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Deaf & smart: Gallaudet’s creative guy

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

As a young man who lost his hearing in a motorcycle wreck, King Jordan never dreamed he could become the head of anything. That’s because people figured deaf folks couldn’t do important jobs.

For a while, Jordan believed it, too.

Even in 1988, when he became the first deaf president of Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts university for the deaf, Jordan still wasn’t sure he’d succeed.

In fact, this son of Pennsylvania mill workers thought many times that he’d fail … and make things worse for every other deaf person.

Here are two such times, and how quick thinking won the day:
  1. Two weeks after assuming the presidency, Jordan had to defend Gallaudet’s budget request before Congress. (Gallaudet receives federal support.) He was terrified.

    But Jordan had studied for the hearings the same way he’d crammed for finals in graduate school. He knew the school’s budget cold and answered quickly. Result: smooth sailing.

  2. Jordan visited the Kellogg Foundation for what he was assured would be just a friendly visit with its chairman. At the foundation’s headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich., Jordan walked in and found himself facing the entire board.

    Jordan had nothing prepared, but he’d learned that the foundation supported health care programs, so he told the board how great it would be to have a mental health center on Gallaudet’s campus with trained deaf professionals and interpreters.

    Today, Jordan looks out at a $12 million facility that Kellogg built.
As he prepares to leave Gallaudet at year’s end, Jordan tells students who say they want his job that maybe they’ll get it. Or maybe they’ll lead another university, or Boeing or Sprint.

—Adapted from “Yes, We Can,” Ken Adelman, Washingtonian.

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