By Luke Baynes
When Williston native Robyn Suarez was in fifth grade, she promised herself that she would learn American Sign Language so she could communicate with a boy on her soccer team.
She kept her promise.
Next January, the fluent ASL signer and recent University of Vermont graduate will head to Malaysia to teach English and study Malaysian Sign Language as part of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.
Suarez said the famously challenging Fulbright Program’s grant process was as advertised.
“The application process was pretty grueling,” Suarez said. “It was almost like taking on another class for the fall semester.”
UVM ASL Program Coordinator Keri Ogrizovich, who successfully lobbied for ASL’s inclusion in UVM’s core foreign language offerings in 2008, commended Suarez’s dedication.
“She’s very energetic and immersed,” Ogrizovich said through an interpreter. “She makes an effort to meet the deaf and continue to learn sign language.”
Suarez—who learned Irish Sign Language while spending a semester abroad at the National University of Ireland, Galway—said Malaysian Sign Language (called Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia in Malay) is a particularly challenging form of sign language to learn.
“What’s really interesting about Malaysian Sign Language is they have dialects in different regions of Malaysia,” Suarez said.
Before she departs for Malaysia, Suarez plans to take the Graduate Record Exam to prepare for a future teaching degree.
“I’m not sure yet what exactly I want to do as far as teaching goes, but I do know that it would be something to do with sign language,” she said.
Although she was only 17 when she began playing the bassoon, Cathryn Gaylord said it was a mid-life crisis that inspired her to find her life’s calling.
“My dad might have been going through a mid-life crisis or something, because he started taking bassoon lessons, which is what he played in high school,” laughed Gaylord about her introduction to her instrument of choice.
A classmate of Audrey Suarez (Robyn’s older sister) at Champlain Valley Union High School, Gaylord switched from baritone saxophone in her junior year and fell in love with the less popular bassoon.
“Something about the sound, and the way it vibrates and the tactile feel of it is very endearing to me,” she said.
Gaylord, who received a Master of Music degree from Mannes College of Music on May 17, has also been awarded a Fulbright-Marillonet Fellowship to train with renowned French bassoonist Philippe Hanon at the Conservatoire Hector Berlioz in Paris next year.
“There’s a huge volume of bassoon solo music that was written in France,” explained Gaylord of her preferred country of study. “My theory is we (Americans) just don’t understand the French musical style that well.”
Although Gaylord called the bassoon “an endangered instrument,” the scarcity of master bassoonists—comparable to the lack of great catchers, and their commensurate longevity, in the game of baseball—suggests that she made the right decision during her junior year at CVU.
“It’s a much smarter choice than flute or violin,” Gaylord said.