We recently stumbled across Lindsey Morgan Thomas’ high school valedictorian commencement address, and we’re so glad we did! Watch Lindsey’s speech and learn more about her experiences with stuttering below.
National Stuttering Association: Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live, and what are your plans after high school?
Lindsey Thomas: I live in Kenosha, Wisconsin. After high school, I plan on attending the University of Wisconsin – Madison to study Chemical Engineering.
NSA: How has stuttering impacted your life?
Lindsey: Stuttering has impacted my life in a tremendous way. When I was little, I didn’t notice a difference in how I spoke. In grade school, I started to hear the difference and I lost my self-confidence. I was afraid to talk in class or to people in general because I didn’t want them to find out that I stuttered. I was embarrassed. In middle school, it got to a point where I couldn’t give a one-minute presentation in front of 10 students and my teacher without having a break down from anxiety the night before. At this point, I needed speech therapy. Even though I hated it, it helped me regain confidence and help me accept myself for how God made me. My sophomore year, I had to give an extemporaneous speech for a final grade and I completely butchered it. I had already told my teacher that I stuttered but I hadn’t acknowledged the fact to my peers. After I was done, I hated myself for how horribly I spoke. I wanted to hide under a rock and never come out. Later that day I was able to transform my negative remarks about my speech into positive ones. This idea was drilled into my brain from speech therapy. It had really worked. I was able to bounce back from a terribly embarrassing experience.
This experience taught me to move on not only after I stutter really bad and am down on myself, but also in life. Fast forward to senior year of high school. On our senior retreat, I volunteered to give a personal testimony on my stuttering. I explained to my classmates exactly how it has and continues to affect my life. It was not easy to get up in front of my senior class and tell them something so personal, something that I had kept hidden for so long. However, once it was over I felt liberated. I had nothing to hide anymore. Everybody knows so who cares if I stutter in front of them.
This was the mindset I had as I was preparing my graduation speech. Overall, I think being a person who stutters is a blessing. It is very difficult at times, but it has made me a stronger person who is more compassionate for others. Stuttering is a part of who I am and I wouldn’t change that even if I could.
NSA: It sounds like your valedictorian speech at graduation has been getting a lot of attention. What inspired you to speak about your stuttering?
Lindsey: The whole preparation for my graduation speech was very nerve-wracking. The anxiety kept building up ever since I was named Valedictorian in January. My speech therapist, Wendy Batten-Morey, had told me that acknowledging that you stutter from the beginning of a speech/ presentation helps ease the anxiety when you are up there. I knew ahead of time that I wanted to let everyone in the audience know that I stutter. Either way they would find out, so why not vocalize it to ease stress on my part and on that of the audience.
NSA: Growing up, did you know anyone else who stuttered? How did this affect your perspective of being a person who stutters?
Lindsey: Stuttering runs in my family. My grandfather, uncles, mother, and brother also stutter. Growing up with family members who stutter has allowed me to see that stuttering doesn’t have to control your life, not unless you let it. My grandfather is the perfect example of a person who hasn’t let his stutter change the way he wants to live his life. He is one of my role models and biggest supporters.
NSA: Throughout your experiences with stuttering, have you used any coping mechanisms that others might find useful?
Lindsey: The one that I found to be the most useful would be telling people that I stutter. It makes me and the people that I am talking to more comfortable. Other coping mechanisms I have used include slow and easy speech, tapping out syllables, and the use of a speech easy. One other technique I have been taught is to wake up on the day you have to give a presentation and do everything in slow motion. Take your time getting up in the morning and talk slowly to people prior to the presentation. When you give the presentation, you are already in slow and easy mode.
NSA: What advice could you give to other students who stutter?
Lindsey: You would be surprised by how open people are to it when you open yourself up to them. Everybody I have told has been extremely accepting and appreciate the fact that I talk to them about it. Specifically, meet with each one of your teachers and talk to them about it. Ask for classroom accommodations if need be. It will make you feel so much more comfortable in the classroom. This will enhance your learning experience because you won’t have to be worried if your English teacher is going to randomly call on you to read a passage. At the same time, don’t use this as an excuse to get out of reading out loud. Maybe you are having a bad stuttering day and so you tell your teacher to maybe not call on you today. When you are having a good day, maybe you volunteer yourself to read. You are taking control of the situation and not allowing your stutter take over you.
If you have to give a speech/ presentation, volunteer to go first so you get it out of the way. The more you wait, the more your anxiety tends to build up. Practice, practice, practice. It is proven that your fluency will increase if you practice at least 5 times. The week before graduation, I practiced my speech at least 50 times. I practiced the 12 minute speech so many times I had it completely memorized.
If you have a bad stuttering experience, it’s okay. It’s okay to stutter. Don’t get down on yourself when you stutter.