After each time Kylie Palak interpreted the national anthem for the deaf or hard-of-hearing at a North Forsyth High School football game this past fall, her mother, Lisa, would do the proper motherly thing: post a video of it to Facebook.
“She just put them all over the internet,” Kylie said.
It got the expected attention of family and friends, but it also received some unexpected attention, particularly from Stephanie Boyd. Boyd is an American Sign Language instructor at Georgia State University, and she works with professional sports teams in Atlanta to coordinate interpreters for pre-game festivities, like this Sunday when Palak will interpret the national anthem before the Atlanta United’s soccer match at 2 p.m. against the Seattle Sounders at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Kylie, a rising junior, has some experience interpreting in front of crowds. Her first taste of it came at the Renaissance Festival last summer for its Deaf Awareness Day when she interpreted a sword-selling auction. She interpreted the national anthem at those North Forsyth football games and did one basketball game too. A few weeks ago, she signed the Lord’s prayer for the first time at her family’s church, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
But the United match will be different. This time, she’ll be surrounded by 45,000 fans with her face on the stadium’s 360-degree video halo board.
“It’s just the nerves that I have to keep inside,” Kylie said. “It’s going to be hard, but I’ll figure out.”
The actual signing of the anthem will be the easy part. It’s Kylie’s first language, after all. Her father, David, is deaf, and so Lisa, who is an interpreter at Haynes Bridge Middle School in Alpharetta, made a point of using it in front of Kylie from the start. Before Kylie ever said a word, she made the sign for, “Mom,” when she was 4 months old.
So Kylie became fluent in sign language the same way any child learns its native language, and she’s embraced her bilingual upbringing. She goes to camps with Kids of Deaf Adults where she learns some of the finer points of ASL and gets exposure to sign language in other countries. She volunteers at her mother’s school during Forsyth County breaks. Eventually, she wants to do what her grandmother does at the same school, interpreting for one class through an entire school year, a perfect blend with her early aspiration to be a teacher.
“I think that that’s just what my heart wants me to do,” Kylie said.
Kylie also recognizes this opportunity is unique. Interpreters can also work freelance in any number of professional settings, so the exposure of it could be a launching pad. She’s been making a point to practice any spare moment she can, being particularly mindful of maintaining a pleasant facial expression with big, sweeping signs.
But Kylie is even more cognizant of who she’ll be signing for in front of tens of thousands of people.
“It’s my culture,” Kylie said, “and I get to show whoever decides to watch that this is what I can do and this is who I am.”