BETHANY — Cassandra Oakes often spends her time motivating deaf and blind people in their daily lives, but on Monday her message was aimed at middle school students gearing up for another round of standardized tests.
Oakes spoke to a packed auditorium at Putnam City's Western Oaks Middle School. She spoke of the need to try, even if you fail, and cited her own experiences growing up deaf as an example.
“You have to believe in yourself,” Oakes told the students. “No matter who you are or where you are from, you are unique and special.”
Oakes has Usher syndrome, a condition that affects hearing and vision. She was born deaf and began losing her vision in her late 30s. She spoke for about 25 minutes and then took questions from the audience. Students were impressed with her message.
“She's very inspirational,” eighth-grade student Santana Spangler-Day said. “She's had a rough life, but she still managed to get through it. It just shows you what you can do.”
Eighth-grader Kailee Lovelady said Oakes shows how important a good attitude is.
“I think it would have been easy for her not to try,” Lovelady said. “She has an amazing attitude, and that's the most important thing that I learned from it.”
Oakes has four children and six grandchildren. She founded the Sight-Hearing Encouragement Program, which works with deaf and blind kids to show them they can reach their potential.
“She has a great story,” eighth-grader Trey Gooch said. “I just can't imagine being blind or deaf and having to rise above that, but she has done that.”
Oakes said her goal when speaking to kids is to instill confidence.
“When I was a kid I was just like them, and everyone told me I couldn't do it, but I kept trying,” Oakes said. “There's no reason not to try. That's what I want them to know.”