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December 30, 2004

Springfield: Deafness leads to a high honor

From: Toledo Blade, OH - Dec 30, 2004

Student wins essay contest about 'Laws of Life'


Jessie Zamichow knows something about making hard choices and overcoming obstacles. The 16-year-old Holland resident was born deaf.

When she was in the seventh grade, she and her parents decided to move her from the Ida, Mich., school system where she attended a school for the deaf and hearing impaired, to the Springfield Local Schools system.

The move meant that she would not only have to make new friends, but she would have to face the daunting reality of being one of very few, if not the only, deaf students in her school.

But the Springfield High School sophomore says she has long learned that facing adverse situations in life only makes her stronger as long as she never gives up.

Last week, her resolve was rewarded when she was selected as the winner of the Laws of Life Essay Contest at her high school, earning her $500.

The nationally renowned essay contest is held in high schools across the country and was started in 1987 by Sir John Templeton, a native Tennesseean, known for his business acumen and philanthropy. Students are required to put those "laws" that dictate their decision-making - morals, ethics, character - into an essay.

Even though all of the students at Springfield High School were required to write an essay, 118 of them entered the contest, which was locally sponsored by the Springfield School Foundation and the estate of George Ballas, a former area businessman.

Christina White, a community liaison for the school district, said that it was a notable achievement for a sophomore to win the school-wide contest this year because there are no parameters.

"The students are encouraged to write about what they know, how they feel, and what they value," she said. "This is a contest that forces these students to sit down and think about some of the things that mold their character," she said.

Seated in the comfortable surroundings of her dining room on a recent afternoon, Jessie was not shy to talk about the fear of going into unfamiliar surroundings; of not knowing whether her peers would have patience for her or how she would adjust to being in an environment in which nobody understands what it is to be deaf.

But these are situations in which she thrives- revealing aspects of her fighting spirit.

"Sometimes life is hard, unfair, and painful. When people face difficult things, they have two choices. One is to give up. It may feel OK at first because you stop struggling. But, in the future, you may look back and realize you could have done something that mattered. The other choice is to keep going and surpass the problem."

This opening paragraph of her winning essay, "My Law of Life," is an insight into her ethos of overcoming what might seem like an obstacle.

English classes, for example, have always been hard for her. She said she struggled initially because it was hard for her to understand certain words and expressions because she cannot hear what other people are saying.

"To her, English is like a foreign language," explained her father, David Zamichow. "But I'm very proud of her. She particularly works hard to be a better communicator."

His daughter, who has a severe to profound hearing loss does all of her communication through lip-reading, even though she talks very well. She wants to eventually follow in her father's footsteps and become a broadcast journalist.

Mr. Zamichow is the general manager of Toledo's WTVG-TV, Channel 13.

On the first day of her Christmas break, Jessie reflected on some of the low points of her experience.

She said that making friends is the hardest thing about school, but as a member of her junior basketball team and an avid soccer player, she has found her niche.

"Sometimes people give up when they're communicating with her," said Carolyn Jabs, her mother.

But that's a reality Jessie readily accepts.

"It is not easy being me," she said and then she smiled before adding, "but I'll never give up."

Contact Karamagi Rujumba at: or 419-724-6064.

© 2004 The Blade.