Miss Deaf America Lauren Teruel (center) at the July competition.
The 22-year-old Northridge resident, who graduated from CSUN in May as an English major with an emphasis in creative writing, is the second consecutive CSUN student/graduate to be chosen as Miss Deaf America. Teruel succeeds fellow CSUN alumna Amy Wong, who served as Miss Deaf America from 1998 to 2000.
"I see the next two years as a fabulously new, blank slate," said Teruel, who also works as a staff member in CSUN's renowned National Center on Deafness (NCOD). "I expect this to be another turning point in my life. I'm a role model now. By being a role model, I hope I'll influence deaf children who may think they are very different from everyone else."
The Chicago native, already named Miss Deaf Illinois, bested 24 other contestants from across the country to become the new Miss Deaf America last month. The selection was made on July 8 during the biennial conference of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) in Norfolk, Va.
Teruel made her first public appearance as Miss Deaf America last week in the San Fernando Valley. On Thursday, Aug. 24, she presented the same children's story that helped her win the national competition during a "Sign Language Story Time" session for children and their parents at the Borders Books and Music store in Northridge.
Cal State Northridge, through its National Center on Deafness, provides sign language interpreting and other specialized services to nearly 300 deaf students, serving the largest university population of deaf students in the western United States. Through student and staff volunteers such as Teruel, NCOD recently launched the story time sessions with Borders.
Given the university's large population of deaf students, CSUN and NCOD play a leading role nationally in issues relating to deaf education. Likewise, the university has had a major presence in the Miss Deaf America pageant, with Teruel becoming the fourth CSUN student/ graduate to win that honor since 1990.
Indeed, Teruel learned of the pageant through CSUN's NCOD program. She attended the 1998 NAD conference as part of an NCOD student team in a separate academic competition, and saw fellow CSUN student Amy Wong win the title. That motivated Teruel to pursue the same goal.
For Teruel, who was so shy as a deaf child that she would not cross the street without her parents, her selection was the latest in a series of accomplishments. Those have included winning awards for cheerleading and in a Latin competition during high school, and working as a professional dancer and actress during her college years.
"Dr. I. King Jordan, the president of Gallaudet University for the deaf in Washington, D.C., once said, 'Deaf people can do anything but hear.' " Teruel noted. "I believe that is a very positive adage, but it is only half of the whole truth. Deaf people are just like other minorities. We have to be a bit faster, a bit stronger and a bit smarter in order to move ahead."
Teruel herself is half black and half Mexican-American, and this year became the first Miss Deaf America winner of either ethnicity since the inception of the national pageant in 1972. Although physical appearance counts, contestants mainly are evaluated based on interviews with judges, making a formal presentation and performing in a talent segment.
For the talent portion, Teruel used a real tree stump and leaves to sign "The Giving Tree," a famous story by the late children's author Shel Silverstein that is a tale of giving and selflessness. For the presentation portion, Teruel delivered a sign language speech stressing the importance of family literacy, a topic close to her own heart.
Although both her parents can hear, Teruel has been deaf since early childhood. She credits much of her success to the labor of her parents in those early years. Teruel's father, a university counselor, regularly "read" her stories in sign language at night, while her mother, an assistant art professor in Chicago, involved her in writing captions for drawings.
From the time she was a freshman in high school, Teruel had planned to attend Cal State Northridge, because she knew of its acclaimed programs for deaf students and also wanted to head for California. Last spring in her final semester, she made the Dean's List with a 3.8 grade point average. For the future, Teruel is looking to enroll in graduate school in fall 2001.
She has career plans focusing on writing and/or teaching. Meanwhile, Teruel is working as a full-time associate project coordinator in CSUN's National Center on Deafness. She is part of a federally funded project called Preparing Postsecondary Professionals, which creates materials to aid administrators and faculty members with the education of deaf college students.
But Teruel doesn't stop there. She recently played a supporting actress role in a yet to be released independent film. She continues to work as a professional dancer in the deaf performing group "Deafywood," which does skits and parodies to raise awareness about the deaf community. And, she recently began skydiving and has enrolled in a class to pursue that hobby.
"I was a very quiet kid," Teruel recalled. "I buried myself in books and shied away from conversation. I didn't think I would have an influence on anyone. I've definitely grown since then and feel proud of myself. I've accomplished more than I thought I could. But I'm still not satisfied. Now that I have a glimpse of what I can do, I'm all the more anxious to accomplish more."
Lauren Teruel (center) is CSUN's fourth Miss Deaf America since 1990.