WINONA LAKE, IND. – Grace College’s 2012 Presidential Scholarship Competition saw 166 prospective students participate in the school’s most prestigious annual scholarship contest this February. Competitors may win anywhere from $1,000-$25,000 per year, but the $25,000 award—known aptly as the Presidential Scholarship—is reserved for one winner. This year, it went to Buffalo Grove, IL resident, 18-year-old Drake Darrah. It could not have been given to a more prepared, more deserving candidate.
Drake’s story is one of perseverance and hope. He was adopted as a young child from a Chinese orphanage by Craig and Sara Darrah. As is not uncommon in China, Drake had been abandoned as a child, likely due to his complete deafness. Nevertheless, the Darrahs, who had already adopted a daughter from India who also had profound deafness, were eager to welcome Drake into their family.
“All of our kids’ referral pictures are hanging up together in the kitchen,” says Drake’s mother. She and her husband have adopted five children now who range in age from 21 to 3. She reads the first words they read about her now college-bound son. “This sweet little boy is robust, healthy, and active. He is deaf and is very smart… He is very ready for a family to love and encourage him.” Though his intelligence level was indeed superior, Drake came to the Darrahs with no language abilities. His parents, however, utilized multiple strategies to make an effort to foster a normal, uninhibited life for their son. In particular, the family used a system called Cued Speech to help him learn English and improve his speech skills.
“When he joined our family, Drake gained access to language for the first time. We watched and waited hopefully for his first single words to emerge,” say his parents. “Drake surprised us with complete sentences after just a few months of immersion in visual language. He skipped the single word stage, jumped right into spontaneous conversation, and became fully bilingual.” Drake taught himself to read prior to starting preschool, and reached grade-level literacy and academic skills before receiving a cochlear implant at age five. This surgically implanted device provided electronic hearing and allowed him to experience sound for the first time.
Drake was reading circles around typically hearing peers, but his speech was completely unintelligible. The cochlear implant, followed by intense speech and auditory therapy, was a key to helping him eventually push through the spoken communication difficulties deaf people often face and pursue his passions to the fullest degree.
Though Drake could have chosen to be surrounded with other kids who struggle with hearing difficulties, he has pursued the life of an exceptionally integrated student. “He’s amazed us at every turn with his abilities and work ethic,” repeats Mrs. Darrah. “He’s always challenged himself, and that has come from within. Drake has never let disability stop him, not even from learning to play the violin, taking Spanish and Mandarin classes, and traveling abroad. He chose during high school to take mostly AP classes, and has wrestled, and he’s always had a fantastic heart.” Drake spent a couple of summers in Africa with Teen Missions International (serving AIDS orphans) getting involved in the hard work of serving rural, impoverished areas where a third world lifestyle is the norm.
Drake had a desire to be in a Christian environment as he pursued a college degree. He spent his early education in a variety of settings—including public and private school—but, though guidance counselors tried to steer him to a school that specialized in higher education for deaf students, Drake wanted to be in a Christ-focused educational environment. At first Grace College was just a stopping point on the journey to find the right fit, but after Drake learned more, and visited the school, he told his parents, “Grace is the place!” When he emerged the topmost victor of the scholarship competition, the deal was sealed. He is already working with the eager Academic Support Services team at Grace to arrange for the accommodations he’ll need in the classroom.
“He was very excited, and grateful for this opportunity,” says Mrs. Darrah of Drake’s reaction to winning the Presidential Scholarship. “Of course, we were all very proud, thankful, and excited.” And the excitement continues as Drake looks forward to his first semester at Grace this coming fall. He has a deep concern for the travesty of global human trafficking, according to his mother, and plans to pursue a law degree so he can help attack a problem that’s becoming more widely known.
Grace looks forward to welcoming Drake Darrah into the student body as he exemplifies not only a spirit of academic excellence and goal-oriented planning, but a knack for uninhibited perseverance even in the most adverse of circumstances.