College freshman Jake Spinowitz woke up one morning when he was in ninth grade and discovered that he could not hear anything at all. He now plays the guitar in a band and is one of the winners of the Graeme Clark Cochlear Scholarship.
The scholarship is awarded annually to five students who have received cochlear implants for hearing disabilities.
The Graeme Clark Cochlear Scholarship Foundation has been recognizing the achievements of those who have received a Cochlear Nucleus implant since 2002.
“Jake’s story shows how one can break through barriers and triumph," wrote Vice President of Media Relations for Tonic Life Communications Thresa Grady on behalf of Vice President of Recipient Services at Cochlear Americas Rene Courtney.
Spinowitz was born with severe hearing loss and was fitted for hearing aids at the age of one. When he was 15, he received a cochlear implant, a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a digital form of sound for those who are deaf or severely hard of hearing.
“At first, all I heard were digital sounds, and I couldn’t make sense of what they were,” Spinowitz said. As a result, he went through auditory training, which he described as “frustrating.”
“I could hear for 15 years, and then one morning I woke up and lost everything,” he said. “Going through training just reminded me of what I’d lost.”
Eventually, however, Spinowitz reached a stage where he could pick up detailed auditory sounds. “One day, I turned on ‘Little Wing’ by Jimi Hendrix, and suddenly I could hear sounds I’d never heard before,” he said.
Spinowitz said that was the point at which music became his passion. He taught himself how to play the guitar and is now a member of the student band Joosed, which is performing at Spring Fling this weekend.
“Jake is a terrific student — a real pleasure to have in class. A casual observer of our class would have no idea that he has a hearing problem,” English professor Anthony DeCurtis wrote in an e-mail.
College freshman Kim Tai has known Spinowitz since middle school and described him as “Jason Mraz as a high school student.”
“Jake is one of the most genuine people I know,” Tai said. “He makes everyone so happy and is all about helping people.”
Spinowitz intends to major in English, which he described as “a good starting point for any career,” as well as to complete a minor in music.
His plans for the future include expanding the organization he started in high school, “Lend an Ear Long Island,” which collects old and used hearing aids and distributes them to those who cannot afford them. He received the Oyster Bay Kids of Distinction Award in 2007 for his community service efforts.
“My favorite moment with him was on the first day of class when I mentioned the first Pink Floyd album, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,’ and he had it on his iPod,” DeCurtis wrote. “I knew he was someone special right then.”
This article has been corrected from its print version to reflect that Thresa Grady spoke on behalf of Vice President of Recipient Services at Cochlear Americas Rene Courtney.
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