Deaf University Of Tennessee, Knoxville Student Graduates With PhD


(WATE) — The first of 11 the University of Tennessee commencement ceremonies begin on Thursday morning.

One graduate, in particular, is sharing her story of triumph and overcoming adversity. Life is filled with many challenges and some may face more than others.

Amie Sankoh is celebrating not only graduating but overcoming numerous challenges throughout her life, including hearing loss.

“I grew up in West Africa in Sierra Leone,” she signed. “I moved to America when I was 12 years old. At that point, I had no experience with the language.”

With the help of her interpreter, Kristi Pearson, Amie Sankoh shared how she got to where she is today.

At just three years old she lost her hearing due to a high fever from malaria.

She did not learn American Sign Language until she was in her early teens.

Sankoh stated, “Oh it was very difficult, yes, because I hadn’t learned English yet at that point. I had to learn English, I had to learn American Sign Language and everything. And learning English was very hard for me. I was motivated and once I had ALS, it opened up so many doors that I was able to take English classes. I was able to really fight to catch up to my hearing peers.”

Sankoh is now graduating from the University of Tennessee with her Ph.D.

When asked what has been your biggest accomplishment, Sankoh, shared with a laugh, “I’m standing here. Honestly, this has been unreal and it’s beyond my farthest dreams. I never would have predicted that this was possible. When I started my Ph.D. program, I started just to try. That was my goal. I didn’t think that I was actually going to be able to complete it, but I was happy to try, and I was wanting to quit, but I didn’t and it’s been such a big achievement. I’d never dreamed this would be possible.”

She says this is just the beginning for her.

“Next I will be working at the Danforth Center, the Danforth Plant Science Center in Missouri, and I will be working there while I’ll be looking for jobs dealing with industry,” Sankoh signed.

She adds that overcoming challenges begins with trying. Once you try, there is no telling where you can go.

“Start doing things that are necessary, then do what’s possible, and then you’ll find yourself doing the impossible, and that’s what happened with me,” she shared.

Sankoh will be the featured speaker at her Ph.D. graduate hooding ceremony on Saturday.

Her family still lives in West Africa. They will all be making their way to East Tennessee to watch her walk across the stage Saturday.