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Deaf salutatorian overcomes isolation, obstacles in Franklin

  • Franklin graduate Carter Henry holds his Salutartorian medal as the second-highest graduate of the school.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Franklin graduate Carter Henry holds his Salutartorian medal as the second-highest graduate of the school.




    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Carter Henry watches as his mother, Shelly, uses sign language in the family kitchen Monday, June 9, 2014, as his dad, Charlie, watches. The computer in the foreground Carter uses to get text of what people are saying. (<br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Carter Henry watches as his mother, Shelly, uses sign language in the family kitchen Monday, June 9, 2014, as his dad, Charlie, watches. The computer in the foreground Carter uses to get text of what people are saying. (



    GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Carter Henry has faced many challenges in his lifetime, including completely losing his hearing in the last six months.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Carter Henry has faced many challenges in his lifetime, including completely losing his hearing in the last six months.




    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Franklin graduate Carter Henry holds his Salutartorian medal as the second highes graduate of the school.<br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

    Franklin graduate Carter Henry holds his Salutartorian medal as the second highes graduate of the school.



    GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

  • Carter Henry has faced many challenges in his lifetime including completely losing his hearing in the last six months.<br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

    Carter Henry has faced many challenges in his lifetime including completely losing his hearing in the last six months.



    GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

  • Carter Henry watches as his mother Shelly uses sign language in the family kitchen Monday, June 9, 2014 as his dad Charlie watches. The computer in the foreground Carter uses to get text of what people are saying. <br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

    Carter Henry watches as his mother Shelly uses sign language in the family kitchen Monday, June 9, 2014 as his dad Charlie watches. The computer in the foreground Carter uses to get text of what people are saying.



    GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

  • Carter Henry watches as his mother Shelly uses sign language in the family kitchen Monday, June 9, 2014 as his dad Charlie watches. The computer in the foreground Carter uses to get text of what people are saying. <br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

    Carter Henry watches as his mother Shelly uses sign language in the family kitchen Monday, June 9, 2014 as his dad Charlie watches. The computer in the foreground Carter uses to get text of what people are saying.



    GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

  • Franklin graduate Carter Henry holds his Salutartorian medal as the second-highest graduate of the school.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • Carter Henry watches as his mother, Shelly, uses sign language in the family kitchen Monday, June 9, 2014, as his dad, Charlie, watches. The computer in the foreground Carter uses to get text of what people are saying. (<br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • Carter Henry has faced many challenges in his lifetime, including completely losing his hearing in the last six months.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • Franklin graduate Carter Henry holds his Salutartorian medal as the second highes graduate of the school.<br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff
  • Carter Henry has faced many challenges in his lifetime including completely losing his hearing in the last six months.<br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff
  • Carter Henry watches as his mother Shelly uses sign language in the family kitchen Monday, June 9, 2014 as his dad Charlie watches. The computer in the foreground Carter uses to get text of what people are saying. <br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff
  • Carter Henry watches as his mother Shelly uses sign language in the family kitchen Monday, June 9, 2014 as his dad Charlie watches. The computer in the foreground Carter uses to get text of what people are saying. <br/><br/><br/><br/>GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

Born hard of hearing, Carter Henry was never going to breeze to his goal of graduating near the top of his high school class.

But by December, Carter had grinded his way to the No. 2 ranking by using a gifted mind, relentless work ethic, support from family and friends and an FM radio system that amplified classroom sounds so he could participate.

A month later, though, his world went silent. As Franklin High’s only deaf student, Carter suddenly could no longer communicate with classmates, becoming more isolated as he struggled to adjust to his new world.

Family and teachers hustled to find a plan for him to communicate, and Carter recaptured the tireless work ethic that carried him through his first three years at Franklin. This week, his bronze salutatorian medal and cap and gown hung in his Hill dining room as he prepared to deliver his speech at tomorrow night’s graduation.

“It’s hard to describe,” Carter said while discussing the themes in his speech. “It kind of describes high school. I thank those who helped me along the way. I describe my struggles and losing my hearing.”

Academics have always been a strength for Carter, who was born with a form of

Crouzon syndrome, a genetic disorder that in some cases prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and the face. Symptoms include narrow ear canals that are sometimes accompanied by hearing loss and ears that aren’t fully developed. The disorder made hearing aids and surgeries a part of Carter’s childhood.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to make it this year. I had my hopes until that point, but when I lost my hearing I was really worried, but I’m happy, because it was really hard,” he said. “I felt alone most of the time. I didn’t really know what to do a lot of the time. If I had free time, I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

Keeping Carter on pace to graduate required a remote captioning system he could use at home and at school. In Carter’s case, an aide in a remote location gets an audio feed from his location and types the captioning on his tablet or computer.

“It took constant work, constant communication and constant monitoring,” said Richard Towne, principal at Franklin High School. After meeting with the family, staff agreed to do what they could to keep one of the school’s hardest-working students on track for salutatorian.

“He has been a high-achieving student for all four years here. With the total hearing loss, we knew it was going to be tough for him to try to keep up that pace,” Towne said.

The captioning system was useful, but it exhausted Carter, who had to read to absorb information – closed captions on TV, instructions on the chalk board, handouts from teachers and the closed caption monitor at home and during school. Finding Carter asleep at the kitchen table at 7 p.m. with his homework on the table wasn’t unusual, his family said.

“He wanted to earn everything, and he didn’t expect anything to be handed to him,” said Suzanne Viani, Carter’s hearing consultant since he started kindergarten. “We were like, ‘Carter, you already have the grades and you have the credits.’ ”

Some students tried to learn a basic sign language so they could talk to Carter. His sister, Mikayla, was the only other student who signed with him. “I would sign to him in the hallway and people would look at me like I had five heads because it was so incredible to them,” Mikayla said.

Graduation approached and Carter was officially named salutatorian, a great achievement he wished he could have celebrated with his classmates.

“It’s hard if you are in a group of students who can all speak and hear,” said his mother, Shelly Henry. “Carter has made the best of it. I think it’s hard for kids to know how to relate and communicate, you know?”

At home, he stopped playing his favorite online video games and learned to add closed captioning on TV. His mother and sister started sign language lessons, and the family adjusted to the fact that Carter couldn’t be sent on errands and couldn’t hear the phone, the smoke detector, his alarm clock or the door bell.

Next year Carter will attend Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf in New York, where he plans to study bioinformatics. His career goal is to be a geneticist. The three schools he applied to accepted him and offered generous financial packages, but Rochester’s expertise in working with deaf students makes it a good fit for him.

Carter said he hopes college will offer what Franklin couldn’t – camaraderie and understanding from people in the deaf community. “For the most part, just kind of being around people who are like me for the first time in my life. In high school I was the only person who was hard of hearing. I’m really looking forward to that,” Carter said.

Carter should be done with physical therapy to help relearn hearing with a new cochlear implant by the start of the school year. While the small electronic device won’t restore normal hearing, it will give Carter a sense of the sounds in his environment and help him understand some discussion.

For tomorrow’s speech, Carter said he’ll talk about what he learned while at Franklin. Those close to him hope he realizes what they’ve learned from him.

“He has taught us a lot – to be accepting of people, to not judge people,” Shelly Henry said. “We all say we don’t and until you live it and are faced with it, maybe you realize you might have. I think I’m more accepting of people because of it.”

The message will resonate with his classmates, Towne said.

“I think the lesson is whatever challenges you are faced with, life is more about the choices you make than the things that happen to you,” he said. “I think he represents the part in all of us that could do that.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369- 3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

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