Watertown, Mass. – June 17 was a special day for Ashley Riva, a 21-year-old from Marlborough who is deafblind. Riva, one of two student speakers, shared her story at the Perkins School for the Blind commencement ceremony.
“When I first came here to Perkins five years ago, I felt shy,” said Riva, communicating through a sign language interpreter. “Now I feel proud and confident in my abilities.”
During her time at Perkins, Riva transformed from a reticent youth into a student known for her intelligence, humor, athleticism and work ethic. Perkins’ highly trained teachers and staff created an individualized education plan that supported Riva in reaching her fullest potential and preparing her for adulthood.
Riva not only studied core academics at Perkins, but also learned how to utilize assistive technology, navigate her surroundings safely and create lifelong friendships. In addition, Riva also became an advocate, speaking at the State House in 2014 to urge legislators to fund essential services for people who are deafblind. Recently, she participated in a unique program that further prepared her for adulthood. Matched with a Perkins alumna who is deafblind, Ashley learned side-by-side with her mentor and asked questions about living independently in an apartment and created a friendship that spanned generations.
“I have made so many memories at Perkins like having fun and teasing with my friends and staff,” said Riva. “My favorite Perkins experiences are the many jobs I have tried… I discovered that I love working outside and caring for animals. I am a hard worker!”
Riva spoke of the many opportunities that Perkins provided, including vocational training that readied her for life in the real world. She currently works at Codman Community Farms, A. Russo & Sons Fruit and Produce Market, and volunteers at the Buddy Dog Humane Society animal shelter in Sudbury. Previously, Ashley worked as a sales associate at Petco and at Reservoir Dogs, a dog walking company.
During the commencement ceremony, Riva was recognized with the Michael Collins Award for her extraordinary effort to triumph throughout the year.
Before Riva received her diploma, she had one final word of advice to her fellow graduates.
“To the class of 2016: Always try new things,” encouraged Riva. “Never give up. Find your dream job!”
About Perkins School for the Blind
Perkins School for the Blind, founded in 1829 as the first school of its kind in the US, is a multifaceted organization working around the world to prepare children and young adults who are blind with the education, confidence and skills they need to realize their full potential. Learn more at Perkins.org