“When Heather Whitestone faced the media following her crowning as Miss America in September of 1994, she may have remembered the first time she stood in front of a large audience to speak. Like her fellow graduates honoring a school tradition, then the 14-year-old Heather was giving her commencement speech at CID – Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1987, Heather was confident and matter-of-fact.“Thank you, teachers, for all you have taught me,” she said toward the end of her speech. “I feel very prepared for next year.”
Heather came to CID in 1984 at the age of 11 because she was doing poorly in a general education school. She had lost most of her hearing when she was 18 months old. At CID, she was an extraordinary student. In just three years, she made six grade levels of improvement in reading—about twice the normal rate for a hearing child—and was ready for high school.
Heather’s platform during her reign as Miss America was “Anything Is Possible.” She developed the “STAR” program to teach children five steps for success: be positive, believe in yourself, face your obstacles, work hard and build a support network. Heather attributes much of her success to her mother, Daphne Gray, who initially taught her to speak—and who became famous for showing her that the word American ends with the letters “I CAN.” Heather showed everyone the meaning of those words and won hearts around the country with a breathtaking ballet performance in the 1995 Miss America Pageant. Heather has since married and become the owner of a cosmetics company. In 2003, she received a cochlear implant.
Nearly three decades after her reign as Miss America, she is still a popular speaker worldwide.