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Diasporian News of Saturday, 29 November 2003

Source: Dallas Morning News

Deaf student poised to be valedictorian

DALLAS - When Princess Bempong gives her valedictory address next spring, no one will hear a word.

Bempong, who was born deaf, will use American Sign Language to speak to her 300 Samuell High School classmates, provided she keeps her grades up. Michelle Hamm, her interpreter and bus driver, will give her words a voice.

Bempong is the daughter of immigrants from the West African nation of Ghana. Her parents and three younger siblings also have been deaf since birth.

"My parents said to me, 'Just get a good education.' ... I've motivated myself to do that," she said through her interpreter. "If I have a good education, I have a good future. My family and my education have been the priorities."

This semester, Bempong is taking advanced classes in calculus, physics, English, Spanish and U.S. government. Nothing below an "A" has ever appeared on her report card. After high school, she wants to attend the University of Texas at Austin and pursue a career that combines biochemistry and computer science.

"She's endowed by God," Hamm told The Dallas Morning News for a Saturday story. "She's also a perfectionist. She eats up knowledge like Pac-Man eats up those dots."

Most deaf teenagers who attend public high school in Dallas are sent to Samuell High so the district can efficiently meet their needs. Bempong, who lives in Irving, spends about three hours a day on the bus as Hamm drives about 120 miles picking up other deaf students.

Bempong said she gets upset when classmates make fun of her deafness or her almost-perfect grades.

"I want people to know that deaf people have the ability to do things and the potential to be successful," she said. "I want them to know that I'm a humble, intelligent, friendly and fun-loving deaf person."