“HARVARD, Stanford, MIT, Columbia…”At the loudness of an averageconversation – between 40-60 decibels –Alvaro Ramos listed the U.S. universitieswhere he plans to apply for a doctorate ineconomics.His hearing impairment of more than60 decibels, which makes him legally deaf,has not stopped this 21-year-old CostaRican from attaining a lifetime of academicachievements – most recently, a perfectscore on his Graduate Record Examination(GRE), an exam required for entry to mostgraduate programs in the United States.“I was aiming for a perfect score on theGRE math section – because that’s whatcertain universities require for entry intotheir economics programs – but I didn’texpect to score an 800 on the verbal sectiontoo,” said Ramos, whose English skillsearned him a ranking in the language skillssection that only 0.2% of approximately400,000 test-takers worldwide achievedthis year.Ramos has perfected the basic Englishhe learned in his early teens at Colegio LosAngeles, in San José, he told The TicoTimes in a recent interview, whichrevealed that despite his deafness, hisspeech is absolutely clear in both Englishand Spanish.Reading the U.S. magazines his fathersubscribed to, including Newsweek andThe Economist, and English literature –especially the works of James Joyce, forwhich he expressed particular enjoyment –Ramos mastered his second language.THAT is just one of many achievementsRamos has chalked up over theyears.He aced the University of Costa Rica(UCR) admissions test with an 800 – thehighest possible score – and earned one ofthe country’s three highest grades in theCosta Rican standardized bachilleratoexams, required to graduate from highschool.He began attending university coursesbefore finishing high school. While in theninth grade, an interest in computersinspired Ramos to take night courses at theState University at a Distance (UNED).Six years later, he obtained a computer sciencebachelor’s degree.Currently in his third year of economicsat UCR, things haven’t changed muchfor Ramos since his days of elementaryand high school – he remains at the top ofhis class.DESPITE his achievements, Ramosrefuses to admit he is blessed with an extradose of intelligence.“Intelligent people can sometimes relyon their intelligence and not get a single thingdone. People who triumph are simply dedicated,although without support, dedicationwill topple over,” said Ramos, who attributespart of his life success to his family and theaudio therapy he received since he was 2.“I live in a compound with my extendedfamily. They are very close-knit andsupportive – everyone, my parents, sister,cousins,” Ramos said.Ramos’ mother, Berta Chaves, toldThe Tico Times she first became aware ofher son’s hearing problem when he was 1year old.“I had taken on the role of mother anddedicated myself to my children. I stayedhome to raise Alvaro and my youngerdaughter Adriana until they entered schoolat age 6,” said Chaves, now a lawyer at theComptroller General’s Office.“When Alvaro was a baby, I noticed hedid not speak or react to my husband’svoice, which is very loud,” she said.COSTA Rican doctors were unable topinpoint Ramos’ problem, so his parentsflew him to Los Angeles, California, wherehe was diagnosed as deaf. Doctors said avirus during Chaves’ first weeks of pregnancycould have caused her son’s hearingproblem, although she said she cannotremember contracting an illness at thatstage.At the age of 1 year and 8 months,Ramos started wearing a hearing aid onboth ears to recover “vestiges of hearing,”he explained.“My deafness is like a hearingmyopia,” he said. “To accompany the hearingaid, I need to read faces and gestures,and I cannot hear music well. I havealways had to sit at the front of the class,and have been lucky to find very supportiveteachers and classmates.”RAMOS’ mother, along with GuiselleSchmidt and Carla Pozuelo, former teachersat Centeno Güell School, an institutionin San José for children with disabilities,participated in the audio therapy her sonreceived for approximately six years.Ramos, who initially attended CentenoGüell, considers this training, where helearned how to speak and read, a fundamentalpart of his life.His former teacher, Carla Pozuelo, toldThe Tico Times, “Teaching Alvarito wasone of the greatest pleasures I have experiencedin my life. He was a charming andintellectually restless little boy; he left usfeeling exhausted after every lesson.”Although Pozuelo and Schmidt taughtspeaking skills, not reading, one day, at age 3,Ramos started reading before their very eyes.“We each thought the other one hadtaught him how to read, but then we realizedhe taught himself,” said Pozuelo, whocurrently runs Papillon Kindergarten in thewestern suburb of Escazú.Apparently, Ramos associated thewords with the figures on the audio-visualaids that were meant to teach him how tospeak, not read, his mother explained.AFTER learning of her son’s deafness,Chaves said she always maintained herconviction that Alvaro would succeed.She recommends parents of childrenwith disabilities seek help and informationabout their child’s problem early on.“It isn’t all about having the economicmeans for treatments and doctors. Themost important thing you can do is to loveand put all your efforts into your children,”she said.Chaves said she put a great deal ofeffort into raising her kids, with the difficulttask of not neglecting her “very valuableand understanding” daughter Adriana,who is not deaf, she said.“My husband and I have always triedto stimulate our children. Because my husbandis an intellectual, my children wereraised in a home with an important level ofintellectual dedication,” Chaves said. Herhusband, lawyer Alvaro Ramos Sr., wasVice-Minister of Public Security during theadministration of former President OscarArias (1986-1990).THE younger Ramos’ early achievementsmake Pozuelo certain that all theperfect ingredients are combined in Ramosto secure his success.“I have trained some very talented deafkids, but they do not have a supportivefamily backing them up, and that makes allthe difference. Alvarito has the talent – heis an easygoing genius – plus an excellentfamily. He is going to achieve whatever hewants in life,” she said.With a gleaming face, loving family,large group of friends and happily committedto his girlfriend, Ramos says he feelsfortunate indeed, and his hearing loss hasonly given him a “very peculiar personalityand the desire to do things with greaterpersonal effort.”He plans to apply to a select choice ofU.S. universities before their applicationdeadline in December, and hopes to starthis studies in the United States inSeptember 2006.