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June 16, 2004

Langford Senior Chosen Girl's Nation Delegate

From: Marshall County Journal - Britton,SD,USA - Jun 16, 2004

Chelsea Tobin couldn't hear the cheers, but she could see them.

The Langford High School senior-to-be, who was born unable to hear, gave the keynote address for eventual Girls' State Governor Amber Stern of Freeman earlier this month, and she did what every good keynote speaker hopes to do. She revved up the crowd of over 400 Girls' State delegates for her candidate.

"I got them excited for my governor's speech," wrote Tobin, who "signed" her talk that was relayed to the crowd by interpreters. "And when I made them cheer for my governor, their cheers were deafening - so deafening that my own interpreters almost went deaf!"

Tobin was also one of two delegates to be chosen to represent South Dakota at Girls' Nation July 24-31 in Washington, DC.

In addition to being a keynote speaker, the announcement that she had been selected as a Girls' Nation delegate was a highlight for Tobin.

"When I won Girls' Nation delegate, the girls behind me (since I sit up in the front) stood up and waved their hands as in the deaf cheer, since I couldn't hear the cheers! It was an awesome sight."

But for those who have come to know the bubbly daughter of Rodney and Evie Tobin of Langford, it wasn't a surprise.

"Chelsea herself says, 'I can do anything but hear,'" said Joyce Levsen of Webster, her interpreter for the past seven years and the person that Tobin calls her "other half." "The sky's the limit for that girl. She is warm, outgoing, and bubbles over with personality. And her great sense of humor puts everyone at ease so that they feel comfortable even when communication might be difficult."

Tobin was the first deaf girl to ever attend South Dakota's Girls' State, and she will be just the second deaf girl to ever attend Girls' Nation since it began in 1947. Ninety-six high school seniors from 48 states will become "senators."

"Being named a Girls' Nation delegate is a big deal, and it speaks so loudly for Chelsea," said Langford Superintendent Monte Nipp. "The people at Girls' State knew her for less than a week and said, 'Hey, she would be a really good representative for South Dakota. She really has overcome her disability."

The week-long program will give the Girls' Nation participants a first-hand introduction to the structure and function of the federal government. Visits are also planned to several historic and government sites such as Arlington National Cemetery, the National Mall, U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Department of State, and Capitol Hill.

"I'm looking forward to the experience of a lifetime," Tobin wrote. "I'll meet interesting people from different states and hopefully have a blister-free experience from dress shoes!"

She also would love to again be active in a campaign on the national level.

"If there's another keynote speaker opportunity, I would definitely like that," said Tobin. "If not, my next option is to become president!"

Public speaking is not new to the Langford student.

"I actually considered trying for governor - to be the first deaf Girls' State Governor," noted Tobin. "But I've given public presentations many times, so I figured that keynote speaker was just the thing for me."

"I wasn't surprised to hear that Chelsea gave the keynote address," said Kelly Mills, her English and speech teacher at Langford. "That's so right up her alley. She gives some of the best speeches with such enthusiasm. Chelsea just seems to put a little extra bit of energy and effort into everything."

Tobin has been speaking in Aberdeen at Barrier Awareness Days for the past four years. She speaks to Aberdeen sixth graders about her life and what it's like to be a deaf person. She has also given presentations to students in other communities.

"She's inspired many," said Levsen, who is hoping to accompany Tobin to Girls' Nation. "Chelsea is a very experienced speaker and enjoys it."

The Girls' Nation delegate has worked hard to overcome her inability to hear, but she has a very simple word of advice for others working to overcome disabilities.

"The number one rule is to have a positive attitude and know how to smile," concluded Tobin. "This actually isn't for people with disabilities, it's actually for anybody. My toughest barrier to overcome is the attitude barrier."

But Tobin is used to hurdling barriers.

"She is the only deaf student in the Langford School District, but the students' perception of a deaf person here is that they're absolutely normal," said Nipp. "And that's a testament to Chelsea on how she's accepted her disability and decided to make the most of it."

"I noticed right from the start that she's just one of the kids," said Mills. "I have to tell Chelsea to be quiet just as much as anybody else, but it's a wonderful thing as a teacher to look out and have somebody smiling at you. She just brings a positive energy to the classroom."

"One of Chelsea's strong points is that she's the one who can break down the barriers that might have other people feeling a little intimidated communicating with her or wondering what accommodations need to be made for her," added Levsen. "She just jumps right in and doesn't let anything stop her. And if any accommodations need to be made, she figures out how to do that. Chelsea doesn't want to be treated any differently than anyone else."

Nipp and Mills said credit also goes to Tobin's parents.

"Rod and Evie never treated her like she had a disability, and they never once said no to her when she wanted to participate in something. They would do whatever they needed to do to support her and get her there," Nipp said.

"Her parents have done a really good job of helping her feel she's just like everybody else," echoed Mills. "And if she doesn't succeed at something, she just tries again. She doesn't let her disability get in her way."

Tobin is not certain of what lies in her future, but she's looking forward to it with her characteristic positive attitude.

"I plan to attend Augustana College in Sioux Falls to major in deaf education and minor in public speaking - or vice versa'" concluded Tobin. "Who knows what God has in store for me!"

©Marshall County Journal 2004