When you are the only deaf person in that kind of environment (high school) without access to services, you see everything going on but you don’t understand the meaning of it necessarily, so you miss out on a lot of the personal and social development. You are not cued in to who is dating who, who is popular, who is a nerd—all that stuff that normally goes on in high school.
So coming to RIT just opened up all kinds of worlds for me and all of a sudden I was in a place with 600 or 700 peers who heard like me, and I was also in an environment with several thousand hearing students and faculty and staff who for the first time they got it, they understood.
I went from a very rich environment where I never had to apologize for not understanding something back to being the only deaf person at the University of Missouri in Columbia (after graduating from RIT in 1978). It was the opposite end of the pendulum in terms of access. At RIT, I had seen the standard. I knew what good services were by coming here.
Coming back to a place like Rochester (to work) was just marvelous because of the quality of life here. My oldest daughter is deaf, so I was thinking, ‘What are her experiences going to be like?’ I wanted her to grow up in a community where she would have equal access and where she would have role models. I wanted her to look up and see other deaf and hard-of-hearing professional women who she could aspire to become like. And Rochester is filled with that.
I want NTID to be the leader in innovation. I envision NTID by 2020 being increasingly diverse in terms of its leadership. Because what we face here is that many of the people who taught me back in the ’70s are getting ready to exit in the next three to five years. And my real challenge is making sure that the next generation of leadership is fully prepared at all levels to take over NTID, to continue the wonderful work we are doing.
What I want the community to understand is that NTID is an investment. It is paying off in a number of ways. The education here has enriched the lives of thousands of deaf people. They are entering careers that were unheard of in the past.
What better testimony to the success of an institute than one of its graduates can become its leader? To me that is pretty heavy stuff. I am humbled by that, and honored by that, and also invigorated.
A couple of students came up to me and said, ‘Oh you’re our new president.’ And their eyes just lit up. And what they were saying wasn’t about me, Gerry Buckley. It was about the mission and vision of NTID that we would create opportunities for deaf people. And I said to them both, ‘Someday you’ll replace me.’ They said, ‘Oh yeah, give me two years.’ I laughed and told them, ‘I would like a little longer than that.’