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Deaf valedictorian delivers inspirational speech

An inspirational speech made by a deaf valedictorian at a Georgia high school is going viral.

Evan Mercer, 18, was born deaf, but that fact was not discovered until he was 4 years old. His parents were told that speaking and reading were out of the question. Yet, at his Harrison High School graduation earlier this month, Mercer stood before his fellow seniors to give a speech as valedictorian of his graduating class.

"Deafness has taught me a lesson—to never give up," he said on stage. "Not when experts tell you it cannot be done. Not when you've fallen so far behind that quitting seems the only way out. Not when achieving your dreams seems an absolute impossibility."

Evan’s mother, Pam Mercer, said that her son has always operated under the standard of a typical student. Moreover, home life was no different for him just because he was deaf.

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“We would go out to eat at restaurants and I would make him order off the menu himself,” Mercer said. She said that while it was sometimes a struggle, she would encourage her son to continue trying to relay his message until the waiter or waitress understood him. It taught him to use body language as a means of communication, she said.

“We happened to be blessed that he’s smart," his mother also said. "He had a fierce determination of his own and he wanted to speak.”

She enrolled Evan in classes at an early age where he could learn to speak, learn to read, to be on par with other children in his class.

“He has never once gotten any breaks from me for being deaf,” Mercer said. "He’s been treated the exact same as his brothers.”

Mercer said that Evan is the middle child to an older and younger brother, and worked hard to eventually speak for himself.

In his high school career, Mercer took all the same classes and even all the AP classes, not letting his deafness determine how far he could go.

He used external clues and body language, along with lip reading and a hearing aid to understand his teachers and take notes. The only difference or “special treatment” the now-valedictorian received? Sitting toward the front of the class so he could hear.  

Mercer will continue his education at Vanderbilt University, where he received a full scholarship, his mother said.

Mercer’s speech has already spread through social media and the deaf community. It has nearly 6,000 views on YouTube. Since it went up, Pam Mercer said she has received numerous phone calls from parents of children who are deaf, some who have just found out that their child is deaf and others whose children are struggling in school.

“Never use it as an excuse,” she said when asked what her advice to guardians of the deaf may be. “What worked for Evan was not to use deafness as an excuse not to learn. If you make excuses for your children, you are already selling them short.”

Mercer said she often reminds people that being deaf only means her son cannot hear, but that his brain works just fine.

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