“Hi, my name is Judy (Scott) Hayes — (name sign: “I” handshape below the left shoulder, quickly drawing a J and ending with the “S” handshape) — GSD Class of 1988 treasurer,” and gestures toward Adonia.

“Hi, my name is Adonia K. Smith — (name sign: “A” handshape, beginning below the left shoulder and ending near the right hip) — GSD Class of 1988 secretary.” She continues, “Today, we will talk about…”

When the Georgia School for the Deaf Class of 1988 saw this greeting on Facebook, they knew they were in for a treat. The greeting was followed by our 30th anniversary reunion updates and a brief history lesson about GSD.

Judy and I entered GSD in 1975, the year Georgia School for the Black Deaf completed desegregation. She is Black and I am white. Race was a politically charged issue, but we found kinship through American Sign Language and Deaf culture. All 25 of us were like a second family until we graduated on May 29, 1988.

The desegregation process, the aging buildings, and the state affected our class deeply, cementing our solid relationship. We were hit hard moving to the Gordon Campus for middle school, back to Fannin Campus for freshman year, and back to Gordon Campus when Fannin Campus closed. The state hid behind claims that the deteriorating buildings had asbestos. A law passed in 1975 made it easier for children with disabilities to be educated in “regular” classrooms, impacting Deaf school populations. We felt the state wanted to hide us outside of town and push to close the school.

Growing up, we did not learn about our rich Deaf heritage and history. ASL had only been recently distinguished as a language. Even now, ASL is a subject equal to English, math, and science at only a few Deaf schools. Going back 175 years, GSD has a legitimate place in Georgia history, even playing a role in the Civil War. Being a part of a collectivist community where our heritage is organically taught among each other, we feel a sense of duty to share things we learn.

Our class believes in community service. From the $5,000 Judy and I raised through a social media campaign, $2,500 went to the reunion and $2,500 was donated to the GSDAA Museum for displays on John J. Flournoy, GSD founder; the first two Deaf teachers, Josephus B. Edwards and Almira C. (Peugh) Carruthers; and GSBD. The museum has a large green check signed by our class for the displays.

Eighteen out of 25 came to the reunion held Sept. 6-10, 2018. Two had gone to heaven and five could not come. We stayed at five lodges nearby. It was like we were back in the GSD dorms! Linsay Darnall Jr., a 1987 Nebraska School for the Deaf graduate, took pictures and filmed the reunion, complete with individual interviews.

We went sightseeing in Cedartown, stopping at Asa Prior Cemetery. I had only recently learned about the Priors and Cedar Valley Academy, vital parts of the early origins of GSD. We answered many trivia questions correctly — such as who dressed as the GSD mascot, the tiger, at games and events and who brought a dog to Miss Gaines’s class every morning from 1980 to 1981. We visited Fannin Hall, now Cave Spring City Hall. A few possessions of Wesley O. Connor, the fourth superintendent, were on display. That evening, we watched a slideshow and browsed yearbooks. Oh, the memories and the stories!!

A beautiful sunrise greeted us on September 8th as we took a group picture at The Red Barn wearing new Class of 1988 shirts. We toured the GSD campus and GSDAA Museum. Some donated personal belongings, such as a Little Miss GSD crown and sash, a GSD high school diploma, and a T-shirt signed by our class. Three of us recreated a 1983 picture using the same poses in the same place 35 years apart. Precious moment!

At Rolater Park, we filmed a group video contributing to the #whyisign campaign started by Stacy Abrams, a 1994 Arkansas School for the Deaf graduate. We took a group picture on the steps in front of Fannin Hall where many generations of GSD alumni once stood. Baylee, my fur baby, even joined us tubing on Cedar Creek.

We spent evenings at The Red Barn reminiscing and playing guessing games where we imitated each other. Even after 30 years, we still knew each other very well. We marveled at how we stayed in touch, especially before cellphones and videophones. One classmate is still not connected to the internet today. The only way we can reach him is to drive over an hour to his home and hope he is home.

The last day, Rob Buttrum, a classmate, joined us on FaceTime for an interview. He passed away the following May. After everyone left, Linsay interviewed me as a rainbow appeared above us.

It was hard for us to say goodbye before going back to reality. We are still a second family to each other and always will be.

Adonia K. Smith is a Cedartown native who resides in Cave Spring. She owns ASL Rose, a company that serves the heart of Deaf education, and is active in the Georgia School for the Deaf Alumni Association. Email her at adonia@ASLrose.com.

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