Delaware School for the Deaf’s Class of 2021 only has two graduates, but that doesn’t make it any less special, School Leader Daphne Werner said.

“We have a very small but mighty graduating class,” Werner said.

The two graduates, Roberto Cuenca-Maldonado and Aden Yenchik, received their diplomas in a small, personalized ceremony in the school’s auditorium Thursday, which was preceded by a video of various school staffers discussing their favorite memories of the two students.

Cuenca-Maldonado, the school’s valedictorian, said he was in disbelief that his graduation, a day he’s been looking forward to for years, finally arrived.

“I feel like all the weight is off my shoulders. I feel free. I’m ready to go,” Cuenca-Maldonado said.

He earned a full-ride scholarship to Gallaudet University, where he will major in psychology with the goal of becoming a counselor or therapist.

Cuenca-Maldonado said attending DSD helped him gain confidence and make friends.

“When I was little, the world was already terrifying and lonely for a small deaf boy,” he said, describing how he struggled with social interaction. “I always felt like I was not capable of doing anything, that it was impossible for someone like me to succeed. It was always a negative for me.”

Six years ago, he attended an American Sign Language camp at DSD and for the first time was able to interact with other deaf kids. He later decided to transfer from his school in the Indian River School District to DSD, which is located in Newark but serves deaf kids across the state.

“Being around other deaf people made me feel more comfortable with my deaf identity and allowed me to learn more about deaf culture,” he said. “When I transferred last year, it was my best decision. I became more social and had plenty of friends by my first year in DSD.”

Yenchik will head to Delaware Technical Community College next year, with the ultimate goal of transferring to a four-year institution to study mechanical engineering, a career path inspired by his grandfather.

“He’s always fixing things that are broken. I always helped him in the backyard and got good at it,” he said.

Yenchik, originally from the Caesar Rodney School District, has attended DSD for two and a half years.

“It has a unique community,” he said. “It’s so small, and everything is individual-based. If you need help, you can get it.”

Werner praised Cuenca-Maldonado and Yenchik for persevering through adversity and encouraged them to make connections and lean on the support of those around them.

“Because that is what life is actually about. It’s not the job you will get, it’s not the person you fall in love with, it’s not the car you will buy,” she said. “Life is about making those connections, and as long as you lean on those who love you, I have no doubt that you, the Class of 2021, will continue to succeed in wherever life takes you.”

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