By MADDY VITALE
Nyle DiMarco does not want anyone to pity him because he is deaf. His life is utopia, he says.
He has never heard a word, song or poem. And this has helped shape him.
He is a motivational speaker and a role model for the deaf community to enlighten others that life is good, and differences should be cherished, he told an audience at Ocean City High School on Monday.
DiMarco, a deaf advocate, model, actor and the first deaf person to win “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing with the Stars,” put his life in perspective.
He signed during a 10-minute presentation before American Sign Language students, deaf children, deaf advocates and teachers who filled the room at the high school’s Bill and Nancy Hughes Performing Arts Center.
A sign language interpreter spoke on a microphone from the audience. Afterwards, there was a meet-and-greet with students, families and faculty.
During his upbeat, personal and motivational chat, DiMarco described how interviewers and even friends will ask him from time to time if he ever wanted to hear.
When reporters ask him what is so hard about being deaf, what are his struggles and barriers, he just laughs.
“Every time, I laugh. My world is utopia,” he said. “Nothing is really hard or tough about my life.”
He told the audience what he said to a friend a few years ago.
“My world is completely silent. No, I never once wished to hear. I never wanted to change who I am,” DiMarco said. “I told him I cherish my difference. I love that I grew up completely different than people in this room.”
He wanted people to know what it is like to be deaf when he was on “Dancing with the Stars.”
He asked, and production obliged, that they cut the audio so that he could continue to dance with his partner from a deaf person’s perspective.
“I wanted hearing people to see what my life is like every day,” DiMarco said with a smile.
DiMarco is a fourth generation of deaf family members. There are 25. For that, he said, he is grateful. His parents knew how to raise him, he noted.
They enrolled him in a deaf school, and he flourished, able to sign just as he did at home.
“I felt really grounded — really rooted in my identity,” he explained.
That is something DiMarco wished to impart upon the audience.
“It’s so important we all love ourselves. Use your identity and differences as an asset. Your uniqueness is the best way to live authentically,” he added.
Then he showed the crowd how to sign “love yourself.”
Ocean City High School ASL teacher Amy Andersen, who arranged for DiMarco to visit the school, said he is a true inspiration for the ASL students and the deaf community.
“He is an amazing role model and advocate for ASL,” Andersen noted.
Andersen added that the biggest lesson from the event was having 64 deaf students from New Jersey schools and the ASL students joining together.
“We also had conversations about privilege and rights of deaf children,” Andersen said.
Currently, there are 186 students in the ASL program at the high school. The interest and popularity among students grew to the extent that the district hired ASL teacher Daniel Crisham to join Andersen in teaching sign language.
After the presentation, DiMarco greeted ASL students and other members of the audience.
Stephanie Renart, of Galloway Township, and her deaf son, Cole, 4, attended the program.
She said DiMarco was wonderful and said that Andersen also has been a true role model for the deaf community.
Renart added that Andersen helped her through some challenges. Cole attends Smithville Elementary School, where Renart said her son’s ASL teacher has helped open up his world.
Annmarie Buraczeski, president of the New Jersey Association of the Deaf, said through an interpreter that DiMarco is “One hundred percent an inspiration to others.”
She pointed out that Ocean City High School has an excellent ASL program.
Conrad Schmidt, 17, is a senior and co-president of the high school’s ASL Club. He is in his third year as an ASL student and hopes to study sign language when he is in college.
For now, he said, watching DiMarco interact with ASL students and deaf children was so inspiring it really makes him appreciate and love sign language and respect those in the deaf community even more.
“Nyle is one of the most famous deaf people out there,” Schmidt said. “He really is a great role model.”