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MSSD Celebrates 40th Commencement

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Image: Mika Bennett-Fraychineaud performs her poem, “Doors of Life,” at the MSSD graduation on June 10.

Mika Bennett-Fraychineaud performs her poem, “Doors of Life,” at the MSSD graduation on June 10.

The Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) hosted its 40th commencement exercises on June 10. In his welcoming remarks, Gallaudet University president T. Alan Hurwitz commended the graduates, noting that students were to receive over $300,000 in scholarships.

This year's commencement speaker was Lauren Teruel Ridloff, from MSSD's Class of 1995, who went on to earn a bachelor's degree in English from the California State University, Northridge. In 2000, she became the first multiracial woman to don the Miss Deaf America crown. In 2002, Ridloff accepted a fellowship that brought her to Hunter College in New York City where she earned her master's degree in education. Ridloff currently teaches full time in New York City, along with writing, vlogging, emceeing, performing, and sign language modeling, and she has the dream of writing children's books.

In her address to the Class of 2011, Ridloff told a modern version of Leo Tolstoy's story "Three Questions"-What is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? and What is the most important thing to do at all times? In her version, a young woman did not get into the college of her choice so she Twittered her friends to ask those three questions. No one gave her the answers she sought, so she went to visit her grandfather who was digging in his garden. The grandfather ignored her questions. She saw he was tiring and took over the digging for him. Suddenly a car stopped in front of the house and it had a flat tire. A woman in a business suit got out of the car. The young woman helped change the tire. She then found out that the stranger was trying to deliver a package with a college acceptance and that she was the person whom the woman sought. The grandfather said that she now had the answers to her questions: The best time to do something is NOW, the most important person is the one you are with NOW, and the most important thing to do is to help the person you are with NOW. Ridloff encouraged the graduates to live in the moment-the moral of her story-and to follow their dreams.

Valedictorians Ray McCall and Tiffany VanBoxlaere each shared remarks with the audience. McCall likened life to a book in which he and his fellow graduates were in the prologue. Quoting Mark Twain, he advised that the important thing in approaching life "is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog." He shared the stories of two people who overcame obstacles-Carl "Sugarfoot" Joseph, the one-legged athlete who recently was admitted to the Florida Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 for his records in football and track, and Monty Roberts, the famous horse whisperer whose grade school teacher gave him an "F" for his essay on his dream of growing up to be a ranch owner with a fine house and a stable of horses. VanBoxlaere counseled her peers to cherish the friendships gained at MSSD and to stay in touch with each other. "We're a small class, but we're very motivated," she said.

The Class of 2011 was composed of many award-winning scholars, athletes, student leaders, actors and actresses, dancers, and poets. At graduation, Mika Bennett-Fraychineaud performed her poem "Doors of Life" in American Sign Language. In one of the closing stanzas, she shared:

"She begins to have a sensation and
now understands that her life has not ended
but begins with each star representing
an opportunity for her to choose from.
There are millions of choices to pick from.
Whatever she wants, whenever she needs,
the stars will always be there,
never disappearing."

Congratulations to all the MSSD graduates as they reach for the stars!