Matlin tells students to focus on their ‘abilities’

Marlee Matlin told students Thursday evening anything is possible, if they believe it.

The youngest Academy Award winner for Best Actress said, “No matter how this society labels us, in the end success comes from gathering the courage to reach for our dreams which will create our successes.”

This advice comes from a woman who is legally deaf. Matlin has overcome her disability by not letting the inability to hear bring her down.

She conveyed this to students when she described a situation in which she responded to an advice columnist’s reader who wrote, “While a loss of sight cuts you off from things, a loss of hearing cuts you off from people.”

Matlin told an audience of 500 her response to the column.

“While growing up in Chicago, my parents expressed a concern that my deafness would be an insurmountable barrier in a world where words and sound are so important in order to make a living,” Matlin said. “They faced it (deafness) head-on.”

She said her parents encouraged her live her life as normal as possible and treated her with the love and respect every child deserves.

“Deafness cuts you off from people only if you let it,” Matlin said. “If this were not true, we would not be successful at being doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists, business people, actresses and even a Miss America. We drive cars, we have families, we sign, we speak and some of us may even hear a little.”

She said that the real handicap of deafness does not lie in the ear.

“It lies in the mind,” Matlin said. “Remember that no one will ever have to choose between being blind and deaf. I’m sure you’ll agree that we can achieve much more in overcoming barriers if we focus on our abilities rather than dwell on our perceived disabilities.”

Her discussion — in the Marshall Center Oval Theater — ended the line of speakers this academic year presented by the University Lecture Series (ULS).

Matlin signed the presentation, while the interpreter she traveled with  — Jack Jason — spoke on her behalf.

ULS rented a $250 special Plexiglas podium, so all of Matlin’s signs could be seen, said student director Lindsey Grossman.

The evening adjourned when Matlin said, “It’s about listening to one another, and listening to your heart. Though some think just because I can’t hear I live in a world of silence. That is far from the truth. Silence is the last thing the world will ever hear from me.”