Multiple people pose for a photo while holding up the American Sign Language sign for I Love You

Micah Tucker, Mulumba Asukulu, Beulah Hester and Alex Frahler pose for a photo with a group of friends, family and Kentucky School for the Deaf staff members. The four were honored during the school’s graduation ceremony on Friday.
Photo by Joe Ragusa, May 26, 2023

Beulah Hester was supposed to graduate a lot sooner from the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD). The 94-year-old went to the school from 1937 to 1948, but left before her senior year to start a family.

“I always thought about graduating, but I also wanted to stay home with my family,” she said.

Despite not finishing her coursework, Hester remained committed to KSD and was employed by the school as a dorm houseparent for 30 years until she retired in 1990.

“It was the kids. It was the students. Everyone I loved was there,” she said.

Hester was awarded an honorary diploma during KSD’s graduation ceremony on Friday, one of four students to walk the stage this year as the campus celebrates its 200th anniversary.

“I’m very surprised at everything that’s happening with this,” she said. “Getting this diploma has been so important to me. I’ve just enjoyed it so much.”

Hester said she remembers staying on campus a lot with her friends as a kid, running around in the dorms and having as much fun as possible.

“We were pretty mischievous,” she said.

Her love for the campus continued as she worked at KSD and Friday’s ceremony served as a reminder of how important the school is to her.

“It’s great being with friends and all the people that I’ve known all my life,” said Hester. “Each person is just so important to me.”

During her graduation speech, Hester reminded the other three graduating students to never forget what KSD meant for them.

One of those graduates, Micah Tucker, of Irvine, said he plans to pursue an education degree at Eastern Kentucky University so he can come back and teach math at KSD.

“I grew up loving math. I was always striving to achieve my goals in math,” said Tucker. “Teachers ask me to help the kids in my classes learn math, so I just think it’s always been something that’s inside me, something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Tucker has been at the school the longest of the graduating seniors – 15 years – living in the dorms for a majority of his time at the school, like many other KSD students.

“It means so much to me because it’s my home,” he said.

Tucker and the other two graduating seniors will attend Eastern Kentucky University.

Alex Frahler, of Elizabethtown, plans to pursue an art degree because he was inspired by his art teacher, Alex Heckert.

“I just fell in love with art, and a lot of that was because of my teacher,” said Frahler. “She’s the one who has motivated me to go to college and become an elementary art teacher myself.”

A woman adjusts another person's graduation gown

Kentucky School for the Deaf art teacher Alex Heckert helps graduating senior Alex Frahler with his graduation gown. Frahler credits Heckert with inspiring his love for art and his plans to become an art teacher himself.
Photo by Joe Ragusa, May 26, 2023

Heckert said she’s proud of Frahler.

“I’ve seen him grow. I’ve seen him become this amazing artist, and also just more confident in himself,” said Heckert. “I’m excited for him and I’m excited to see what he does. I just can’t believe it. It’s gone so fast.”

Frahler came to KSD in 2011 after a public school experience where he only had one American Sign Language interpreter. When he got to KSD, he noticed a campus full of students and faculty that were just like him.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I had no idea that a place like this existed. And I love it.”

Mulumba Asukulu had a slightly different journey to KSD than his peers: he immigrated from Africa in 2016 and had to learn both English and American Sign Language.

“I was surrounded by only hearing people. There was nowhere for me to go to school. There was nothing there for me,” he said. “I was the only Deaf one in my family so I was frustrated, and my parents were frustrated.”

He said he’s received tutoring ever since he got to KSD and has been working to catch up, but the environment at the school has been welcoming.

“I felt a lot safer here, a lot better here. I didn’t have to worry when I came here,” he said.

He said he plans to go back to Africa to visit his grandparents this summer, including one he was named after that inspired him to pursue a nursing degree.

“I had a strong connection with my grandfather. I love him,” said Asukulu.

All three graduating seniors said they plan to come back and contribute to KSD in some way, much like Hester did for decades, but they will miss their time as a student.

“I’m very thankful to my parents for bringing me here,” said Frahler. “It’s just so special to me and touching because KSD has such strong roots, and I’m going to be really sad to leave.”