seattle covered more than 130,000 miles.

It was exhausting at times, but then she thinks about her mother and father and sister learning a new language so they could communicate with her. She knows that her mother, Debra, never accepted the doctor's dire prediction that she might never read beyond a third-grade level.

And she is thankful.

She draws inspiration from another source.

"One of the verses from the Bible that I like to use is Philippians 4:13: 'I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.' This certainly is true, because look at what I overcame all those years."

Copyright © 2003 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, Wash.