BYU deaf student awarded for muffling out opposition


    By Nate Hawley

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Applause echoed loudly as BYU freshman Cami Noorda stood to accept her Graeme Clark Cochlear Scholarship during a special ceremony in Walt Disney World on Friday, Jan. 9.

    The Graeme Clark Cochlear Scholarship is open to any college-age student who is deaf and has received a Cochlear implant.

    “I am so excited and just can’t believe it,” Noorda said with excitement about receiving the scholarship. “I feel so blessed.”

    Noorda was born deaf, but in June 2002, she underwent surgery to receive an implant. The implant is relatively new technology that allows for the deaf to gain or regain, at least partially, the ability to hear. It electrically stimulates the nerves that perform the hearing function, thereby circumventing the problem areas that create deafness.

    Cochlear Americas, the corporation that funds the scholarship, created a board of judges comprising of activists for the deaf and medical professionals to determine which applicants are the most deserving of the scholarship each year. The board sets the criteria, reviews the applications and makes the final decisions.

    Heather Whitestone McCallum, former Miss America, has a very special tie with Cochlear implants – she has one. When crowned in 1995 she became the first deaf Miss America. She is now the chairperson of the scholarship.

    When asked what this scholarship does for its recipients her answer was quick and sure.

    “It is just like Miss America did in my life, it gave me more self-esteem and helped me to achieve my best. It will do the same for them,” McCallum said.

    Jon Shallop, PhD, associate professor and audiology director of the Cochlear program at the Mayo Clinic, also sits on the selection board. He indicated that the decision this year was extremely difficult because the number of applicants nearly doubled those of last year.

    “We rated the applicants in academics, community experiences, school activities and personal statements,” Shallop said. “It is the personal statement, to me, that really differentiates the applicants because there were a number achieving well in school but if you were to read the statements of those chosen, you would see why they were chosen.”

    The scholarship provides $3,000 a year for the next four years and comes as a result of many years of hard work on the part of Noorda. Many students applied for the scholarship but in the end only four were chosen as this year’s recipients.

    “I had to work hard,” Noorda said about her efforts that lead to the scholarship. “I was in clubs. I really like to serve other people and help other people feel good about themselves. I like to work hard to get good grades. I want to be an example to other deaf people, to show them they can make it through school.”

    Summing up the feelings and comments of all the board members McCallum said, “You have to be the best to receive the scholarship.”

    Noorda’s family traveled with her to Disney World to watch her receive her award and to celebrate the occasion. Her parents, Dr. Carey and Cindy Noorda, both BYU alumni, beamed with pride as their daughter received her award.

    “There was a time when we were told by the school district that we should send her away to a boarding school because she could never succeed, but this proves otherwise,” Noorda’s father said. “Through all her hard work she was able to not only graduate high school and go to college, but excel as well.”

    Noorda’s mother was equally proud of her accomplishments.

    “For someone who was not supposed to even make it through elementary school, Cami has accomplished so much,” her mother said. “These accomplishments did not come easy, but were the direct result of Cami’s hard work, diligent effort and devotion.”

    The technology behind the Cochlear implant is the brainchild of Australian Doctor Graeme Clark. Clark began his work in 1967 and has been working to cure deafness ever since. Cochlear Americas named the scholarship in recognition of Clark and in celebration of its 20th anniversary.

    While Cochlear implants cannot entirely cure deafness, many advocate that they dramatically increase the ability to hear and process sounds. More than 75,000 people worldwide have Cochlear implants.

    Noorda said she feels honored to receive such a special recognition but also feels there remains a lot for her to accomplish.

    “It was like I climbed to the top of a mountain,” Noorda said. “It was through hard work I climbed the mountain, but now I have to keep going to achieve my other goals.”

    Her parents are also very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.

    “We hope this will give hope and inspiration to other parents and to other hearing impaired children — that she can be an example to others like Heather (Whitestone McCallum) was to her,” Noorda’s father said.

    Jim Miller, president of Cochlear Americas, was one of the founders of this scholarship. He has a grand vision for not only the scholarship program, but for the recipients as well.

    “We continue to be touched by how this revolutionary technology has literally changed their (Cochlear implant recipients’) lives and the lives of their families allowing them to reach their full potential and pursue their dreams,” Miller said.

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