Gabriella Wong’s address

Photo: Gabriella Wong

UC Davis student Gabriella Wong, who has discovered that what matters to her is changing the educational system to include the deaf, will spend this year on a community service project. Her mission is to establish a deaf and hard of hearing campus organization for the current UC Davis deaf students and reach out to K-12 deaf students throughout California. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo)

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef’s introduction

Now we’ll hear from five members of our campus family who will share with us brief personal stories about what they do that “matters” and makes a difference in the lives of others.

First is Gabriella Wong. Gabriella is a senior from Union City and is majoring in sociology with an emphasis in law and society. She recently won a Strauss Public Service Scholarship, and will use her scholarship to create a community organization in support of the deaf and hard of hearing community at UC Davis. She also intends to launch a retention and mentorship program for our deaf students, and outreach efforts to recruit more deaf and hard of hearing students to UC Davis. Gabriella?

Gabriella Wong’s address

I am classified as a CODA — C.O.D.A, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults. Even before I was born, many warned my parents and cautioned them about having a child, in fear that the child born to deaf parents would have an abnormal upbringing.

Ignoring the comments made to them, my parents decided to have a child anyway, confident and having the desire to prove that they had the capability to raise children.

Due to the fact that I learned sign language before I even learned how to speak, my parents enrolled me in a private school believing that I would obtain more individual attention to combat my speech dysfunction.

At this private school, I was not able to understand my kindergarten teacher and never acquired the guidance or help to break the communication barrier I faced. I learned English, picking it up from my surroundings.

Since I was so behind, I constantly requested help from my teachers but instead of sympathizing with my disadvantage, they inquired why I did not understand the material when my classmates did.

Throughout grade school, teachers looked at me like a burden in class struggling with the material rather than excelling at it like my peers. Since it was a student body of only 200 and a teaching staff of 30, it was known around the school that I had difficulty learning for speculated reasons, such as laziness.

When I was growing up, I felt isolated and ostracized. I strongly disliked the fact that people were making judgments about me, simply because they did not understand my upbringing.

All I could do was think about myself and speculate reasons as to why people marginalized me. But I realized if people were treating me this way because my parents were deaf, how do people then treat my parents and millions of other deaf people?

In realizing this, I decided to dedicate my time in understanding the deaf experience. In my interactions with the deaf community, I learned that they continually experience exclusion and frustration.

Whether it is patiently sitting in a work meeting with no sign language interpreter, or being faced with minimal job opportunities, many deaf people are marginalized on a daily basis due to communication barriers, ignorance, and insensitivity to accommodations.

I wanted to solve this problem, but I did not even know where to start. Then in the middle of my junior year at UC Davis, I received information about the Strauss Foundation.

What really stood out to me about this foundation was that, in order to become a Strauss scholar and receive funding, students had to propose and carry out a community service project the following year after receiving the scholarship.

When I was in the application process, I did a vast amount of research on the deaf community and found that UC Davis is one of the few campuses that provide accommodations such as sign language interpreters for deaf students and learned that there was no formal outreach to students in secondary education to attend UC Davis.

In excitement, I proposed a community service project to the Strauss Foundation to establish a deaf and hard of hearing campus organization for the current UC Davis deaf students, and I also wanted to go to middle schools, high schools, and community colleges throughout California to specifically recruit deaf students to attend UC Davis.

Sharing my enthusiasm, the Strauss foundation picked me to be its 2008 scholar, and has been a fundamental part of my dream to give the deaf hope that there are people in the world that want to see them succeed and understand that they are truly valuable to our society.

As we celebrate UC Davis’ centennial anniversary, I want to acknowledge the fact that UC Davis has opened many doors for me and so many others. UC Davis is a place that has allowed me — a child of deaf adults — to find my passion and achieve my goals, just like my parents who believed in themselves and knew they had the capability to raise children, no matter what others said.

I believe we all have the ability to do what matters most to us — to hold steadfast to the belief that we can do anything we set ourselves out to do, no matter what obstacles or barriers we may face.

Gabriella Wong is a UC Davis senior from Union City, majoring in sociology with an emphasis in law and society.