I once had a deaf professor tell me that, as a deaf child, she had never seen or met a deaf adult. This meant that, in her childhood reality, deaf adults didn’t exist; she assumed that deaf people died before they reached adulthood. This really impacted me as a student hearing her describe how she viewed her future was heartbreaking. To hear that, as a deaf child, she didn’t have any deaf role models, is something that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Her story is why I feel like role models within the adoption community are so important for many of our adopted children. I want adopted children today to see strong, confident, inspiring adoptee adults so that they can be strong and confident children. I never want to see a young child from adoption feel as if they are the only ones navigating a story like his or her own. These older adoptees do exist, and they are out there, some choosing to share their stories for us to learn from. There are many adult adoptee role models that our children can look up to today.
Simone Biles is the GOAT of all gymnasts and has certainly made a wave not only within the sport itself, but in the world, after the most recent Toyko 2020 Olympics. She has stood for perseverance, strength, and—most recently—advocacy. She was adopted from foster care by her biological grandfather and his wife, both of whom she calls her parents. She has been in the public eye for so long due to her success within the gymnastics realm, and her personal life tends to shine through. She has survived abuse within the gymnastics leadership and still managed to rise above her peers in skill to have four tricks named after her. She is now tied for most medals in American women’s gymnastics history and continues to rock the world with her character. At the most recent Olympics, Biles stepped back and chose to not compete in the group competition and many of the individual competitions. She chose to go against the grain and say “no” despite all of the media pushing her to say “yes.” Her mental health was in jeopardy as well as her physical health. She had gotten the “twisties” in Toyko, a mental affliction that has the ability to make it mentally indistinguishable to tell up from down while doing tricks. She chose to step back to take care of her mind and to make sure she wouldn’t do something that would cause herself significant injury. Many claimed that she wasn’t fighting for her country or being strong, but I believe she was doing just the opposite. A role model is one who is someone others should look up to, and Biles exhibited many attributes during her most recent Olympic games that should be idolized. She stood up for mental health, fought against the public critique, made sure her team had the possibility of the best score possible while demonstrated great personal strength as she navigated interviews and questions bombarding her about her decision. Simone Biles is one who has overcome her trauma and built her own life full of strength against adversity, strength in her profession, and strength within herself.
Kristen Chenoweth, a famous singer and actress, was adopted as an infant. She was adopted domestically by two engineers who recognized her singing talent at around the age of seven. Well into adulthood, after her fame was already at its’ peak, she found her birth mother. They met up, and her biological mother realized that she was the girl she had seen on television. Chenoweth speaks so highly of her biological mother and her parents, saying they each gave her a wonderful life. This type of adoring respect for the selflessness of both birth mother and parents is such a wonderful example for young adoptees. Seeing an older, influential adoptee accept this perspective can be so encouraging to young children of adoption. It can give them strength in their story, confidence in themselves, and gratitude for people in their lives.
Steve Jobs was adopted as an infant. His family story and the birth story have been made public with intricate details included. One requirement that his birth mother requested of the adoptive parents was that they agree to send the baby to college for a higher education. They agreed, and the rest is history. He later found his biological sister and they became fast friends. His parents continued to encourage his love of electronics throughout his childhood. Jobs would later go on to say that his parents made sure he knew that he was chosen and adored. He stated that he never felt abandoned by his birth parents—his adoptive parents made sure that he knew he was special. This encouragement gave him the courage to defend his story to those who spoke ill of it and to find strength in his beginnings. He went on to develop the Apple company, and with the support of his parents and biological sister along the way, became a very successful businessman.
Nelson Mandela is a very famous man whom many may not know is also a strong adoption role model. Being raised by his father in South Africa, Mandela did not have any kin to raise him after his father died. Therefore, he was adopted by the chief of the Thembu tribe, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. This adoption was done as a respectful gesture to Mandela’s father who, years before, had recommended Dalindyebo to become chief. Mandela went on to overthrow apartheid, and serve 27 years in prison for leading a sabotage against the government for continuing to segregate based on race and serve whites. Once released from prison, he became the president of South Africa. Not only is he inspiring for rising from the trauma of losing his parents, but he also went on to fight injustice and helped to unite a country that was on the brink of a racial war. He rose from the ashes to make a huge impact not only in his own life, but in the lives of every South African from his time and on.
