Senior Spotlight: KSS Eagle Daman Wandke ready to take flight

Daman Wandke, a senior at Klahowya Secondary School, plans to attend Western Washington University in the fall. He hopes to pursue a degree in either computer science or business management. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Daman Wandke, a senior at Klahowya Secondary School, plans to attend Western Washington University in the fall. He hopes to pursue a degree in either computer science or business management.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

With only three weeks until the Central Kitsap School District graduation gamut begins, Klahowya Secondary School senior Daman Wandke is excited, and a little nervous.

“I can’t wait until graduation,” he said with a big smile. “It’s been fun here (at KSS) because I’ve gotten involved in a lot of activities. Next year I’m going to Western (Washington University).”

Going above and beyond the call of any high school student, Wandke has been involved in a multitude of clubs and committees at the school and is founder of a statewide disability awareness program while overcoming his cerebral palsy, a feat he’s done in stride.

“I didn’t let people look down on me for my disability,” Wandke added. “My involvement at Klahowya really showed and taught me how to be a leader.”

Creator of the DAMAN Project (Disability Awareness Moving Across the Nation), Wandke created the disability awareness project after personally experiencing stereotypes and unwarranted comments. While running for ASB president his sophomore year, Wandke presented to his students his abilities and qualifications for the position, regardless of his disability.

Although he didn’t win the election, Wandke overhead his peers discussing not voting for him due to his disability.

“(I thought) ‘wow, I’ve been here for four years and they still can’t look beyond my disability,’” Wandke added.

From this scenario, the DAMAN Project was born.

With a goal of having his fellow students experience what having a disability is like, Wandke created the disability awareness event. After proposing the idea to his principals in the spring, Wandke was ready by the next December to host the school-wide disability awareness day.

“I do way more than just the event,” he added. “I work year-round on disability awareness.”

Wandke said in the two days he had the sign-up sheet available, there were 101 students who wanted to participate. Providing different “disability” stations for students, Wandke said there were 47 wheelchairs for his peers to use, along with supplies to simulate other disabilities such as paraplegia, quadriplegia, blindness, deafness, non-verbal communication and limited extremity movement.

“This project has a bigger meaning than my name,” Wandke said with a smile, adding that his goal is for the project to go nationwide. “It means Disability Awareness Moving Across the Nation.”

Although the disability awareness day started at KSS, other schools in CKSD have participated including Fairview Junior High and Central Kitsap Junior High. Wandke said this year, during the few days he hosted the DAMAN Project, there was a high school in Yakima that observed a disability awareness week in recognition of his project.

“The goal of the project is to break down stereotypes so all people have equal opportunities,” Wandke said of the event, adding that many of the supplies to make it possible are donated and borrowed from Olympic Pharmacy in Gig Harbor.

Along with coordinating the DAMAN Project, Wandke travels to the various schools participating and speaks of his experience of overcoming a disability at each event.

“(The DAMAN Project) is a positive solution in disability awareness,” Wandke added as a smile spread across his face.

Wandke strives to be very involved at the school. He also participates in the National Honor Society as the treasurer, the Unity Club, Multicultural Club vice president, KSS Improvement Team, CKSD Student Senate and is the vice president and acting president of the Associated Student Body.

In what little free time he has, Wandke also works at an internship to help develop disability awareness, as well as working on why companies should hire those with disabilities.

Looking back on the six years that he spent at the school, Wandke said some of his most treasured memories were spent while he was on ASB. One memory in particular was during his sophomore year at a statewide ASB conference dance.

“They had a dance, and I can’t dance,” Wanke laughed. “I had some of the kids ask me to dance and I’ve gone to dances ever since.”

Wandke added that he plans to go to KSS’s prom in two weeks as well.

With plans to attend Western Washington University in the fall, Wandke said he was excited and nervous through a smile.

“I will either be (studying) computer science or business management,” he explained. “I have a strong background in computers and want to keep that going.”

Along with continuing the disability awareness campaign, Wandke said he’s also been doing large amounts of work in Web design.

Nervous about living independently from his family in the dorms at WWU next year, Wandke said he is excited about the college experience and “getting to know more people.”

“I’m not going to get over-involved, (I’m) going to focus on my academics,” he added with a smile. “I hope to do disability awareness at Western while I’m there.”

In working to raise awareness for disabilities, Wandke said he has had the opportunity to work with a large variety of people.

“My advisor told me that once I get into the real world, I will be able to deal with all sorts of people,” Wandke added with a smile.

With his high school career coming to a close and college on the horizon, Wandke’s advice for incoming KSS seventh-graders is to get involved. He added that it will give the students responsibility and access to meet new people so coming to school is fun.

“I think I will always be busy,” Wandke laughed. “I don’t see my life slowing down at all.”

Editor’s note: This Senior Spotlight is the first of a five-part series featuring one graduating senior from each of the three high schools and the two alternative schools.

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