Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2009 Miss Deaf Virginia is Massaponax High grad

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Rosa Evelyn Herrera remembers feeling devastated when she was told to repeat second grade.

Today she views that year as her turning point.

"After that, I just blossomed," the 19-year-old University of Mary Washington student said recently.

Herrera is the oldest of six children born to Salvadoran immigrants Rosa Melida Herrera and Fidel Angel Herrera.

She remembers feeling lost and confused in her early days of schooling, as she confronted multiple communication challenges in addition to natural shyness.

At home, her parents spoke Spanish. At school, everyone spoke English. And on top of that, she, like her two younger sisters, had been born deaf.

But that breakthrough year started Herrera on a path that led her to proclaim "Nothing is impossible" as her motto in the Miss Deaf Virginia contest last month.

"I believe deaf people can be the same as a hearing person," she said. "They can be successful."

Herrera has proved that in her own life.

Now fitted with hearing aids, she has roughly 75 percent hearing ability and can speak, though she is careful to enunciate. She also uses American Sign Language and now understands both English and Spanish.

At Massaponax High School, she took advanced-placement classes in biology, Spanish and U.S. history. She also played the violin and performed in the marching band's color guard.

After graduating from Massaponax in 2008, Herrera chose to attend UMW because she thought it was better to attend a school that reflected society than one strictly for deaf students.

She's studying biology and chemistry, with plans to become a technician in a medical laboratory.

Eventually, she would like to travel to other nations to help deaf children with communication and education.

Herrera's mother encouraged her to compete in the Miss Deaf Virginia contest in Staunton.

She initially was reluctant, but said it turned out to be a great experience--and not just because she won.

She enjoyed interacting with the four other deaf competitors, who included 2009 Massaponax graduate Katherine Morales.

Herrera won $400 in scholarship money, keeps the title of Miss Deaf Virginia for two years and will compete in the Miss Deaf America pageant next year.

She also will make appearances for the Virginia Association of the Deaf and serve as a role model, a task Herrera embraces.

"That's what I want to be," she said. "After all of my experiences, I want to see everybody do the same or more than I have.

"I just want to see them considered equal as a hearing person and that there are no obstacles, that they can overcome anything."