In May 2012, Danielle Renee Jelitto, a sophomore at Salt Lake Community College, will be the first member of her immediate family to graduate with a college degree. She will accomplish this in spite of doctors’ bleak predictions for her future due to a disability.
Jelitto was born with hydrocephalus, which means “water on the brain,” a condition that causes varying degrees of brain damage in those it affects.
“My doctors didn’t believe that I would ever achieve my driver’s license or that I would be able to graduate from high school,” Jelitto said. “It only took me twice to pass the driving test [and] I passed the written test the first time.”
Jelitto said she has always been a very determined person. With her strong personal determination and help from public services such as the Vocational Rehabilitation Center, school resources such as the Disability Resource Center and the Learning Center and advisors such as Larry Landward, who helps her pick her classes, Jelitto feels as though she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to when it comes to academics.
Even with all the help, school hasn’t been a breeze for her. When she took Math 950, she signed up for focused tutoring through the Learning Center and passed with a C. Even though there have been some challenging classes for Jelitto such as math, she’s still been able to have great success at SLCC. She is currently maintaining a 3.6 GPA.
“I still have fears of not passing my classes,” she said. “But I tell myself, ‘Danielle you can do it — look how far you’ve come.’ All thanks to the Disability Resource Center. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have the GPA I have.”
After graduation Jelitto intends to apply for the SLCC American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting Program and continue building on the skills she has already developed in ASL.
“I’m a very visual learner,” she said. “When I see things I learn [them] better and more quickly. ASL comes easy to me because it’s something I can see and do with my hands.”
Once she completes the ASL Interpreting Program Jelitto plans to gain some experience in the workforce as an ASL interpreter and has considered the possibility of continuing her education to obtain a bachelor’s degree. If so, she would like to major in Elementary Special Education.
“It’s [been] a blessing to be in resource. You get one-on-one help to achieve and extra time to take tests without [classroom] distractions,” she said. “I’ve benefitted from special education programs my whole life. I feel like this would be a way for me to give back.”
As part of her general education study, Jelitto volunteered at The Children’s Center in Kearns where she worked with children with disabilities. Some of them had multiple disabilities. She enjoyed this experience and believes that her unyielding patience is something that makes her great at working with people with disabilities and will make her a great ASL interpreter.
“You have to have a lot of patience when you are interpreting — to understand their questions and what they need,” Jelitto said. “Nobody has more patience than I do. I can wait for things longer that anyone else in my family without complaining.”
Jelitto is 22 years old and the third of five children in her family. She has two older brothers and two younger sisters. Her mother refers to her as “the peacemaker” of their family. When she’s not busy studying, Jelitto is outdoors spending time with her dogs Tucker and Mack, riding her horse T.J. in the West Desert at her Aunt Diana’s place, lifeguarding during the summer at the Centennial outdoor pool, working winter afternoons at the Acord Ice Center or hanging out with her boyfriend Matthew.
“Relationships are hard for me,” Jelitto said. “I feel like I am unsure about them. I didn’t think it [a relationship] was something that could happen for me.”
She and Matthew have been dating since February 2011. They enjoy going to the movies, eating out, bowling and playing card and board games with her family. They have plans to do some hiking together when the weather warms up.
“I’m attracted to cowboys,” Jelitto said. “He’s not a cowboy, but he’s outgoing and fun and he makes me laugh. He did buy a pair of Wranglers. Maybe he’ll get some boots too.”
Jelitto also enjoys scrapbooking, doing word searches and listening to music in her spare time. She believes that she has pretty diverse taste in music but says that she doesn’t like rap. Country music is Jelitto’s favorite genre, with Luke Bryan and Josh Turner being her two favorite country artists.