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‘Her deafness does not define her’

Facing challenges, change with determination

Kent City — It is the rare high school senior who isn’t looking forward to graduation. 

Meet Deegan Anible, who overcame multiple obstacles to earn her diploma and has big goals for her future, but says she isn’t excited about graduating because she has never done well with change.

Born deaf, she received a cochlear implant at age 2. 

Even at an early age, she resisted change. “I’ve been told I didn’t like hearing at all at first,” Deegan recalled. “My mom says that I turned all red and started screaming when I first heard sound.”

Heather Braspenninx, Kent ISD Teacher Consultant for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing program, met Deegan when she was about 6 and attending what was then known as the Grand Rapids Oral Deaf Program. 

“It took your preschool teacher an entire year to get you to say ‘EEEEEEE,’” she told Deegan. “But if you hadn’t learned it, you would not be where you are today.” 

While most changes in her life have been difficult for her to face, Deegan has refused to give up.

Senior Deegan Anible is proud of her Cherokee heritage

Challenges Met with Determination

She came to Kent City Community Schools in fourth grade, her first time in a classroom with hearing children. 

“It was hard to make friends and I always thought everyone was laughing at me,” she said. “But I remember a teacher telling the whole class that some people do things a little different and everyone should be nice to each other. That got me off to a good start.”

That fourth-grade teacher was just one of many who encouraged her along the way. Deegan pointed to a few who allowed her to do a few less assignments when she was going through a hard time and taking extra steps to make sure she understood a lesson.

“Deegan takes pride in who she is as a whole person and her deafness does not define her,” said Braspenninx, who officially became involved with her as a student when she came to Kent City. 

“Looking back at her from a teacher’s perspective, there were times that if you were to just look at her test scores for listening and language, you would have thought that she would have had a poor attitude, been frustrated, struggled academically, had difficulty talking to peers and others — but that has not been the case.”

Teacher Trafford Adams had Deegan as a freshman and remembers her as dedicated and hard-working. 

Jordan Studhan, principal of the high school and middle school, recalls how she not only struggled to hear and understand the content in his classes, but always worked hard, determined to get it right. 

“Deegan was very friendly and personable in school,” said teacher Jill Evers. “She worked extra hard when she needed to complete her work or understand tough content. If all of our students were more like Deegan, they’d all be successful.”

“I loved all the teachers here (in Kent City), and how they have helped me along the way,” Deegan said. “I really never liked change and am not sure what will be next for me.”

Despite extra challenges with schoolwork, Deegan wasn’t one to stay on the sidelines. She spent one year on the flag team, made sure she was one of the “best dressed” on Disney character dress-up day and even joined the forensic (speaking events) team for a semester.  

“She has never let her deafness be an excuse or reason to not do something or try her hardest,” said Braspenninx. “As a middle school student she wanted to talk to all of her teachers about what it is like to be deaf, her accommodations and ways they could help her.” 

Academic challenges became even greater with the onset of the pandemic and the need for remote learning.

Deegan didn’t have regular computer access and when she did, she said her computer would randomly shut down while she was working. Her older brother, Dane, built her a computer out of old parts and she figured a way to get her lessons done. “I finally got a new computer just a few months ago,” she said.

Varied Outside Interests

Deegan has a special bond with animals and says they help her stay calm. “All of my pets meant everything to me and they are the reason I am still here. I have family and friends, but (pets) helped me a lot more than any humans.”

She loves to tell stories: about her former pit bull mix, Chopper, who never left her side and cuddled with her in bed; her German Shepherd, Jake; and rescuing cats, even though her mother told her she couldn’t have one.

 “I still miss my bird, Angel,” said Deegan. “She would purposely drive me nuts just to get her out of the cage, but when she got out she would fly into my shoulder and play with my hair. On her last day, she said goodbye to me before she passed an hour or so later.” 

She said she cherishes her video of Angel’s last moments. “She snuggled my face to show she loved me and that she’ll always be there for me. I don’t know how I knew, but I did.”

Deegan is particularly proud of her Cherokee Native American heritage, and traces her family history back to her great-grandfather. She enjoys picking up rocks and things in nature, rock and wood carving and making jewelry.

While her parents and stepdad love reminiscing about the 1970s and are refurbishing a bus for traveling, she is into history from another era. 

“My mom is kind of a hippie, but I love everything old, especially around the Civil War time,” she said. “I can’t let myself throw away anything old, especially wood.” She also collects “anything Coke related.”

A personal hope for Deegan is to have her last name officially changed to that of her stepdad: Nicewander. 

Deegan Anible, dressed as Jack Sparrow, loved participating in the Disney themed dress up day at school (courtesy)

The Future

Deegan said she loves “everything about flying,” and hopes to someday be a pilot. She is also a bit obsessed with the YouTube rescue videos,  Adventures with Purpose

“They are so cool and the stories about finding bodies for people who thought they would never find their loved one are inspiring,” she said.

Also, “I’m a good swimmer; I think I could learn to dive.” That led her to hope for a career in the military — either the Air Force or Coast Guard.

She said she is 2 inches too short to be a pilot in the Air Force, but “certainly there is something I can do,” she said. One goal is to help to overturn a 1980s law that forbids deaf people to join the armed forces. 

“Technology has changed so much, I am certain there are things people like me could contribute,” she said.

“I am Bluetooth-enabled and am ready to get an upgrade so I can hear on both sides,” she explained. “I think they should allow people like me to try the training and see how it goes. Plus there have been deaf soldiers before,” she said, pointing to some of her research on the subject. “There was a completely deaf soldier in the Civil War; he fought for a reason and the armed forces need people today who want to participate.”

For now, despite her fear of moving on to something new, she is looking into paramedic training and plans to get a “regular job — but not restaurant work — to earn some money” and help pay for it.

“Deegan is an unforgettable student that will always hold a special place in my heart and makes me smile when I think about her,” Braspenninx said. “Throughout the years we have spent together she has always stayed true to herself. I am so proud of the achievements and obstacles she has overcome, her ability to self-advocate, and her drive to be your perfectly awesome self.”

Said Evers: “She is a great citizen and will do well wherever she ends up.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst was a reporter for SNN covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts.


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