2014 WDL Graduates Interviews
Krishneer Sen, a native of Fiji who earned his degree in information technology, with honors, was one of those happy students who attended the reception, along with his mother, his uncle and aunt, and his sister-in-law. Like Arce, Sen's Gallaudet education was made possible by being selected as a recipient of the Nippon-Gallaudet World Deaf Leadership (WDL) scholarship, which is funded by the Nippon Foundation. He and other WDL scholars at Gallaudet are selected based on their demonstrated ability to become international leaders and make significant contributions to their nation and possibly the world.
"I'm very proud and very emotional today," said his mother, Reena Sen. "I've been waiting for this day since he was born." Always aware of how bright their son was, Sen's parents moved the family often to make sure he benefited from the limited educational opportunities available for deaf people in their country. "My dream has always been for him to be educated and to be on his own. Today, my dream has come true." Also sharing their pride in Sen's accomplishment was Fiji Ambassador to the U.S., His Excellency Mr. Winston Thompson, and his wife, Mrs. Queenie Thompson, who attended Commencement to see Sen receive his diploma.
Sen excelled in his studies over the years. After graduating from a mainstream school as one of two deaf students, accompanied by an interpreter provided by the Ministry of Education, he went to a college in New Zealand where he earned a certificate in information technology... but his thirst for knowledge pushed him to continue his search for knowledge.
While surfing the Internet one day, Sen typed in "deaf universities" and up popped Gallaudet--he never knew such a place existed. "There were pictures of deaf people being educated and signing with each other. I was so excited." He also learned that enrolling at Gallaudet was out of his family's range of affordability, but he found a link for international students on Gallaudet's homepage, where he learned about the WDL scholarship. "I was nervous, I didn't know if I qualified." Five anxious months passed until he got the news that he'd won the scholarship. "I was shocked; I wasn't sure what to do." After the reality set in that he was, indeed, going to Gallaudet, Sen went back to Fiji to say goodbye to his family and friends and came to campus in the spring of 2010. After a semester in ELI to improve his English and ASL, and to become acquainted with American culture, he enrolled at the University. Although he took many advanced courses that he found challenging, hard work, combined with the encouragement of Gallaudet's faculty and his academic advisors gave him the tools he needed to succeed.
Only a few hours before he walked across the stage to accept his diploma from Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz, Sen said time has moved quickly since he arrived on campus, but looking back, "I can't believe how much I've learned."
An internship with UNICEF's Suva, Fiji office inspired Sen to apply for a full-time job with the United Nations-affiliated humanitarian relief program's efforts in the East Asia and Pacific regions. If a job doesn't materialize, he won't be discouraged: he is also eager to undertake a project aimed at creating a network of humanitarian agencies that are interested in improving communication access for deaf people through shared strategies and resources.
Sen also plans to encourage every deaf person with a high school degree to explore every option to come to Gallaudet. "Gallaudet gave me a quality education I couldn't have found anywhere else." While he is excited to share his knowledge to improve life for other deaf people, he confessed that he has "mixed feelings" about leaving Gallaudet. "There are such great connections to the campus community here, and it's the Mecca for deaf culture. I'm sad to leave, but I can always come back to visit and share what I have learned." He also plans to encourage every deaf Fijian with a high school degree he meets to continue their education at Gallaudet. "Gallaudet gave me a quality education I couldn't have found anywhere else," he said.
Leaving their daughter alone at a college in a big city like Washington, D.C., so far away from their home in the Philippines worried Ana Arce's parents. It was true that coming to Gallaudet was Arce's dream, but she looked so sad when her parents left her that they felt a tinge of regret.
Fast forward four years, and Arce's parents saw much different emotions on their daughter's face-joy, triumph, excitement. "She is so happy she found Gallaudet," said her father. "Sometimes I think Gallaudet found her."
Gallaudet is the only place in the world that offers a master's degree in deaf studies, a field that Arce yearned to pursue. "I dreamed of coming to Gallaudet, but I had to find a scholarship," she said. Arce applied for the Nippon-Gallaudet World Deaf Leadership, and learned in just a few weeks that she had been accepted-the first WDL recipient from the Philippines. "I was shocked, I can't tell you how excited I was! This was really a big deal for me," she said.
Arce admits to having a case of culture shock when she arrived in the U.S. "At first I was overwhelmed-the food, the weather, the culture-they were all so different," she said. She soon adjusted to the newness, however, and excelled in her studies. The day before Commencement at the University's Hooding and Awards Ceremony, a formal occasion for graduate students signifying their success in completing their graduate program, Arce received two awards. One was the George Veditz Deaf Studies Award, named for a former president of the National Association of the Deaf and the first person to film American Sign Language, the award goes to an outstanding graduate student who has made and will continue to make an impact on the field of deaf studies; the other was the Graduate Research/Writing Award for a graduate student who has completed an outstanding research document in his or her academic program.
Arce has always felt a calling to share her knowledge with deaf people. Growing up, she was a passionate advocate for deaf people, always taking any opportunity she could. She set up a program for deaf youth after Mass at the Catholic church she attended, and later as an undergraduate student at the College of Saint Benilde, she volunteered teaching literacy to deaf people of all ages. As a WDL scholar, she worked on a project to train deaf people how to communicate in a business environment. Building on this theme, her master's thesis addressed helping to change attitudes and perception among Filipino employers so they can see the many benefits deaf workers have to offer.
When she returns home, Arce hopes to find a teaching job at a university, and in time develop a curriculum in deaf studies. She is taking with her several boxes of educational material to share with her deaf peers, who have very limited resources for learning.