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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spotlight on our Network: Why I Spoke at My Commencement

Categories: Spotlight on our Network

Parker Mantell has a stutter. But, that didn’t stop him from delivering the commencement speech at Indiana University this year. Here’s why he spoke…

Why I Spoke at My Commencement

Let’s redefine disability

As is embedded in the very word itself, disability makes every attempt to define the boundaries of what we can do and what we cannot.

Disability, however, is only a noun – not an adjective. Therefore, while disability can define a condition that we have, it will always be unable to describe who we are. Because disability cannot describe who we are, it will always be unable to define who we can become.

While this exercise of defining disability is important, what’s more important is the exercise of redefining it. So, while disability has made every attempt to define us by fabricating the adjective ‘disabled’, it’s time for those deemed disabled to make every attempt to redefine disability.

We must redefine disability to showcase the strength and the resolve that is held proprietarily by those who are told what they cannot do. We must redefine disability to describe the limitless ends that very strength can achieve.

Redefining disability, therefore, is why I spoke at my commencement this past May.

Just after receiving an invitation to apply to be the student commencement speaker, I concluded that it was my duty to seek the position not to address my peers but rather to represent them. Each time I had overt troubles with a word, I knew that those in the audience could not only see a place for their respective challenges in the message itself, but also see a place for their respective challenges in the messenger. I therefore felt that as a person who stutters, I was able to showcase my fellow dreamers not by sharing the boundaries we have broken, but rather, the boundaries to which we have never subscribed; to describe not which templates were followed, but rather which paradigms were created.

Therefore, I say that my speech was not about me – it was about us. It was about the nearly 60 million Americans who have one or more disabilities. It was about ensuring that those 60 million Americans know that they must dare to achieve their purposes and redefine disability 60 million times over with what is possible. We must not only do this for our own sake, but also for each other’s and for the betterment of our world.

As I reflect upon speaking with some of those 60 million at various conferences throughout the recent months, one interaction that I had taught me what we stand to risk losing if we do not stand to risk adding those redefinitions. More importantly, the interaction also allowed to me contemplate what we stand to gain if we do.

I was privileged to meet an eight-year-old boy who stutters. The boy, who shall remain nameless, came up to me with tears in his eyes and a big hug to follow, sharing with me that because of the way he speaks, he thought he must forfeit his opportunity to attend high school.

Imagine being just eight and believing that you cannot simply attend high school. Now, to borrow a thought from my remarks, imagine the know-how, the aptitude – the ability that our world is deprived of from that eight-year-old simply not attending high school.

So, it worries me to think about how much worse off our world would be if the great people who lived before us – particularly those with great challenges, never dared to achieve their purpose.  Yet, it inspires me to think about how much better off our world would be if the great people who live alongside us do dare to achieve their purpose.

And, ultimately, that comforts me to think about the great people who will live after us in a world in which disability will have been redefined.

Parker Mantell
Indiana University ‘14

Watch Parker’s commencement speech here:

posted By Jennifer LaRusso-Leung | 12:00 AM | 0 comments < Previous Post     Next Post >

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