September 16th, 2006 07:37 EST
Miss America comes to Northeastern University
Heather Whitestone McCallum was humbled as she modestly accepted the warm applause from the students at Northeastern University. Although, it wasn’t as loud as one might expect. This is because the speech McCallum gave was delivered to the university’s deaf community where the sign for applause is the raising and shaking their hands.
McCallum was the first crown Miss America in the pageant’s 75-year history. Since winning her title ten years ago, McCallum has been on a mission. She has traveled across the nation inspiring others to reach for their dreams. McCallum’s travels recently lead her to Northeastern University where she spoke to students and faculty, both deaf and hearing, about her experiences and her accomplishments.
“I believe when the judges saw my hard work they didn’t see my deafness, they saw my ability,” McCallum said about her Miss America win. Her willingness to work hard is a part of McCallum’s five-point system she created to help herself stay positive and make the most of her life.
McCallum has lived a life that most could never dream of. At 18 months old she contracted a high fever and a severe blood infection that resulted in her becoming deaf. Doctors were convinced McCallum would never surpass the third grade level, dance to music, or drive a car – she has done all three. “I was lucky to be deaf,” McCallum said, “I couldn’t hear what the doctor’s were saying, so I never believed in my heart that I couldn’t do it.”
It was during her college years that McCallum decided to start seriously competing in pageants. With dance being one of McCallum’s passions, it was only natural that her talent be ballet. It has been said that McCallum’s ballet performance was so moving that it closed the deal for her Miss America win. It took McCallum almost two years to memorize the vibrations to count the beats in her song. “If the music stopped in the middle of a performance, I couldn’t hear it, but I would dance to the music in my heart,” McCallum said.
McCallum talked about her struggles with coming to terms that she wasn’t perfect and that she had to accept her limitations as a deaf person. She also thanked her family and god because “I’m not here because I did everything by myself,” she stated. Most importantly, McCallum’s words inspire -- that dreams can come true.
This story was written for J1 at Northeastern University Fall 2005.