By Seth Daniel
So many people have tried to hold Ivy K. Chow back throughout her life, but to date, she’s had none of that.
Growing up in Castle Square (CSTO), she said many of her peers and her mother’s traditional Chinese friends have boxed her into a corner – lowering expectations for her and restricting her unnecessarily, all because she is deaf.
But far be it for something like that to hold Chow back, as the charismatic teenager graduated at the top of her class at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Allston – the only Boston public school for the deaf and hard of hearing – and is a perennial all-star on the school’s basketball team.
Throw in a job and several extra curricular activities, and Chow, 19, is a young lady who will never let being deaf hold her back.
“I think it is difficult where I live and where I’m from,” she told the Sun through a sign language interpreter this week, a few days after being announced as the school valedictorian. “People still consider it a very negative thing to be deaf. They look down on me. My mother’s circle of friends think I can’t be something, but I can. I was invited by the mayor to the Valedictorian Lunch last week and I made copies of the invitation and gave it to her and said, ‘Look, a deaf person can be someone.’ People who aren’t deaf think we can’t do things, but we can do anything that we want. The only thing we can’t do is hear.”
For her part, she is ready to leave the comfort of the South End, though she said it will be scary, and head to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. – the world’s only university that is barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students.
She said she is not sure what she will be studying, but she works in childcare right now on the side, and hopes to do something that involves science and children. She said she has always enjoyed math and science and hopes to pursue those subjects.
One thing she will for certain be studying is her jump shot.
“Basketball is life,” she said, very seriously.
Chow has been the captain of the basketball team for several years and was an all-star this year, leading the team in scoring, assists and showing up strongly on defense. Horace Mann plays in a four-team league made up of other schools for deaf teenagers. The competition has been tough, she said, as she is coming off a knee injury and other teams have learned to double-team her to slow down her scoring.
“Basketball is really my thing,” she said. “Academics come first, but basketball is what I love to do.”
She said she first picked up a basketball as a very young girl at the YMCA near Castle Square, watching her brother play. She said she decided it was something she could do also, and she never stopped dribbling after that.
Chow has been attending the Horace Mann since she was in pre-school, and has found a very welcoming and supportive community there of people who are also deaf. In the hallways, happy young people sign one another and were busy saying good-bye to the graduates in the hallway on Monday.
Chow said it’s very important to be supportive to other students as a senior, even to her little brother who also attends the school and is deaf – and like most little brothers – is sometimes a little irritating.
“Having mentors here is very important,” she said. “Since my freshman year I had great friends, but some of them transferred to other schools and I didn’t have many friends. I know how that feels and so I try to be there for other people. There are other students here that need my support. I want to make sure I know how to approach the situation the right way because I know they look up to me. I have to accept that responsibility here.”
Meanwhile, she said the school really pushes her and other students to move outside the supportive walls of Horace Mann. That happened last year when Chow took a class at Brighton High, which was scary.
“They really encourage us to get out there and meet people who are not deaf,” she said. “I took a class at Brighton High when I was a junior and it was scary because I was the only deaf student.”
Yet it hasn’t stopped her from getting past that fear.
In her free time, she said she plays a lot of basketball and goes to the mall or the movies like most teenagers.
Yet she also holds on tight to that invitation sent by the mayor to the Valedictorian Luncheon last week.
“I know my mom took it and she wanted to show it to her friends to prove that I could do things that they think I can’t,” she said. “It might have changed some minds.”
Chow is the daughter of Richard and Chi Wan Chow, originally from Burma. She has a brother, Gary, and another brother, Andy, who is 16 and also at the Horace Mann.