Isaiah Grafe doesn't know why he was born deaf. For that matter, he can't explain why his sister Lexi also came into the world unable to hear. "Our family has no history of deafness," he said. "It was a one in a million chance." As an infant and toddler growing up in Rochester, Isaiah lived in a world of silence. His parents taught him and his sister with cued speech, a visual representation of the sounds of English and an aid to lipreading. "The words 'bat' and 'cat' look alike on the lips, but with cued speech, Lexi and I could easily tell the difference between the two words," Isaiah said. "It's how we've both become good lip readers." Everything changed, however, when Isaiah received a cochlear implant when he was 3 1/2 years old. His parents still remember what happened when the implant was first activated. "I was pretty bored-looking before they turned on the implant," Isaiah said. "When they did, my eyes were as big as saucers as I looked around the office." Now that he could hear, young Isaiah began to learn how to speak. But about 1 1/2 years after receiving his implant, doctors discovered that he had apraxia, a speech disorder that made it difficult for him to say what he wanted to say correctly and consistently. Some students, seeing that Isaiah was different, taunted and insulted him, calling him "freak," "nerd," or "dork." One student even beat him up. Knowing that bullies can't be entertained if they don't have a show, Isaiah tried to ignore the bullies' taunts by remaining emotionless. "The main reason I was targeted was because I defended another peer from being bullied and made the bullies look bad," he said. "They went after me because of how different I sounded." Five years ago, then in eighth grade, Isaiah transferred to the Stewartville School District. Since then, he has felt right at home. "It has been great," he said. "I love it here. The people, they're so friendly. It's a small-town atmosphere. Everyone is happy with each other." Since moving to Stewartville, he has been an "A" honor roll student while taking a variety of challenging courses. For the second quarter of this, his senior year, for example, he's taking physics, psychology, world history, college prep English, CATSF (college algebra, trigonometry and special functions), and yearbook. He is also very active in extracurricular activities. He is president of the Stewartville High School Key Club, vice president of the SHS Student Council, a member of the executive board of the National Honor Society, yearbook editor and a member of the Leadership Club. He is also a mentor for the deaf and hard of hearing in Stewartville schools. "It's fun getting to know the other students," he said. "I like working together with the other students." Beating the odds: Ann Veronica Vail, a special education teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing for the Zumbro Education District, wrote a letter nominating Isaiah for a Beat the Odds Scholarship. The Beat the Odds program honors each of four individuals from Rochester or the area with a $2,500 scholarship to an accredited college of each students' choice. "These remarkable students have overcome obstacles such as personal or family hardships, abuse, neglect, poverty, disabilities or language and cultural barriers," the Beat the Odds Web site says. "Despite their challenges, these students have persevered and endeavored to become personally and academically successful and are preparing for the next step in life of attending college." Isaiah and the other nominees will attend the 14th annual Beat the Odds Award Night celebration at the Rochester International Event Center in Rochester this Thursday, Jan. 16. A social hour will begin at 5 p.m. Isaiah is humbled that Vail nominated him for the award. "I was honored and surprised," he said. Vail wrote in her letter that Isaiah "was born into a life of silence." "(He was) diagnosed as profoundly deaf due to auditory neuropathy at 13 months old," Vail wrote. "Isaiah's parents were told that hearing aids and cochlear implants would not work with auditory neuropathy and that he would most likely never hear sound or learn to talk. His parents were amazing advocates for him, and at 3 1/2 Isaiah received his cochlear implant at the Mayo Clinic. From them he learned to advocate for himself." Vail wrote that it has been an honor and a privilege to be Isaiah's teacher. "I am quite proud of him and the way he has overcome the obstacles he has faced in his lifetime," she wrote. Other supportive letters: Sherry Thompson, business education instructor at Stewartville High School, wrote a letter recommending Isaiah to a college selection committee. In her letter, Thompson calls Isaiah "a fantastic addition to Stewartville High School." "Isaiah is an outstanding example of an exceptional and positive leader," Thompson wrote. "Isaiah demonstrates daily his positive leadership throughout the school and community as he takes pride in each and every task he embarks on." As editor of the SHS yearbook, Isaiah uses his creativity, his leadership and his designing talents to help fashion a fantastic yearbook, Thompson wrote. "He works well with the yearbook staff and they have the utmost respect for him," she wrote. "Isaiah has a great personality. He gets along with everyone, and everyone loves him. He is sweet, caring, considerate, responsible and humble." Laura Wiles, former advisor to the Stewartville High School Key Club, wrote a letter recommending Isaiah for admission to the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, N.Y. "Of all the students I have worked with, he stands out as an exceptional young man," Wiles wrote. "He has overcome obstacles to go above and beyond what most students achieve during their school years." Future plans: Isaiah is the son of Judd and Deanne Grafe. His dad operates an auctioneering business; his mother is a homemaker. Lexi, now 19, is majoring in psychology at the University of Denver and is thinking about studying abroad in London. After Isaiah graduates from Stewartville High School later this year, he plans to attend either Luther College in Decorah Iowa, or the Rochester Institute of Technology. "I'm debating between the two," he said. He says he's thinking about some day becoming a crime investigator. "But I'd have to get my general studies done first," he said. A sense of humor: Isaiah had special thanks for Ruth Stoeckel of the Mayo Clinic, a speech therapist who has worked with him for more than 10 years to help him overcome the challenges of apraxia. He knows that he'll always have to deal with the disorder. One way he does so is with humor. "Today, most people can understand me, except they now think I'm a foreign exchange student," he said.