The class of 2022 will say goodbye to a high school career that spanned almost two years under the cloud of a global pandemic. While COVID-19 may have affected some of their high school experience, this class has courage and they made it to the finish line. As graduating class members prepare to move on to the next chapter in their lives, the Observer-Dispatch sat down with several seniors throughout the Mohawk Valley. They offered advice to their fellow students, shared their college and career goals, and more. Congratulations to the class of 2022.
At 19, Evan Hawkins has already faced his fair share of challenges.
He was born deaf in China in 2003 and was adopted by a family from Canastota in 2010. His childhood was shaped by adjusting to a new environment and family, learning English and American Sign Language.
But an interest in his family’s cuisine when he was 10 has fueled his determination to overcome adversity and begin a culinary career.
Hawkins is preparing to graduate from the New York State School for the Deaf in Rome and will begin his Culinary Arts Certificate at Monroe Community College in Rochester in August.
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From the domestic kitchen to the cooking school
Hawkins’ mother, Cheri Hawkins, said it was difficult to communicate with her son when he was first adopted because he had no language skills, but she began teaching him sign language.
Evan Hawkins first showed his interest in cooking when he was 10 years old helping out in the kitchen.
However, his love of cooking grew while he attended the New York State School for the Deaf, which provides elementary, middle and high school education and teaches American Sign Language to deaf students.
Some students, like Hawkins, also stay in the dorms Monday through Friday and go home for the weekends, which he enjoys because he can socialize with his fellow students and cook with the staff.
Hawkins also enjoys playing soccer, but cooking eventually crystallized as his career goal. Two years ago, he began his Career and Technical Education Culinary Arts program at Madison-Oneida BOCES, where he learns various techniques and gains hands-on experience.
As part of the program, Hawkins also did an internship at Hannaford Supermarkets in Rome to gain experience.
“He had to overcome many adversities”
“It’s difficult to communicate, a lot of them[students]don’t know how to sign,” Hawkins said through interpreter Rose Bruno. He is the only deaf student in the program and works with Bruno, who helps him in class.
In total, Bruno and Hawkins spend three hours each day together at BOCES and NYSSD, which has allowed Bruno to learn a lot from him.
“He keeps working hard and always wants to find out things and always tries to improve his English,” she said. “But he always remembers where he came from.”
Keeping in touch with his Chinese heritage, Hawkins often watches videos of various cooking techniques and recipes, particularly Chinese street food. Hawkins, whose favorite meal is chicken riggies, hopes to visit China one day.
“He’s efficient, he’s a clean bloke, he’s very organized, he reads the recipes and understands what he’s doing, it’s a pleasure to have him in class,” said Daniel Mordaunt, instructor of the Culinary Arts program at BOCES. “He’ll do well in the industry, he’s a natural.”
The people at the NYSSD have become “like a second family” to him, says Bruno. On his way to Monroe Community College, Hawkins hopes to find a larger deaf community as he sometimes feels alienated.
“He’s a very determined young man, he knows what he wants and what he likes and he’s not afraid to tell you,” said Cheri Hawkins. “But you know, I think his past struggles made him a really strong young man, he’s had a lot of adversity to overcome.”
Evan Hawkins said his goal is to be a chef and work in a restaurant, which he plans to do after his associate degree.
“I enjoyed my time at NYSSD with the staff, the students, the teachers and all the support,” Hawkins said. “Now my future is going to college and I hope to continue to socialize and meet more deaf people and keep cooking.”
Maria M. Silva reports on food, drink and culture in the Mohawk Valley for Observer-Dispatch. Email her at email@example.com or follow her Twitter.