FREDERICK, Md. (WDVM) — Dr. Robert Davila is an accomplished man. He currently serves as the president for the Maryland School for the Deaf Board of Trustees.
He also was the first Latino student to attend Gallaudet University and was the first deaf person appointed by a president to a policy-making position.
“His story is not just for the deaf community. His story is really for the American dream. Since he was a little boy to who he is today, it is the American dream,” explained superintendent for the Maryland School for the Deaf, James Tucker.
Davila’s resume shines with top positions as a leader for the deaf community for more than 30 years.
His journey began in the 1940s as a young boy. He was alongside that of many Mexican and Mexican Americans at the time who worked long hours in the fields of California farms and orchards.
“My family would move together, going up and down California following the crops. All of us were living in a small community. It was small but tight, and it was held together by Spanish,” Davila said.
Davila’s parents were Mexican natives. They married in 1918 and had eight children in the United States.
While Davila was born with hearing, at age eight he developed spinal meningitis that caused him to become deaf.
“My mother was faced with a situation she did not know how to resolve. Some friends informed her that there was a school for the deaf, for deaf children, in Berkley, California. That was about 500 miles from here we lived,” Davila explained.
It was over the next six years that Davila soared through his schooling.
As child, he hardly attended school and his parent didn’t receive further than a primary education. He says being in a classroom sparked what would become a life-long interest in education.
He entered Gallaudet University in 1948 and was on track to become a teacher.
“I was the first Latino at Gallaudet,” Davila said, “I liked that idea of going to a school and teaching kids like who I used to be.”
In Davila’s career, he would become the president of Gallaudet, the first deaf person to become headmaster of the New York school for the deaf, and he also became the first deaf person appointed by a president of the United States for a policy-making position.
In 1989, President George H. W. Bush looked on Davila to become Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the U.S. Department of Education.
“He is an inspiration for so many people. His life work really contributes to the understanding of what deaf children need,” Tucker said.
Davila says he credits his life achievements to two key teachings from his parents: independence and, true to a majority of Latin-x cultures, devotion to family and community.
“Because I always had someone impressing on that– family is first,” Davila said.
Just this year, Dr. Davila was appointed to become president for the Maryland School for the Deaf Board of Trustees.
The school serves 55% of all deaf children in the state.