Rachel’s Words Do Not Fall on Deaf Ears at Council Meeting

Times Staff Writer

Persistence is a great element of success.

If you only knock long enough you are sure to wake somebody.

--Helen Keller, May 12, 1918

Rachel Sullivan is having a rough start in life. Profoundly deaf since birth, Rachel has also battled diabetes since she was 4.


The 13-year-old Manhattan Beach girl said she gets most discouraged by her diabetes. Not just the four daily blood tests, the three daily insulin injections and the strict diet, but also the headaches, the insulin shock and the late-night ambulance rides to the emergency room.

But rather than simply survive, Rachel has decided to overcome.

“My life is not easy,” she said in sign language as her father, Pat, and mother, Christine, interpreted. “But I am going succeed. And it’s really important for me to help other deaf students.”

It is no wonder that Optimist International in August voted her teen-age winner of the statewide Communications Competition for the Hearing Impaired. Using the topic, “Destiny--Choice Not Chance,” for a speech she communicated through sign language, Rachel left the finals in Santa Maria with a trophy and a $1,000 college scholarship.


Last week, Rachel tried her speech on the Manhattan Beach City Council. The council, which heard her words as interpreted by her brother, Tim, gave Rachel a certificate of honor.

“The chamber was full of cops who where angry over their contract, but when Rachel started her speech the room got quiet,” said Roberta Savage, Rachel’s principal at the Southwest School for the Hearing Impaired. “I was not surprised, not with Rachel.”

“She brought the house down,” said Mayor Larry Dougharty. “It was very stirring.”

Councilman Bob Holms agreed. “When you listen to someone like Rachel, it helps put your life in perspective,” he said. “It was very dramatic.”

In her speech, Rachel, a brown-eyed, curly-haired 8th-grader, listed the choices she has taken in her life. The first choice is to stay healthy and avoid smoking, drinking and drugs.

“I am probably more involved in my health than most other teen-agers. Nothing is going to keep me from being ready for the day when they come to cure me (of diabetes). I’ve worked too hard for this,” she said in her speech.

“I may have problems, but I have real opportunities too, and I choose to solve the problems and to enjoy the opportunities,” she said.

In an interview at her home, Rachel--who calls herself a “bookworm” because of her love for reading--said that giving the speech made her very nervous but that she needed to tell people about her life.


“During the competition, I wanted to try to win,” she said. “But it is also very important to tell about myself.”

As do many girls her age, Rachel likes to gossip, read Nancy Drew mysteries, talk about boys and play baseball.

“For a girl, she can throw pretty well,” said her father, Pat Sullivan. “She can hit hard, too.”

She is also in the school choir, where she signs the lyrics to communicate the songs to the deaf. She attends Manhattan Beach Intermediate School while taking special classes at the Southwest School.

Going to school with students who can hear is difficult, said Rachel. Some students make fun of her and many don’t make the effort to learn sign language. Nevertheless, she has won many friends, and this year Rachel was elected by deaf students as their first representative to the student council.

“The first meeting was boring,” she said. “All they talked about was money.”

Rachel can talk, but her words are difficult to understand. She wants to improve her speaking ability so she can communicate without signing.

Someday she wants to start a restaurant with her mother. “I don’t want to do the cooking,” she said. “I just want to put in the pizazz and make everything look good in the restaurant.


“Someday, when my speech gets better, maybe I can even be a waitress.”