Friday, July 15, 2005

Pole project brings scout honor


For 18-year-old Bruce Persons, deciding on an Eagle Scout project was easy.

During his freshman year of high school, shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, he noticed that the flagpole at his school was old, bent and did not prominently display the flag. He knew immediately that he wanted to install a new one.

The hard part of the project? Talking on the phone.

Persons, deaf since contracting bacterial meningitis when he was 10 months old, relied on e-mails and a computer relay operator throughout the two-year project, which included getting permission from the principal, researching costs, raising about $2,000 from friends, family, school staff and local businesses, organizing the actual installation and compiling a detailed report.

The result is a 30-foot flagpole at the entrance to the Maryland School for the Deaf's Frederick campus, surrounded by black-eyed susans and a flagstone path and lit 24 hours a day. The project earned him praise and thanks from the school as well as the honor of becoming the 40th Eagle Scout and first deaf Eagle Scout in the newly formed Appalachian Trail district in Frederick County.

Persons, a Smithsburg resident who graduated from Maryland School for the Deaf last month, said he hopes the new flagpole will remind students to be proud to live in America.

"Being an American is valuable for me, being deaf, because in America deaf people have rights that in another country they wouldn't have," Persons said, his mother and sister translating his signs.

"I feel that no matter where the country goes, we should support our troops, our president, our congressmen and senators, even though we may not always agree with them," he said. "It's better to stay united."

Last week, Persons started a summer class in English composition at Hagerstown Community College, his first experience with education outside of the deaf community, with the help of an interpreter and a note taker.

So far, he said, the experience has gone well, so he is considering going to HCC full time in the fall. He also might attend Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where he was accepted and offered a scholarship.

After earning his bachelor's degree, probably in business, he said he might go on to seminary to become a pastor for the deaf community.

"Growing up, I went to church but I never really got involved because of communication problems," Persons said. It wasn't until after he switched to Frederick Church of the Brethren, which has a deaf fellowship, that he began to consider what it really meant to call himself a Christian.

He learned from the church's deaf pastor that statistically, only 2 percent of deaf people know Jesus, and thought of the verses from Matthew 28 in which Jesus says to the Disciples, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on Earth. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

"I thought, OK, this is what I'm supposed to do," he said.

Persons is a member of a youth group called Deaf Teen Quest and has traveled to Kentucky and Tennessee for summer mission projects. He also helps with computer technical support for his church's deaf service.

Persons was named MSD's "Most Outstanding High School Student" in both 2004 and 2005, excelling academically, artistically and athletically.

As a member of MSD's Academic Bowl team, he helped win a national championship this spring. He acted in three school plays and won the Best Actor Award for two of them.

He has played basketball, wrestled and helped establish the school's baseball team, of which he was named MVP for three consecutive years.

In his spare time, he said, he likes to do "lots of things that normal teenagers do," including using the computer, reading, golfing with his dad, biking and fly fishing.

His advice for other Scouts interested in achieving the Eagle rank is simple: "Don't give up."

Source: Hagerstown Herald-Mail ONLINE

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