IM this article to a friend!

June 2, 2007

Speaker urges VSDB students to 'be yourself'

From: Staunton News Leader - Staunton,VA,USA - Jun 2, 2007

Grads look back fondly at their time at VSDB

By Alice Mannette/staff

STAUNTON — Starting at 20 months old, Robert Lee Strickler Jr. was placed into a toddler car seat by his mother, kissed goodbye, then transported 20 miles by cab to school. He continued to ride from Waynesboro to Staunton each school day for the next 16 years, until Friday's graduation.

Strickler, along with five other students, walked across the graduation stage of the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton. Onlookers in the nearly full auditorium clapped, hooted and raised their hands, their fingers vibrating in praise.

Each student was recognized for their achievements. Several graduates plan to attend college; others like Travis Martin, who received a certificate from Valley Vocational-Technical Center in automotive body repair, will go straight to work.

But the main thing, said former teacher and inspirational speaker Mike Marzolf, is to make good choices, feel comfortable and work well in the area you choose.

"Work toward your goals," he signed to the crowd. "Sometimes you might need to change your goals. That's OK. But believe in yourselves. It is wonderful to be unique."

Strickler, who received an advanced degree and two scholarships, continued Marzolf's theme.

"Listen to your heart and be nobody but yourself," he told his fellow graduates in his honorary farewell speech.

The Waynesboro native will attend Gallaudet College in the fall. He plans to major in English and American Sign Language, hoping someday to teach and possibly receive a doctorate.

"I love it here," he said about the school. "It's like my second home."

Danielle Amburn of Powhatan considers VSDB her second home, too. She will continue on with the school next year, helping students in the nursery learn sign language.

"VSDB has been wonderful for me," signed graduate Matthew Glass. The Tappanhannock native informed the crowd that he was not able to succeed in either public school or the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind at Hampton.

"I've been successful here," he signed to the crowd, a grin reaching across his face. "I've become a successful bright star. I love this school."

Glass hopes to go to Gallaudet College next spring. He's not sure whether he wants to be an actor, photographer or veterinarian.

Each student presented their parents with a red rose and a hug.

Mary Terry wiped tears from her eyes as she hugged her son, Robert Strickler, after he walked off stage with his diploma.

"It's incredible," she said through tears. Terry learned American Sign Language early on. "It's overwhelming. I am overjoyed."

Strickler's father, Robert Strickler Sr., was so choked up all he could say was, "I'm so proud."

©2007 News Leader.