The Joy of Giving - Honoring Mother

Image: Raphael St. Johns and Yolanda Glower

Image: Raphael St. Johns

Raphael St. Johns' mother loved Gallaudet. Although she was hearing and she never took a class at the University, she felt a special connection with the campus. She often brought her son to Kendall Green on weekends when he was a child to stroll around the historic campus. Also, she always attended basketball games when the Bison played her alma mater, the University of District of Columbia. "She would always comment, "How I wish I could help deaf students," said St. Johns.

When she lost her battle to cancer in 2004, St. Johns established the Yolanda V. Glower Memorial Scholarship in her name at Gallaudet as a fitting tribute. "My mother would be very happy that her fund helps struggling students," he said.

St. Johns shares his mother's affinity for Gallaudet, although in a different way. He was a Gallaudet student—and one of the struggling students Mrs. Glower cared so much about assisting. Through his persistence, he earned undergraduate degrees in business administration and philosophy, and a graduate degree in administration.

The path that led St. Johns to Gallaudet began when he was three years old. It was then that a doctor in his native El Salvador told his parents that Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. was the best facility in the world to treat the cerebral palsy he was born with. St. Johns' mother moved with him to the District of Columbia; his father, the chief of staff to the president of El Salvador, stayed at home. St. Johns, who is hard of hearing, lived at the medical center until he was nine years old, undergoing speech and physical therapies, while his mother pursued a degree in special education. 

School proved difficult for St. Johns. He was mainstreamed through high school, and with a help of a personal tutor and other support services, he managed to graduate. Gallaudet was really the only choice for higher education because it was the only college that would provide him a note taker in his classes.

Still, the transition wasn't an easy one. As a non-signer who had very little exposure to deaf people up to that point, and having never been on his own before, St. Johns found freshman year at Gallaudet quite difficult. But he adjusted, learning sign language and making friends. Academically, "I barely made it through," he said, but he got the credentials he needed to become a government affairs specialist for the National Industry for the Severely Handicapped. A few years later, he decided to go back to Gallaudet part time and work on his graduate degree. It took him eight years, but he succeeded and today he is a program analyst for the National Highway and Traffic Administration.

The hard-fought battle for an education has not dimmed St. Johns' love for his alma mater. "Nothing makes me more emotional than when I 'hear' the words Gallaudet University," he said. I love Gallaudet; it's been my home and I will always consider it to be my home." That is why he established another memorial scholarship sharing his name and that of his wife, Thanh Thanh St. Johns. When they met at a conference in Hanoi, she was working with the deaf community in Vietnam and was, in fact, one of the few hearing people who knew Vietnamese Sign Language. The couple married in 2003.

"During my upbringing I was helped a great deal by wonderful people, and I firmly believe that I have a moral obligation to future students to assist them however I can," St. Johns said about establishing the scholarship.

Endowed memorial scholarships are made in memory of someone, and require contributions totaling $25,000 or more over a five-year time period before funds can be distributed for the intended purpose. St. Johns prefers that his fund provide scholarships to deaf students from Vietnam, but any student that Gallaudet determines to have a financial need is acceptable.

"My hope is that Gallaudet will continue to thrive as the best place in the world for deaf students," said St. Johns. He also feels that helping a student in need is personally gratifying. "It was very emotional to learn [in 2008] that a student was given $800 from my mother's fund to help him with his studies," he said.

For further information on how to establish an endowed fund, or how to make a contribution to the Yolanda V. Glower Memorial Fund or Raphael J. St. Johns and Thanh Thanh T. St. Johns Memorial Scholarship Fund, please contact the development office at giving@gallaudet.edu or 202-651-5410 (V/TTY).

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