Jessica Long was adopted from Russia at the age of 1. She had a rare foot condition where she was born without most of the bones in her feet. To better use prosthetics and to have a fuller life, her parents decided to amputate both of Jessica’s legs at the age of 18 months. With a total of 25 surgeries throughout her life, she never let that stop her from moving her body and gaining strength. She loved to swim at her grandparents’ house and continued to perfect her craft of swimming as she aged through childhood. Swimming acted as a therapeutic outlet for her as she was in and out of surgeries so often. At the age of 12, she made it into the Paralympics Games in Athens and won three gold medals. She later trained with Michael Phelps and went on to win multiple medals. Although during her career she would develop an eating disorder and perform below her normal standard of elite athletic ability, she persevered through that. She would continue on in her career, inspiring thousands through her Olympic journeys. She has become a hero for many children with disabilities. She is a wonderful role model for adopted children, especially those who are looking up to her as someone who may look like them. As a child with a disability, to see someone who is just like them succeeding in a sport they love, at an elite level, can make that child feel like they can accomplish the world.
Faith Hill, a famous country music singer, was adopted shortly after birth. She grew up with loving parents and adoring brothers, yet, no one in her family could relate to her love for music. Hill decided to move to Nashville at the age of 19 to pursue a career in singing, and that is when she decided to reach out and locate her birth family. One of her brothers helped her track down her biological mother. She found solace in learning more about her biological family seeing so many similarities between them and herself. She said she felt like she had found the missing piece she needed in her life. Faith Hill’s acceptance of her story, yet the confidence and strength to pursue more information about where she came from can inspire young adoptees to embrace their story. To know that their story is not defined by their past, but rather lifted up by it, can help many adoptees sort out the emotions that come alongside adoption. Hill changed after she met her biological mother, and she grew and changed into the singer we have all gotten to know. She had a new world awaiting her where her past and present were colliding, and she embraced it. She shows us that it is okay to love your childhood and love your parents, but to also want to learn more about your history and where you came from. She has given people the confidence to not be afraid to search for more.
David Thomas, founder of the fast-food chain Wendy’s, was adopted domestically in the United States at a few weeks old. He then went on to make a huge impact in the domestic adoption and foster care world. He became the spokesperson for a national adoption awareness campaign under the request of President George W. Bush. He would then testify in front of Congress to support the adoption tax credit that many of us adoptive parents benefit from today. Now, under his legacy, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption began. The foundation fights for children in foster care, and has, to date, celebrated 10,000 adoptions under the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program. Dave Thomas left a legacy behind, supporting children in foster care in a way that many have not done. He understood the complexity of adoption and wanted to make it a life goal to support children just like him. Adoptees can look up to him as one who decided to take a stand against a broken system and stood to fight for the lives of children. He is an inspiring soul who used his own history to help rewrite the history of others.
Famous athlete Scott Hamilton was adopted as an infant to two professors in Ohio. He became a talented athlete, winning many awards and medals for figure skating. His signature move was a backflip, one that the U.S. Figure Skating and Olympic competition regulations had banned for its difficulty and danger. Now that he has retired, he and his wife have gone on to raise four children, two of whom are adopted. They both support many charities, many of which are advocacy charities for adoption and foster care. He went on to adopt two of his children being impacted by his own story.
I am thankful that adoption role models are all around us. With adoptees in varying positions of inspiration, there truly is a role model for each young child to look up to. Whether your child is an aspiring performer, athlete, or philanthropist, the role models listed here are so inspirational and encouraging to young adoptees. They encourage others to embrace their past and use it to flourish in their own futures. Owning your story is a theme throughout the lives of these inspirational role models, and helping young adoptees accept who they are and who they can become is such an encouraging sentiment to adoptive parents. We are raising young adoptees in a world that is constantly telling them they aren’t enough; so it is necessary for these older adoptees who are comfortable sharing their stories to show our children that they are more than enough: that they are special, and capable, and have a purpose. Role models who have a shared history with our children have the power to change lives.