During assembly on Tuesday, April 13, Allie Lane described her visit with disability, equality and gender rights activist Cäsar Jacobson as the Class of 2021 recipient of the Newman Prize.
Established in 1992 by Mark Vittert ’65, the award annually gives a member of the junior class the opportunity to meet with a famous American of choice. Its namesake is the late Eric Newman ’28, who was a student at JBS on opening day in 1923. Interested juniors submit a brief application, listing the five living Americans with whom they'd like to meet, and are then interviewed by a small panel of alums, including Andy Newman '62 (Eric's son), Lisa Greenman Kraner '71 and Liberty Vittert '06 (Mark Vittert's daughter).
During assembly, Andy Newman announced that Jack Dreesen is the Class of 2022 prize recipient.
Allie's prepared remarks and Jack's choices follow.
Good morning, Mr. Abbott, faculty, and students.
It’s not everyday where I’m learning how to do sign language for words like “school” and “friends” over Zoom with this inspirational woman who had so much to say about the deaf community and her passion towards equality.
I’ve had the honor of meeting Cäsar Jacobson, who is a disability, equality and gender rights activist who’s making sure that no one gets left behind with technology, no matter their disability. She’s passionate about the idea of everyone being empowered by what we have in this world, instead of feeling like they’re at a disadvantage. Cäsar is working to make sure that through our different languages, we’re able to pursue any job, any passion, and any goal without being held back.
Cäsar Jacobson is a woman of many accomplishments, having been a part of the UN Global Compact as a disability activist and gender equality spokesperson. She’s been involved in many women’s organizations and has participated in projects for women with disabilities worldwide. She spoke of her experiences working towards her goal to make sure that anyone with a disability can live as normal a life as they can - whether it’s strengthening sign language interpreting or giving people the opportunity to access sounds through various devices. Not everyone is able to fully utilize tech devices or have the opportunity to learn sign language, so she’s working towards making sure that everyone is able to have help that they need since lip-reading, sign language, and spoken language are not universal.
Cäsar herself had gradual hearing loss throughout her entire life and it eventually progressed to the point where she needed to get a cochlear implant at a young age. For context, when someone’s hearing loss becomes so severe they can switch to a cochlear implant that allows for them to hear more broadly and accurately, since it’s directly affecting the cochlea itself. We connected over our childhood experiences, since we both underwent gradual hearing loss and opened up about our struggles especially being in a social setting.
One moment that I particularly enjoyed during our conversation was when we asked each other what our favorite sounds were, which was something that I hadn’t thought about before. Fun fact, our favorite sounds were the rustling of leaves on a windy day and the sounds of chirping birds when it’s springtime. Cäsar had a significant impact on me while we were having this conversation, especially since I realized that it’s important to appreciate the things that we have and to truly pay attention to the little things in life. I fully acknowledge that while people like Cäsar and I are able to have a decent understanding of the sounds around us, there are still some people who simply choose not to wear hearing devices or are unable to hear at all, and that’s something we must consider in our approach with the deaf community.
One thing that Cäsar and I often talked about throughout our time together was how we could give the best advice to someone when they’re talking to a deaf person. Speaking from personal experience, sometimes it takes a second to fully understand what is being said, especially in a loud environment. If you’re trying to get our attention, and we don’t respond I promise we’re not ignoring you. We may ask you to repeat what you just said and shout out to my friends, I’m sure they’re well familiar with the awkward laugh I use when I don’t fully understand what they’re saying. It’s important to be patient on both sides of the conversation and to have an open mind, especially since it’s very easy to have miscommunication.
This is very prevalent, especially during the pandemic, since everyone is wearing masks and maintaining social distance from each other. The pandemic has been one of the most difficult times I’ve been through as a deaf person, since my core ability to read lips has been taken away. For me, I’ve always been reading lips and just used the sounds to distinguish the different words. Now, while I can still hear the sounds that people are saying, it’s a struggle to piece together the exact words which easily leads to confusion especially in a conversation. A few suggestions that Cäsar and I came up with if you’re ever talking to a deaf person (especially while you’re both masked) and they’re struggling to understand what you’re saying is that you can write it down on paper, use speech to text on your phone, text your words, or even use sign language (if you know it). It’s absolutely crucial to be patient, because trust me, we’re frustrated too.
Don’t be afraid to ask any questions, because without questions, we’ll never be able to broaden our knowledge and step outside of our comfort zone whether it’s interacting with someone who’s different from us or finding solutions to any problems that we may face. I am always happy to have a conversation with anyone and I’m open to any question that you may have about being deaf, what my experiences have been like, how I’m actually able to hear, etc.
Thank you Ms. Salrin and Ms. Swicord for helping organize the Zoom meeting, and thank you to Mr. Andy Newman (Class of 1962) and the other members of the Newman Prize Committee for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I want to acknowledge how the committee was able to bring two deaf women together for such an impactful conversation, in spite of the difficulties working with both our personal logistics and being in the middle of a pandemic. I’ll end this speech with a quote from Cäsar herself: “The more we learn, the more questions we ask, and the more we stay curious, the more connections we build in creating a meaningful society with meaningful relationships.”
James Comey (former FBI director)
David Ortiz (former player with the Boston Red Sox)
Eric Thomas (author, pastor and motivational speaker)
Mark Wahlberg (actor, producer, restaurateur)
Christopher Wray (current FBI director)