Finalist in Miss America Pageant

Hearing-impaired contestant wins plaudits for piano solo

Nineteen-year-old Jennifer Wall, Miss Washington 1989 and a top-ten finalist in the Sept. 16 Miss America competition, has been playing the piano since she was 7. But it wasn't until she was a senior in high school that she was able to hear all the notes she played.

That was when she was willing to admit she had a hearing problem and began wearing a hearing aid. She had worn one in elementary school, but discarded it because she felt conspicious.Jennifer had not been able to hear an octave above middle C. When she put in the new, sophisticated hearing aid, she recalled, "It just thrilled me."

In June, the 1988 Issaquah High School graduate and member of the Issaquah 2nd Ward was crowned Miss Washington, and subsequently went to the Miss America Pageant. Of the experience, Jennifer said, "I had a great time. I did the best I could, and met some wonderful people."

She planned to attend BYU as a freshman this fall but duties as Miss Washington have kept her home. In October, she will travel to the Orient as ambassador for the Washington Apple Commission. She garnered $7,000 in scholarships from the Miss America program that have already been earmarked toward university costs.

Nerve damage to her ears during birth resulted in Jennifer having only 19 percent hearing in one ear and 46 percent in the other. With the help of a hearing aid and her self-taught ability to read lips, she started first grade, going in the mornings to a program for the hearing-impaired in one school district, and the rest of the day in her own district.

At the end of the fourth grade, she was ready to attend regular school full-time. Because she didn't want to appear handicapped, she stopped wearing the hearing aid.

Today, she regrets discarding the aid. Even though she could read lips, she missed much of group conversations and comments by teachers writing on the blackboard with their backs to the class.

"I wanted to blend in," Jennifer recalled. "But it was hard because I concentrated so hard to hear. Academically and socially it was a struggle."

She studied textbooks carefully to try to compensate for what she missed in class discussions and the explanations of teachers she didn't hear.

As a youngster, Jennifer was shy. During high school, she gained confidence by marching on the drill team, playing piano solos at Church, accompanying Primary and choirs, and serving as Laurel president in her ward.

Her favorite quote is on a calendar: "When you remain true to your beliefs, loyal to your ideals, faithful to your dreams, you remain forever free." She tries to live up to that.