Senior Global Affairs major Scott Smith doesn’t use additional help inside or outside the classroom despite being deaf. He is set to apply to graduate school to study public policy with an emphasis on the environment. Photo courtesy of Scott Smith

Most college students could never fathom being self-taught all of their lives. For Scott Smith, this scenario is a reality. Smith, a senior global affairs major, enjoys all of the comforts and conveniences that college life has to offer with one exception: He has had to teach himself most of everything he’s learned. Smith is deaf and has been since birth.
“When I was born, I got sick,” Smith said. “My mom’s placenta stopped functioning. I had a very high fever. Either the high fever or the antibiotics damaged my hearing nerves.”
At first, doctors told Smith’s mother that there was nothing wrong. After getting a second opinion at the age of 2, Smith was diagnosed with deafness.
“I had a late start. I had to stay back in kindergarten,” said Smith. “I wasn’t able to talk and have well-versed conversation with anyone until I was seven.”
Although he considers his childhood to be normal, Smith learned how to speak by watching his mother speak along with performing activities. Disguised as playtime, she would incorporate actions, such as pouring a glass of milk, with the literal sentence for what she was doing.
“From about 4 to 7 years old my mother and I would play games,” Smith said. “I thought we were just playing, but we were working to teach me how to talk.”
Despite being 100 percent deaf in his left ear and 90 percent deaf in his right, Smith is able to speak and participate in conversation just like everyone else. His analog hearing aid helps to amplify sound directly in his inner ear.
“I don’t hear words, I hear sounds,” Smith. said “Over time, I picked up lip reading as a process for how to talk.”
Remarkably, Smith has never used an interpreter or any disability service in the classroom. He has never had any external help other than note taking done by his peers.
“I felt like I could do it,” Smith said. “I’m capable of doing it on my own, but I’m not afraid to ask for help. Just because I’m deaf doesn’t mean people should make a special case for me. I’m a normal person just like everyone else.”
Being patient with people is something Smith knows all too well.
“I understand that sometimes [people] have to take their time to explain things to me,” Smith said. “There are very few occasions when in a group I get lost if [the group members] don’t fill me in. That can be frustrating.”
Smith worked hard during his years in school and considers the transition from high school to college extremely difficult.
“It took me 10 years to perfect my academic technique,” Smith said. “I was still searching for myself. I didn’t know what to do. I had a lot of goals. I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Things like that are limited because of my deafness. I had to find something that I wanted to do that didn’t involve restrictions. It wasn’t easy.”
Participating as a motivational speaker in middle and high school, Smith knew that the right words could transform an individual for a lifetime. His self-motivation is an inspiration to everyone around him.
“Never pity yourself,” Smith said. “Never feel sorry for yourself for something that you can’t control. There’s always a reason for everything. You may not know what it is, but eventually you will. I’ve come this far. I want people to realize if I can do it, so can they.”
In the future, Smith sees himself working for the U.S. Department of Energy, researching energy solutions. He is now busy applying to master’s programs in public policy with an emphasis in energy resources and the environment.
“I have big hopes for myself,” Smith said. “I’m not going to settle for anything less just because it’s harder. I like to believe that it’s better to work hard and fail than to be lazy and not succeed.”
Smith’s perseverance and determination are a model for his fellow peers. Despite his deafness, he has accomplished much and his future is bright.
“I don’t consider my deafness a disability,” Smith said. “I consider it an inconvenience. I face a lot of challenges, both academic and real-world. When I look at things I need to do, I say just do it and get it done, and hope for the best. I overcame adversity and never looked back. I just keep on walking.”