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Do you remember the first time you heard a bird chirp?
Chances are that, for most of us, it happened so early on in life the memory has long since faded away. Yet, Cheshire native Chris Boyer remembers it.
At two and a half years old, Boyer, with his mother, heard the delicate sound of a bird for the first time in his young life. So unusual was the sound, he remembers asking his mother what it was. Yet, Boyer didn't use words to ask the question, rather, he did so with his hands. Sign language was the only one familiar to him at that time in his life.
Boyer, a 2010 graduate of Cheshire High School, was born profoundly deaf. Living in a world of virtual silence, Boyer was given the opportunity in 1995 to become one of the first children to receive a nucleus cochlear implant at Boston Children’s Hospital. Before that, the implants had been offered almost exclusively to adults.
The procedure was a success and it changed Boyer's life. Now, at age 19, a freshman at Cornell University, Boyer has been honored for his perseverance with a prestigious scholarship award. Boyer was one of only five students in North America to receive the Cochlear Americas Graeme Clark Scholarship Award, an $8,000 scholarship that honors “spirit, determination, academic and athletic achievements.”
“I was very happy to receive it,” said Boyer, about the award. “Going to Cornell is not inexpensive, and I was really excited to get the scholarship—every little bit counts. It will help the financial burden and reduce both student loans and the amount my parents have to pay, which is great. In terms of the selectivity, given that I was one of only five people to receive it, I felt, and feel, a great deal of pride at being judged worthy of being one of those special five.”
Boyer was honored at a special ceremony in Orlando, Fl., where he and his fellow recipients each gave a speech talking about their experiences growing up with such severe hearing problems.
“Much of the ceremony consisted of speakers talking about cochlear implantation and all the good it has done, and it was great to hear all these people talk about their many experiences with deaf patients and how far we have come,” Boyer recounted. “I would say the memory that really stands out for me is the great deal of pride I felt—standing in front of the crowd, receiving the award, and making my speech—in how far I’ve come. The fact that I’ve been able to achieve everything I’ve achieved despite being deaf makes me feel very proud, and I also feel very blessed to have all the family and friends that have supported me.”
Boyer has spent his life overcoming his deafness. It wasn't always an easy road, the teenager admits, especially when trying to handle social situations.
“It was always quite difficult for me in loud settings and settings with many people speaking at once. The cafeteria was always hard for me, and I tend to gravitate more to one-on-one conversations. For a person with my disability, it is often hard to get all of the conversation—particularly group conversations but also one-on-one—and often comments and part of the back and forth dialogue are missed,” he said.
Those problems also manifested in the classroom, where the normal instruction would strain his ability to keep up.
“It was always harder to get what the teacher and other students were saying in class. Thus, I used an FM microphone that the teacher would wear, which helps amplify the sound and clarify it, so that helped a little bit,” he said.
Boyer also utilized captioning options and a notetaker application to make his time in class simpler, but he admits that campaigning for such technology was never simple.
“There’s also the issue of having to really work at advocating for these accommodations sometimes with the school, which we’ve been through and which I’m sure many parents of hearing impaired children know,” he explained.
Yet, despite those challenges, Boyer admits that his implants made life in those settings far better than they normally would have been, and allowed him to have a wide range of experiences while in high school, including being a part of the track team, the Latin Club, and earning a spot in the National Honor Society. In his personal life, it has enabled Boyer to appreciate many of the things most of us take for granted, like music.
“If it’s an iPod or so, and not speakers, then I either use a special cord that plugs into my implant or I put the headphones up close to the microphone on my implant. It’s always good to be able to unwind with some tunes, and it’s one of those things that you really appreciate about technology, being hearing impaired,” he said.
Boyer, at 19, is being recognized for his accomplishments in spite of his disability. He hopes that he, and his fellow award recipients, can serve as a reminder to all hearing impaired children and their families that anything is possible.
“Just because your child is hearing impaired does not mean that their future is limited. There are many, many resources out there to help them, and if you give them all the support they need and take advantages of all the great people and resources out there, then doors will still be open for them,” he said.