ST. PAUL. Minn. – The Minnesota sign language interpreter who went viral last year for her expressive delivery was honored by Gov. Tim Walz, who declared Tuesday as “Nic Zapko Day” in the state.
Walz ended his news conference about the next round of COVID-19 vaccinations by singling out Nic Zapko, an American Sign Language interpreter at dozens of his briefings, the Pioneer Press of St. Paul reported.
You can hear Walz’s proclamation at the 62-minute mark of the video:
“There’s been somebody who’s been here since the beginning, ensuring that every single Minnesotan had access to this information the whole time. That person is by far the most popular person on this podium and the most well-known,” Walz told reporters. “I would like to make a proclamation today for Nic Zapko who we’ve all come to really appreciate and enjoy.”
Although she was surprised by the announcement, Zapko dutifully translated it, the Pioneer Press reported.
Zapko was visibly surprised by the announcement, which she translated to the audience just seconds after Walz announced it. And she and the governor, along with others, posed for selfies with the framed declaration on Tuesday morning.
According to state officials, 20% of Minnesota residents identify as deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing, WCCO reported.
Zapko, who is deaf, said she reads each of the tweets and Facebook messages fans send her, KARE-TV reported.
“I feel somewhat overwhelmed,” Zapko told the television station in June. “This is all so unexpected because I was just showing up to work and I certainly didn’t expect to go viral. So I am touched, I am inspired, and I am inspired that they are inspired.”
Zapko was born deaf but can communicate easily. Hearing interpreter Patty McCutcheon, the CEO and co-owner of Keystone Interpreting Solutions, sits in the front row during news conferences and signs to Zapko, who then signs on camera, WCCO reported.
Zapko grew up in a family of deaf and hearing people, according to the Minnesota Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf website. However, her mother’s death when Zapko was a teen splintered her family, according to the website.
After suffering through poverty, neglect and isolation, Zapko discovered live theater. She was a member of the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. On stage, she used her creativity to tell her life story.
She performed “The Deaf Duckling,” an educational fable about a duckling who was born deaf to hearing parents. The duckling faces prejudices at school and struggles to communicate with her parents. The duckling’s mother wants her to learn how to speak, but the duckling prefers to learn ASL. The play was conceived in 2004. Zapko and two other actors toured the Midwest in 2005 and 2006. In 2009, Zapko turned the story into a one-person autobiographical play, “A Look in the Mirror: The Memoir of a Deaf Performer.” Zapko has also performed in “Visual Vernacular: No Voice.”