Finding her voice

The way her mother tells the story, Daniels Middle School student Mary Mikels first demonstrated her affinity for music when she was only 3 years old, crooning Christmas carols a capella from the bathroom when she thought no one was listening.

“I ran and got a tape recorder,” her mother Juana Mikels said. Mary’s pitch was on-target and her voice so sweet, “I ended up sending a 70-year-old lady the tape as a Christmas present,” Juana Mikels said.

Blind since birth, Mary didn’t see that her mother was recording her voice. She generally shies away from attention, she says. But over the years, Mary, now 15, has become more comfortable sharing her natural talents for singing, playing piano and violin.

Earlier this year, Mary entered an “American Idol”-style singing competition for students in Wake County. Unfazed by the large audience, she took the stage and sang “On My Own” from the musical Les Miserables, her hearty voice belying her small physical frame. View the video >>

She won first place for the middle school division. The recognition earned her a $100 prize, which she donated to a foundation that trains guide dogs for children who are blind or visually impaired.

Singing is something Mary loves. But more importantly, she says, it brings happiness to others.

“Believe it or not, it’s is an honor to do it for the president, and all that sort of stuff,” Mary says. “But the best honor, I think, is to do it for people that you know and love.”

At school
Mary uses a long, collapsible white cane to help navigate the hallways around Daniels, where she has attended school since 6th grade. Instructors who specialize in education for the blind help Mary during instruction and between classes. She uses portable Braille writers to take notes and do her homework. Classmates also help Mary during instruction and help guide her from class to class.

Classmate Ryan Murphy, who walks Mary to lunch every weekday, says she has developed an appreciation for helping others.

“I feel like I’ve done something good,” says Ryan, who is also in 8th grade. “And if I can do something good every day, it will all be a lot better.”

Mary has made a niche for herself at school and in her community, partly through her pursuit of music, her father Terry Mikels says.

“She’s able to excel in a few things that have given her some notoriety,” he says. “While she can’t do sports, she is concentrating on those things she can do.”

For most of her life, Mary has kept to herself. Now she’s starting to joke with classmates and teachers, her father says. “She’s really coming into her own. It’s a joy to see that.”

This profile is part of a series of stories on WCPSS students, parents and teachers during the month October, which is Disability History and Awareness Month. The Wake County Public School System is committed to the success of every student. For more information on Special Education Services, please visit the WCPSS Special Education website.

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