The desire to make a positive influence on the world around him has guided Ernest Garrett III throughout his life, from his childhood in St. Louis, Missouri, to his current role as superintendent of the Missouri School for the Deaf. Garrett, who lost his hearing to bacterial meningitis at age 2, is currently strengthening his impact on the community by pursuing his PhD in Management with a specialization in Leadership and Organizational Change at Walden.
“My goal,” he says, “is to serve as a vessel of change within not just the deaf community, but the disabled community at large.”
Garrett has already begun to effect that change. Growing up in a hearing family, he found that their support and encouragement helped him stay focused and confident, never allowing his deafness to limit him. Yet the needs of the deaf community have never been far from his mind.
“As a student, I envisioned returning to the halls of elementary and secondary education as a school social worker—and later as a school leader—to improve the educational lives and opportunities of deaf and hard-of-hearing children,” he explains.
That desire led him to pursue multiple undergraduate degrees from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as well as graduate degrees in social work and administration from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
And his efforts have borne fruit: Last year, he became the first deaf superintendent of the Missouri School for the Deaf since its founding in 1851. There, his primary responsibility is to effectively lead staff to design, develop, execute, and evaluate plans to educate students and accelerate student outcomes.
In October, Garrett was named commissioner of the Missouri Commission for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing, where he advocates for public policies and new programs that improve the lives of and provide opportunities for all Missourians with hearing loss.
As Garrett finishes his coursework and dissertation at Walden, he is mindful of a conversation he had with a student during his time at Gallaudet. “I told him that I hoped to someday pursue a PhD,” he remembers. “He commended me on my goal—and then admonished me that PhD should mean ‘Please Help Deaf.’ I’ve never forgotten that this degree isn’t about me, but about my ability to use it to serve my community.”
Here, he shares his insights to help others focus on achieving success:
Never stop learning. As a school superintendent, he emphasizes that education is the key to his students’ futures—but there’s no one timeline that’s right for everyone. “It’s never too late to learn,” says Garrett, who credits Walden with allowing him to obtain his doctorate despite a demanding work schedule.
Build self-care strategies into your life. Garrett cites eating well and exercising regularly as activities that help keep him centered.
Seek support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support system. “My parents are my personal heroes,” says Garrett. “I also draw strength from my siblings, friends, and church community.” Identify the people who champion you, and turn to them when you need encouragement.