Crowned student is master of two worlds

Miss Deaf California and student, Amanda Folendorf, answers questions about how she won the title on Oct. 17.:

Miss Deaf California and student, Amanda Folendorf, answers questions about how she won the title on Oct. 17.:

Brandon Fleshman

Amanda Folendorf said she lives in two worlds. In one world, she speaks to communicate with others. In the other world, she uses American Sign Language to communicate. Spend just a few moments with Folendorf, a junior Sacramento State government major, and you might find that she exemplifies both worlds simultaneously. This is part of what recently earned Folendorf the title of Miss Deaf California 2007 to 2009.

“I need things in the hearing world and the deaf world,” she said. “I’ll never fully be deaf or hearing. I can go back and forward.”

Folendorf said she cannot hear high-frequency sounds such as birds chirping or alarm clocks ringing, but she can hear some lower-frequency sounds. Regardless, she is still able to communicate with hearing people who speak to her. Folendorf said she has become an expert at reading lips and this stems from learning to read her parents’ lips at an early age.

Folendorf said she considers herself deaf.

She was born with hearing and said she still does not know what caused her hearing loss, but doctors speculate it might have been from the use of a medication while she was a baby.

Her parents first noticed she was deaf when she was struggling with reading around the age of 7 or 8, prompting them to put her in speech therapy class, she said.

While attending Bret Harte Union High School in her hometown of Angels Camp, Folendorf said she opted against having an interpreter accompany her to classes.

“I was shy. I didn’t want to be the girl that had an interpreter in class,” she said.

Before transferring to Sac State, Folendorf spent two years studying at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., an internationally recognized school specializing in instruction of the deaf and hard of hearing. The school only has about 3,500 students. It was there that she first learned how to sign, something she wishes she had learned earlier, she said.

Folendorf said she chose to finish her studies at Sac State because it’s closer to home and she likes to be able to spend time with her friends and family.

Most of her friends and her boyfriend are hearing, so she said communicating with them can be difficult at times.

Before competing in the Miss Deaf California Pageant, Folendorf competed in a pageant with hearing people, which she said was more fun because she was able to speak instead of using ASL and the crowd was larger than 3,000 people. She also competed and won the Miss Deaf Unity Sacramento Pageant.

The 48th biennial California Association of the Deaf Conference and Exposition was held in Los Angeles from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2. Part of this event was the Miss Deaf California Pageant on Sept. 1 in which Folendorf, the only Northern California representative, and three other girls competed for the title. The pageant is for deaf and hard of hearing girls between the ages of 17 and 28, according to CAD’s website.

The CAD represents 2.8 million deaf people in California, said Barbara Dockter, CAD public relations representative.

“CAD projects help deaf Californians achieve goals and help the public learn more about the deaf community.”

She also said that, while the event was fun, it was also stressful and nerve-wracking.

“The night of the pageant, we were hurrying, changing clothes, and one girl thought she was putting on lipstick, but it was mascara. Her lips were black all over,” Folendorf said.

The Miss Deaf California Pageant consisted of a private interview, a platform presentation while wearing business attire, a talent competition where Folendorf read a poem, and an on stage interview while wearing an evening gown.

“The Miss Deaf California Pageant was not about beauty. It’s more about leadership skills and developing personality. It’s about intelligence and communication skills,” Folendorf said.

Folendorf said she was shocked after winning, considering she is new to the Deaf community and ASL. She moves on to the Miss Deaf America Pageant held in New Orleans next July.

“I think it’s wonderful (that Amanda won),” said State Pageant Director and Sac State professor of ASL Sandra Thrapp. “She’s outgoing and she can be successful. She has potential.”

Folendorf said her life has not changed much since winning the title of Miss Deaf California. It’s just a little busier.

Aside from classes and making appearances as Miss Deaf California, Folendorf is also the president of Sac State’s Advocates for Deaf Culture and ASL. The club provides social gatherings for deaf and hard of hearing students and promotes the awareness and education of deaf culture, she said.

Club officer and sophomore liberal studies major Todd LaMarr considers Folendorf to be a huge role model. LaMarr is not deaf, but said he joined the club because he wanted to help and work on his ASL. He said that he and Folendorf always have fun together.

LaMarr recalled an evening last semester when he was glow bowling with Folendorf.

“She had white nail polish on and the lights bounced off her fingertips, so I couldn’t read her ASL,” LaMarr said with a laugh.

Folendorf said one of her goals is to work with deaf children. While representing her Miss Deaf Unity Sacramento title, Folendorf made an appearance at the annual week-long camp out in Portola for deaf and hard of hearing children, or children with deaf and hard of hearing parents or siblings.

“(The little girls) looked up to me, and it was surprising and sad because they think they can’t do anything like (win pageants),” Folendorf said. “Often they are told they’re not intelligent by their parents or teachers.”

Dockter, whose daughter is also deaf, said there is still a huge misconception about the deaf community.

“I would take her to the grocery store and people would say, ‘Isn’t that sad? She’s deaf and dumb.’ And I would say, ‘No, she’s not dumb,'” Dockter said.

Folendorf said the misconception is very common.

“That’s why (the ADCA) is here to promote education and ASL classes,” Folendorf said. “Deaf people are not stupid.”

Folendorf said she hopes to graduate next year and get a job working for the government at a local, state, federal or international level. She also aspires to one day work for the U.S. Embassy. Folendorf said it was her father, Chad Folendorf, who got her interested in government.

“My dad is very involved with the city (of Angels Camp) and the county,” Folendorf said. “I was interested and fascinated with his work and what he could do.”

Dockter said another reason Folendorf won the title of Miss Deaf California is because of her positive outlook on life.

Folendorf said she is positive because of moral support from people like her parents, professors and deaf agencies.

“I’ve had the experience of growing up and learning,” she said. “I’m still learning from the deaf world, but now I know who I am and how to communicate with other people about what I want.”

Folendorf said she hopes more people will become interested in deaf culture and ASL. She also wants to bridge the gap between hearing people and the deaf community because she thinks both worlds are not so different.

“I have to talk to get what I want. I have a boyfriend, friends and family who all support me,” she said. “I live life no different than hearing people.”

Brandon Fleshman can be reached at [email protected]