For 21-year-old Grace Graugnard, hearing limitations never registered when she was a child, even though she wore hearing aids and eventually received cochlear implants.
“I knew I was different and had to do some things differently,” she says. One of those things was taking speech therapy instead of P.E. “As a kid, I wanted to play dodgeball and not go sit in the classroom.” The time spent in speech therapy paid off for Grace, who majors in theater and international relations at Tulane University and applies those lessons to learning new accents for roles.
Grace remembers noticing her hearing limitations when she was listening to the High School Musical soundtrack as her mom tried to explain the difference between harmony and melody. Grace just couldn’t hear the notes. “I think that’s where I was like, OK, something’s up.”
Once hearing aids were no longer providing any benefit, Grace got her first cochlear implant when she was eight. Her brother James, two years younger, is also Deaf, and they both had surgery at the same time.
“We weren’t sure it was going to work or if we were going to like it,” Grace says. “Then I got the cochlear implants activated and that kind of became a whole reset for me, as in the way I perceived the world.” The implants aren’t a magic switch that allow immediate hearing. There is a learning curve as neurological pathways are formed and hearing develops as it would for a baby.
James and Grace had their second surgeries four years later. “That transition was less smooth, and it was just harder,” she says. Eventually, she did adjust. “It ultimately helped me a lot in class, in dance and in everything. Cochlear implants have just enriched the love I have for my hobbies and my passions.”
Growing up, Grace was surrounded by music and theatrics. She and James got started with Center Stage Performing Arts Academy via summer camp, and she stayed in the company for about nine years. As a student at Dutchtown High School, Grace was active in theater. “It was a hobby at first, something I loved to do, but not necessarily something that I saw myself going into as a career until I came to college.”
Grace brings her unique story and the way she learns and perceives things into her craft as an actor. “Rather than my disability being something to put aside, my professors usually ask, ‘How can you integrate this into your characters even if your characters aren’t Deaf?’”
Language has always been important to Grace, and she is bilingual in Spanish, gaining fluency by conversing with students learning English as a second language during high school. “Language and dialect carry so much more than just the words, so much more than just the face value,” she says. “It’s something I’ve always been interested in since I was little and have developed over the course of my academic career.”
Grace, who will be graduating in December, was recently chosen as a winner of the 18th annual Graeme Clark scholarship, which is named after a pioneer of the hearing implant community and is open to cochlear implant recipients. ■