The Sideshow

President Obama uses sign language during impromptu greeting with student

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

President Obama was shaking hands with supporters after an energy policy event on March 15 with Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley when he had an impromptu sign language exchange with a deaf man that was caught on video.

The website Distriction was first to report on the candid exchange, which was captured on video by a 26-year-old Prince George's Community College student named Stephon, who is deaf. As Obama made his way down the line of supporters, Stephon used American Sign Language to tell the president, "I am proud of you." In the video, you can see Obama momentarily pause at the unexpected greeting. But he quickly responds by signing, "Thank you." A second deaf student then signs, "I love you." Obama smiles back at the student and shakes her hand before continuing down the line.

"When I shook his hand it did not feel like he was superior to me," Stephon said. "He was just a humble man," Stephon told Distriction. As H. Hoover writes on the site, the rare exchange was a humanizing moment for the office of the president and would have been so regardless if the signing commander-in-chief had been a Republican or a Democrat.

In a follow-up video, Stephon recounted his experience. He even wrote up a transcript for those of us not versed in American Sign Language. I've included some excerpts from his remarks after the jump.

Back during his first presidential campaign in 2008, President Obama also signed "Thank you" to another deaf campaign supporter. You can learn some of the 100 basic American Sign Language gestures.

PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT, via Distriction:

"Hello, I would love to share my experience; something that I will not forget for rest of my life. Today was a special day for me, and I was preparing for it. It was announced yesterday, March 14, for everyone to receive tickets to see none other than the President of the United States, Barack Obama! "

"The moment I will never forget was when he looked at me. He gave me a chance to talk to him. It was like he was waiting for me to say something. I took the moment and signed 'I am proud of you,' and his response was 'Thank u' in sign language back!"

"Oh my gosh! I was like wow! He understood me after I said I was proud of him. It was so amazing…I was just speechless. Right after he thanked me, he smiled at another deaf lady who signed 'I love you.'"

"When I shook his hand it did not feel like he was superior to me. He was just a humble man. I am just impressed by him and know that he will have my vote and he will win second term without a doubt. Yeah, I feel safe to have him for another term."

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