Through marching instructions, Memorial Day ceremonies, politician's speeches, and question and answer sessions, one American Legion Boys' State participant has paid attention to every single word. But for the first time in its 63-year history, the most attentive person in the audience is female.
She's interpreter Julie Walskie, and Spring Hill's Drew Winter is making the most of his Boys' State experience because of her skills and stamina.
Winter, a junior who attends Page High School in Franklin, was selected to attend the prestigious camp at Tennessee Tech University earlier this summer. But in a group of more than 620 young men from across Tennessee who spend the week functioning in large groups while learning about government, he would have had a tough time alone.
Profoundly deaf since meningitis struck him at the age of 1, Winter had Walskie by his side as an interpreter at school for more than five years. About a year and a half ago, he underwent a successful cochlear implant that restored a measure of hearing. He also reads lips well.
But most of the week's activities take place with large groups of participants who live in mock cities and counties to help them learn about state government. Reading lips or hearing a speaker from microphone across the auditorium presented a challenge. So Walskie packed her bags for Boys' State.
"The most challenging part for me is interpreting all day long without a break," said Walskie, who knew in general what the experience would be like because she attended Girls' State several years ago. "The activities are constant, and I need to be there for all situations."
Winter says he can tell, as in other situations, that some people are uncomfortable trying to start a conversation with him through the interpreter, but some give it a try. When the cities gather to study and take tests in their dorm rooms, Winter says he communicates with other Boys' Staters the most.
"They are more comfortable when I'm without the interpreter," said Winter, who both speaks and signs.
He admits there are advantages and frustrations to having an interpreter. Learning a common vocabulary is one difficulty. On the other hand, he says having an interpreter makes it easier to start a conversation, and that person can be the easiest to talk to just about life in general.
Other than having Walskie shadow him during the week, Winter is very much like other Boys' State citizens. He's participated in all activities, including his favorite sport, basketball. And his biggest challenge of the activity-filled week is the same as most other citizens -- staying awake.
A recent winner of Tennessee's state CAD competition, he hopes to parlay his drafting skills into a career as an architect or engineer, working with computer animation. He's also an award-winning artist, placing second in the Williamson County Medical Center calendar contest.
Walskie says she has known Winter since he was in the first grade, and even though he began using another interpreter during his junior year, she is still very proud and interested in his accomplishments.