Despite encountering difficulties with her ears in the past, Carolena Mariconti has her eyes set on the future. “My main goal in life is not to make myself happy but to make others happy,” she said.
Mariconti, who is 18 years old, has only been able to pick up sound for the last 12 years. “My first experience [hearing] was crying like crazy and trying to rip my ears off my head,” she said about her first time hearing through her right ear after her first implant operation. She described her first experience after the operation to be very unpleasant, like “electricity flowing through my head.”
After two implant operations within three years, she’s now able to pick up 90 to 95 percent of an average hearing range, despite being incapable of hearing high and low pitches.
Before she received hearing implants, she made noises from the back of her throat but, according to Mariconti, her mother strove to understand her. Beginning when she was eight months old, her mother made an effort to learn American Sign Language, Mariconti’s first language. “She’s the one who’s pushing us through every problem or limitation that’s trying to get in our way,” she said.
Both of her sisters were born deaf, but Mariconti says she has found no history of deafness in her family tree. “The doctors are still puzzled about how it happened,” she said.
Since Mariconti started having interpreters in sixth grade, she said, her level of understanding with them has gone beyond sign language. “It helps to have a friendship with them, so that way it never feels weird having somebody next to you,” she said.
In the past, Mariconti has struggled with others giving up on understanding her. “When you say ‘never mind,’ that’s what basically kills a deaf person on the inside,” she said. Sometimes with friends, when there are barriers in communication, Mariconti will ask them to text her even if she’s only inches away.
As a result of her own experiences, she hopes to make a career of working as a counselor with the deaf. “Most deaf people feel a connection with each other because they can understand each other’s pain,” she said. Next semester, Mariconti hopes to take the first step towards her career goals by switching to the human services program.
After a year at Altamont Elementary School in kindergarten, Mariconti’s mother decided to homeschool her until the end of fifth grade. According to Mariconti, her mother had difficulties homeschooling her and her sisters, so she was eventually urged to go to Christ the King School in Guilderland.
After Christ the King School was shut down in 2010, Mariconti transferred to St. Thomas the Apostle School in Delmar. While she was attending that school, Mariconti’s parents divorced, and she spent much of her time bouncing between households. “It was a tough time for me about to go into high school,” she said.
Her time at Bethlehem High School was rocky, as she was the only deaf girl in her class, but her experience turned around once she learned how to get off her feet through dance. In her junior year of high school, Mariconti started taking hip-hop dance classes at The Dance Experience in Delmar.
On Aug. 25 of last year, her time on the dance floor was cut short when she was hit by a moving vehicle in Delmar. As a result of the accident, she suffered a sprained tendon for three months but was eager to come back to the dance floor. “When you start, it’s a part of you,” she said.
Mariconti decided to attend Hudson Valley because her older sister, Elizabeth, graduated from the college in 2010 in the environmental science program. “I kind of see my sister as an idol, so it just made sense to follow in her footsteps,” she said.
Like her sister, Mariconti hopes to transfer to Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, the world’s largest technical college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
On her first day at Hudson Valley, Mariconti felt nervous about the transition but confident about the road ahead. “This is just like a temporary home. This is just a stop on the way to where I’m going,” she said.