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President Obama Signs ‘Thank You’ to Deaf Supporter For the Second Time

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on September 26, 2013

President Barack Obama returned to Prince George Community College on Thursday. A PGCC student named Stephon showed to see him.

Their paths had crossed before, in that very room 18 months earlier. In March 2012, President Obama worked the line at an event on energy policy with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Stephon signed “I am proud of you,” and without missing a beat, the president signed back, “Thank you.”

HyperVocal’s on-hiatus Distriction blog broke the story, which socialwebbed itself all the way up to the @BarackObama Twitter and Tumblr accounts.

On Thursday, the president continued to explain the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and encouraged young people to sign up for the law’s health insurance exchanges. When he left the stage, Obama walked past Stephon, just like he did 18 months previous. The result was the same: another signed “thank you,” another knowing moment.

Stephon emailed me after with the same unbridled joy he showed in 2012. Left, right, center, wherever you fall on the politics spectrum, fleeting encounters and experiences like this are often what bring us the most joy.

As he did last time, Stephon made a YouTube video recounting his experience, and he transcribed it for us. It follows the video.

In Stephon’s words:

Hello to everyone. This is a big day for me! I have to wrap it up ASAP since I have class at 4pm. Today is a day that is a special day for me. This year is so much different than it was. Where I attend school at PGCC, President Obama will be speaking in person today!
There is something new for me to learn. I had not paid any attention when it comes to the bodyguards before — how they look and stare at people when they walk into a secure area; they watch us closely as we go into the gym where Obama will give a speech about healthcare.
The VIP seats where I sit are next to them. It is a bit less strange than it was. There is a fence between me and the VIPs. I am impressed by how the bodyguards keep track of all things, and maintain control of everything to keep President Obama safe, which I admire and applaud them for that. They start with the some VIPs speech like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, but it was difficult to take a good picture where I will face President Obama before that event. Before I could do that, there is bodyguard who warns us all that we cannot hold a camera out to take a picture of us shaking the hand of or touching President Obama . He said if they see me hold the camera out and try to reach out to President Obama, then they will keep me away from him. I have two choices: have an empty hand and shake the President’s hand, or take a video of him. And it left me a bit less stressed about figuring out how I can talk to the president with the video on.
I want to be able to show the deaf and hard of hearing that our President Obama is a guy who understands us, and have us to be part of the visuals. When I see President Obama start to raise his voice forcefully at the end, with his firm words emphasizing to us to stick with the plan of Obamacare (known as of Healthcare Reform) all of sudden, I thought to ask one of my friends to hold the camera since she did not plan to shake the President’s hand. So, I was like “perfect”. But then the President moved so fast that I had to rush forward to get a chance to get to the front of the fence to talk to him. My GOAL was to ask him “DO you Remember me?” the second question would be “Will you invite us to the Whitehouse for a dinner?” (This is one of my wild dreams–to have a dinner at White House before President Obama ends his term. I do not want to have dinner with any President but HIM! He is the only one I want to have that experience in my lifetime.
When I took the chance to talk to him in ASL, suddenly he thanked me in ASL! I think I know why he thanked me– because he thanked me to be here again! (Laugh) And I signed to him in ASL “do you remember me?” and then he nods his head at me as if “yes” in body language. I quickly asked an interpreter to voice to Obama if he could invite us for a dinner at White House. But unfortunately, the interpreter and Obama could not hear each other, because the people screamed and cheered so loudly. He was hurried past me quickly by his bodyguards, while my friend tried to make the video of our meeting. I am glad to have had this opportunity. My hope is that someone will deliver my request to him. It would mean so very much to me personally, and to my deaf group as well, to make our dream become a reality — to share dinner with him at the White House before his term comes to an end. He is one of the greatest human beings I have ever met.

Here’s to lightning striking twice, Stephon; here’s to you.


Stephon stood just a few feet away from Barack Obama.

The president, busy shaking hands, looked right at him. “It was like he was waiting for me to say something,” he said later.

So the 26-year-old Prince George’s Community College student took his cue and spoke to President Obama in his first language: American Sign Language. “I am proud of you,” Stephon signed. The president, almost involuntary, instinctively, immediately signed back.

“Thank you,” Obama replied.

This is one of those moments that humanize the office of the presidency:

Born deaf, and justifiably proud, Stephon told us later he had no idea he’d be seated in the VIP section so close to the president and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley at the March 15th event. But what a difference a seating assignment can make. “When I shook his hand it did not feel like he was superior to me,” Stephon said. “He was just a humble man.”

Even though Stephon’s story makes us giddy, this isn’t just another yarn from the lamestream lib’rul media about the majestic greatness of Barack Obama. If this were George W. Bush or Mitt Romney or Herbert Hoover, we’d be equally captivated. It’s a fleeting moment in the life of the president; it’s a tale to be told forever for Stephon.

Stephon gushed about his experience meeting the president and Obama’s basic knowledge of American sign language in a delightful video called “I Met Obama.” Since the president knows more sign language than we do, and since there’s no subtitles, we reached out to Stephon and asked him for a little help. The transcript, beautifully said, follows below his video. It’s required reading if you’re into great stories.

In Stephon’s words …

Hello, I would love to share my experience; something that I will not forget for rest of my life. Today was a special day for me, and I was preparing for it. It was announced yesterday, March 14, for everyone to receive tickets to see none other than the President of the United States, Barack Obama!
When I got ready to get up the morning at 7 am, I did not rush and took my time since the admission started at 8:30 am. I ate some breakfast and got onto the train to get to Prince George’s Community College. When I got there, there was such a long line and I got so worried that I wouldn’t get a good seat to be able to see my interpreter! How was it possible for me to understand what Obama had to say?!
I decided to let go of my nerves and went with the flow. I waited in line to go through security. Security was almost like security at the airport. It was the first time for me to experience that kind of security outside an airport. Of course, I have been to airports numerous times, but it was my first time to have that kind of experience on my college campus. I was not used to it. I saw the actual Secret Service, and you could feel how serious and strict they were, much different than dealing with county and even state police! You could tell they were not playing around.
When I got in, I took many videos. What amazed me is that it took two hours to make it just right before Obama started. I did not realize how great of seats there were for us deaf people. Right front of Obama. I sat in VIP with the Governor Martin O’Malley and many other important people. So, it started at about 11. Obama was right front of me. I was ready to jump up and walk toward him and shake his hand. Could you imagine how the Secret Service would’ve responded? When I watched Obama give his speech on the stage I thought to myself, “No way, Obama is not standing right in front of me! Wow!”
If you want to know more about what Obama’s speech was about, you can find out online. I was close enough to touch Martin O’Malley on his shoulder but I didn’t want to bother him. I regret I could have done better holding my camera while talking to Obama. The moment I will never forget was when he looked at me. He gave me a chance to talk to him. It was like he was waiting for me to say something. I took the moment and signed “I am proud of you,” and his response was “Thank u” in sign language back! Oh my gosh! I was like wow! He understood me after I said I was proud of him. It was so amazing…I was just speechless. Right after he thanked me, he smiled at another deaf lady who signed “I love you.” When I shook his hand it did not feel like he was superior to me. He was just a humble man. I am just impressed by him and know that he will have my vote and he will win second term without a doubt. Yeah, I feel safe to have him for another term.

Quite a story. C’mon, you can’t possibly beat that, right?!

UPDATE: This is really cool …

UPDATE 2: Barack’s not the only Obama who knows basic sign language …

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