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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 9, 2002

HPU valedictorian speaks for the disabled

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Ingrid Nohea Seiple was suiting up for one last drywall job the day before yesterday — hoisting her trowel and pulling on the old pants she prefers. But when she takes the stage at the Hawai'i Pacific University commencement tonight to accept a master's degree in English as a second language, the drywall technique she learned from her dad will take a back seat to teaching.

Ingrid Nohea Seiple works as a drywall plasterer and masseuse, surfs big waves, acted with a troupe in Paris, and just completed a master's degree in English as a second language at Hawai'i Pacific University with perfect grades.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I went to massage school at the same time as I went for my master's degree, and now I have a table and make housecalls," said the 30-year-old HPU graduate, who will give one of three valedictory addresses tonight at the Waikiki Shell ceremony. "So I could give you a massage, and drywall your living room, and teach you English, all at the same time."

Seiple is a superachiever in the world of the young and hip: a big-wave surfer; a masseuse; an actress who spent time with a troupe in Paris; an expert wall plasterer; and now a teacher with a master's degree and a 4.0 grade-point average.

But it wasn't always so. Diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade at Lanikai Elementary in Kailua, she felt like a loser at age 7.

"I was pulled out of my classes and put into classes with people who had completely different handicaps," she said. "Kids know when they're taken for the stupid class, so I assumed I was stupid. When you're that young, you can't understand very well what's wrong with you."

In her valedictory remarks tonight, Seiple will speak about the challenges faced by every child with a disability, not only in learning to read and write, but in fathoming the stares of other students and even of teachers.

"I've lived through the not-so-hidden opinions of my many teachers and fellow students," she says in her prepared remarks. "One opinion is simply that you are not so bright. ... Another common opinion about students who appear to be having problems with their work is that they are lazy.

"I would like to thank those teachers who did not buy into those opinions, but rather saw me as an individual with strengths to be cultivated and disabilities to be overcome."

Among those people is HPU professor of applied linguistics Edward Klein, her mentor and the academic coordinator of the English as a Second Language Program. He, in turn, praises Seiple for her dedication and brilliance.

"Hers was always one of those papers you wanted to read first from a test," he said, "to get an idea how high somebody is going to go in answering the questions. You see the high standard — here's what an A paper is — and then you can figure the rest."

Seiple hopes to take her ESL degree to Central or South America, to students who need the kind of help she once needed.

"No one in my classroom will ever be treated as if they are stupid or a slacker," she says in her speech. "Everyone has a sad and beautiful story that they are trying to create for themselves with their individual set of skills and histories. Everyone deserves that respect."

She vows that her own story will make a difference for other children who face the same challenges she has faced.

"Who is normal?" she will ask her audience tonight. "Who here thinks they are normal?

"I believe that normality and teaching everyone like they are 'normal' is a way of stifling people, their individual expression and ways of learning things. All people have weaknesses and strengths. It is just that some people have a great disparity between their weaknesses and strengths."

Seiple plans to tell her audience the story of how, despite special reading classes and even a speed reading class her father made her take, she still reads and writes more slowly than others. But that doesn't mean she — or anyone in a similar situation — can't succeed.

"It does not mean that I cannot think or that I cannot do my work. It just means that after all of you have finished your reading and writing assignments and gone to bed, I am still reading and writing. That is the disability."

And she will have powerful words for every child who feels small and lost in a world hard to understand.

"If you find yourself lacking in one area, compensate with your strengths," she says. "Commit yourself, and never give up."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.