Rocco Burdge '22 felt a tap on his shoulder and made his way to the microphone. As cameras appeared to come at him from every angle, Burdge tried to keep his gaze straight ahead. The new Fourth Former was selected by CNN to pose a question to presidential candidate Tom Steyer during the network’s town hall event at Saint Anselm College in nearby Manchester, N.H., on Wednesday, February 5.
“Mr. Steyer, I am a bilateral deaf student that wears cochlear implants in order to hear,” said Burdge. “My question for you is, how will you end the negative stigma and discrimination against people like me that suffer from disabilities?" (Read CNN’s coverage here
What happened next felt like an eternity for the Florida-raised teen. “He didn't answer for the next five to 10 seconds,” recalls Burdge. "So I was standing there, and I see a camera that's flying in the air. I see a cameraman there. I know there's a cameraman behind me. I'm trying to make direct eye contact with (Tom Steyer). I'm thinking, please talk because I didn't like all the attention.”
The opportunity came when Burdge’s Humanities IV teacher Chris Carter suggested students submit questions for the town hall. “She said it was a long shot,” remembers Burdge. Three weeks later, he received a call from a CNN representative, letting him know his question was chosen for the broadcast.
“I felt that was a very personal thing,” Burdge said of his question. “When I see myself go into the world, whether that's amusement parks in Florida, my hometown, or to schools and institutions, people look at my deafness as, ‘Wait, why are you here? You can't do this.’ That's a societal issue. How can we fix society? I feel like that question represents my experience and represents those with deafness, but it also represents people that suffer from disabilities.”
Burdge is still two years away from being able to cast a ballot but has taken advantage of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status to interact with the candidates.
“As of now, I've been to four Pete Buttigieg rallies,” says Burdge, who is a member of the Young Democrats and writes for The Pelican, the student newspaper. “I've been to a Michael Bennett rally. I've been to an Amy Klobuchar rally, and I’ve been to a Joe Biden one, and I've been to a Tom Steyer one. I would never think I would get to see these people and meet them. I shook each of their hands. With New Hampshire being the first primary, it opens up a lot of opportunities.”