"How Learning American Sign Language Changed My Life"

Siegfried "Siggi" Schroth, John A. Logan College
2012 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest -- Honorable Mention

Plate-scraper. Ice-chipper. Box-stacker.

I have held every imaginable menial, minimum-wage job. I've been a cashier and a waiter. I've been a bathroom scrubber. I stood outside during the winter offering free samples of coffee. I've lugged thousands of pounds of posters. I've served cereal at six in the morning. I've shoveled snow. I've packed boxes.

How hasn't community college changed my life?

I am many things. I am strong. I am intelligent. I am driven. Now, I am more than just a stocker. I am a learner. I am an achiever. I am a straight-A student.

In my community college, I am not just learning facts. I am becoming bilingual. I am learning a voice, a language, and a culture. I am not just learning a skill – a real, tangible skill that will provide me with a job that less than 10,000 people in the country hold. I am learning to communicate. I am learning to process information differently. I am learning to listen with my eyes. I am learning to read peoples' grimaces and shyness. I am learning to read peoples' joy. I am learning to understand the beauty of silence. I am learning to redefine communication. I am learning to speak with my hands, my nose, and my shoulders. I am learning to understand. I am learning American Sign Language.

Community college has helped me refine my skills as a writer and speaker. It's helped me understand the beauty and complexity of life by showing me algae under a microscope. However, my experience with college is much richer than just the knowledge gained. It's given me a set of communication skills I can use to connect with people. That connection to other people is invaluable. Community college helps me understand people every day. Community college helps me to be understood.

I am more than just a plate-scraper. I am a future interpreter for the deaf. Community college makes it possible. Community college changed my life.