Students left the Shirley Bird Perry Ballroom Tuesday night with newfound knowledge of two signs in American Sign Language: “LOVE YOURSELF.”
Deaf activist Nyle DiMarco spoke to around 500 attendees about how his experiences as a deaf person shaped him into a famous advocate for deaf education. He also talked about how his own perseverance through adversity taught him the importance of embracing who you are.
“I use my experience as an asset,” DiMarco said. “I am just the same as everyone else, and all of you can use your differences to your advantage.”
DiMarco, who has over 300,000 Twitter followers, won both America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars competitions. He said he worked hard to disprove the stereotype that deaf people cannot dance and to prove they can achieve just as much as hearing people. Since then, he has used his platform to voice the needs of deaf representation, education and recognition of Deaf culture.
Jacob Cheek, who is deaf, said he was inspired and relieved to see DiMarco in person because of their shared life experiences. Both attended public hearing schools where they could not communicate with their peers, and Cheek said finally seeing DiMarco proved success as a deaf person is attainable.
“My experience is the exact same as his, so I know I’ll be okay,” said Cheek, a communication sciences and disorders junior. “Look at him now — he is successful, and he is an amazing person. I know I can go down that same path.”
DiMarco now runs the Nyle DiMarco Foundation to improve literacy among deaf people.
“I realized it is important to take advantage of my opportunity and use it to give back to my community,” DiMarco said.
Campus Events + Entertainment chair Tara Mehta said the organization was proud to host a speaker who represents the Deaf community and gives supporters and members of the Deaf community an opportunity to see someone they idolize.
“We have not had a speaker who represented the Deaf community, and knowing he is a prominent activist and role model in the Deaf community, we knew he was the perfect fit,” accounting junior Mehta said.
To achieve success, DiMarco said people of marginalized backgrounds must use their communities to develop a sense of identity. With that identity, people can apply their own experiences to differentiate themselves from the rest.
“You all can bring value to the world,” DiMarco said to the crowd. “There is nothing that can stop you. Just remember to love yourself.”