Cecil College Graduate Melissa Zagarella’s Testimonial

Published on May 7, 2024

Cecil College President Dr. Mary Way Bolt has her photograph taken with Melissa Zagarella.

Cecil College President Dr. Mary Way Bolt has her photograph taken with Melissa Zagarella.

My name is Melissa Zagarella. I was born deaf and later identified with low vision. I was happy to meet the President of Cecil College, Dr. Mary Way Bolt, and would like to share a little information about myself.

When I was young, I went to a deaf school in Randolph, Massachusetts called The Learning Center for Deaf Children. I took an art class there that I enjoyed. Later, I attended middle school at F.A. Day in Newton, Mass., where I had my first experience taking ceramics classes in seventh and eighth grades. I was provided an interpreter for the lectures. I learned some things about clay, hand building techniques, and glazing, but I did not get to learn about the wheel. It made me curious to learn more.

I found out how much I enjoyed working with clay. In high school at Newton North, I took a ceramics class again during my freshman year. I enjoyed ceramics but I felt that I did not get the support I needed. There was an art major program that I wanted to be enrolled in but the Special Ed team decided I would be in the Culinary program instead.

I never lost my desire to learn more about art and, in Massachusetts, I started taking classes in art at Middlesex Community College.

Finally, in 2022, I took my first class at Cecil College, Beginning Ceramics, with my sister. I met the most supportive professor, Lauren Vanni, who helped me learn so many new things. She taught me new techniques, different tools to use, how to use the wheel, create different designs and textures, soda firing, and so much more. She learned how to help me with accommodations I needed as I continued taking classes at Cecil College with her, and she supported the accommodations I needed. She was a big help and inspiration to me throughout everything.

Brett Thomas was also a great help when I learned raku. He was supportive and taught me many things like reduction and oxidation, and different kinds of glazes. My disability support coordinator, Raegen Iler, gave me strong support for what I needed to succeed in class. She always made sure I had interpreters for all classes and meetings, so that communication was always clear. We had regular meetings to make sure that I was on track and that I had the accommodations I needed. Raegen helped make sure that I was able to have the same interpreters, so I was able to build relationships with them. They went above and beyond to support me and help me with what I needed and were thoughtful of my vision problems.

I am grateful for the strong support and everything I learned at Cecil College. I found my passion for ceramics and felt supported as I found my talent. I love making bowls, cups, sculptures, and challenging myself to make bigger pieces. I spend all my free time in the studio because it’s my second home, and everyone in it is like my family. I have met so many great people and made new friends, and I like teaching them sign language. Even though I am the only deaf/blind person in my classes, I feel welcomed and happy at Cecil College. I feel proud of my success, and I am excited to graduate with my certificate in ceramics this year.

Note from mom:

Melissa has always had a creative, artistic spirit. When she was little, she was always drawing or making little things with Play-Doh. There were many sketch books over the years, filled with drawings of her favorite Star Wars characters, her family (especially her dog) or just fun things. But ceramics has always been a dream for her, and it is so exciting to see her talent blossoming at Cecil College. Deepest thanks to all who have supported her.