Bearden senior takes unusual path to learn about language

Senior Tyrell Thomas (top right) poses with his family.

Senior Tyrell Thomas (top right) poses with his family.

Zoe Evans, Staff Writer

Most people speak their first words, but Tyrell Thomas’s first word was signed.

The Bearden senior was born into a family with two deaf parents, causing his first word to be learned in American Sign Language.

“As a kid, you kind of grow up assuming all parents are the same, and, so, when your parents are deaf and you don’t really hang out with a lot of people, I assume everyone’s parents must be just like mine, but you get out there and go to school and you’re like ‘wait…this is really strange,’” Thomas said. “The vocal patterns are different, and I had to go to speech classes to learn speech patterns from them.”

Thomas learned to speak from being around immigrant adults in addition to the speech classes, so he speaks more articulately than the average high schooler.

Learning ASL before speech has also affected his thought process.

“I didn’t really think with words; I thought more with ‘imagine’ situations, which from a 5-year-old’s point of view can be… not always the clearest thing,” he said. “You know when you think to yourself and you kind of hear this inner voice? I just kind of saw this… hypothetical situation.”

The only real negative effect that Thomas’s parents’ deafness has had on him is the unnecessary guilt that others feel.

“Regarding my parents, they’re usually not the first thing I want to mention because I feel like when I mention that to people I lose some sincerity,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to use my parents as a card or an excuse for getting people to talk to me because I’m odd and I perfectly accept that about myself, and if they can’t accept that for that, then I certainly don’t want them accepting me for my parents.”

Thomas has faced other struggles throughout high school and his outside life.

“I faced a lot of bullying as a kid, mainly because I was different, strange, and obnoxious,” he said. “I would try to be abrasive, but I was trying to make friends.”

Thomas’s bullying was on or off: either insults or no interaction at all. The interaction he received was based upon whether other children felt that unnecessary guilt for his parents being deaf.

“He is a person, a living being, who is willing and proud to talk to others about anything because he’s respectful,” senior Lorenjae Pryor said. “Despite any hate or adversity he faces, Tyrell remains positive and kind.”

Thomas works through struggles by doing art and letting his mind wander.

“Tyrell loves any type of art,” Pryor said. “He’s been a part of Bearden Singers for as long as I can remember, dabbled in theatre arts, and continues drawing and writing almost daily.

“Tyrell expresses and lives through art.”

Thomas hopes to move out of Tennessee after high school, possibly entering film and animation.

“His artwork is absolutely amazing,” senior Ginger Capps said. “I could really see him going into animation.”