The student council president was sitting on a stool in the front of the room. He wore corduroys, a shiny blue flight jacket, white sneakers. Brown hair fell like a helmet around his face. Beneath the hair, connected to his ears, were two wires, which met in a Y below his chin and ran down to a microphone beneath his shirt. "The meeting will come to order," he said, working on each word. "Today we are going to talk about the Christmas dance in the gym."
In a while a red-headed kid named Kevin stood to give a refreshment report. But he forgot to face the president and speak slowly. He was reminded, grinned sheepishly, started over. "I'm sorry, Danny," he said. Everybody understood.
His name is Danny Wilson and he is 15 years old. He is handsome, alert, graceful gawky. He's also deaf - not "profoundly," as audilogists say, but enough so that he gets almost no decibel recording on high sounds. He has never, says his mother, heard a bird sing.
"I had four children in five years," Mrs. Wilson will tell you, speaking softly. "One of the things about Danny is that he doesn't know how to connive. He has to do it eyeball to eyeball."
Two months ago Danny Wilson was elected president of the Student Government Association at Belt Junior High in Wheaton. He didn't get in on sympathy, is the first thing everybody wants you to know. He got in on merit, popularity (girls are nuts for him, says a science teacher) and a hard campaign. He is, everybody says, proof that badly handicapped students can make it - and sometimes even excell - in 'mainstream' American schools. (Federal Act P. L. 94-142, passed in 1975 and first implemented last year, guarantees handicapped children an education in a "least restrictive environment" which in most cases means public schools.)
One of Danny Wilson's auditory teachers made a tape of a speech he wrote and then practiced over and over during campaign week. "Let's make this a special year for everybody," says a rough awkward voice coming as though through water. Those who were at a school assembly when he gave the speech said people clapped and cheered. He won in a walk.
That Was in October. Today Danny Wilson the first electeddeaf student council president of a Montgomery County public school, carries himself with a certain guileless arrogance. You can see it in the smile that plays like soundless applause on his smooth, boyish face. And you can see it in way he conducts student government meetings.
There was a meeting last week. As it happened, the meeting took place on the 100th anniversary of the first recorded sound. This was announced, along with routine messages, at the beginning of the day over a school intercom. Danny Wilson's classmates listened with blank boredom. Danny missed it.
The president for the meeting in front of a blackboard chalked with chemistry symbols and next day's assignment. (Complete ALL notes on oxygen by Thursday.) Beside him sat his friend "Pono" who helps Wilson in the meetings (by repeating key words of missed sentences, mostly). Reno, whose real name is John Van Cleson, wasn't a member of Belt's student government. But the teachers allow him to sit in because he's Danny Wilson's special friend. With the exception of Wilson's younger brother, Chris, who is also kind of pass key to the hearing world. Pono is closer to Danny Wilson than anyone else. He taught Pono sign language a while ago. "I know the alphabet and about 15 words," he says, beaming.
At one point a discussion arose on whether kids from other school's should be allowed to come to the dance. (Steve Diekoff the principal was adamant they should not.) Danny Wilson got lost as the discussion swirled about him. He [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to Pono for help. Pono summarized the talk, forming words carefully on his lips. Wilson smiled, nodded, faced the room and said with the aid of a Solomon. "No." Then he went on to new business which happened to be a door-decorative contest in which pizza is to be the top prize.
Later, in the hallway, Bob Jones, one of Wilson's teachers who acts as a student government adviser, said: "It's definitely more awkward, having Danny as president this year. But in another way it's tremendously streamlined things - for all of us. I'm just not talking about idle chatter, I'm talking about recognizing what's important and what isn't."
Jones adds that since Wilson's election, other auditory students at Belt (there are 13 out of an enrollment of 66) have begun turning up at teen club and other functions. "Whether he wants to be or not," Jones says, "Danny is a symbol." He cautions, though, against painting him perfect. "He has difficulties with his studies. In a way, he's just an average kid."
Danny Wilson wrote his "autobiography" once. It wasn't really a book, just a paper for English class. In it, he said he didn't really understand why he should be deaf and that he hoped someday he might not be, even though he knew this was probably just a dream. Toward the end of a morning one day last week, before heading to the cafeteria for lunch, Danny Wilson was asked about that autobiography.
"I wrote it because . . . I want to hear," he said slowly, not looking up. "Because there's a lot on TV I always miss, because I feel bad when people ask me something and I can't read their lips. I'm not giving up ' and I just wanted everybody to know that."
A bell had interrupted his last sentence. He knew. "I can tell by people faces," he said, grinning. "That's almost as good."