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nonspeaking student gives graduation speech, valedictorian, autism
Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash

Everyone has a right to be heard.

Valedictorian Elizabeth Bonker has not audibly spoken since she was little over a year old, after being diagnosed with autism. But she knows the power of communication. Her moving commencement speech was a captivating call to action for all who listened, including the millions of internet viewers who have watched and shared the video.

“The irony of a non-speaking autistic encouraging you to use your voice is not lost on me,” she told her graduating class, using her text-to-speech computer.

The small device became Bonker’s “one critical intervention” to break through barriers that made her unable to speak. Bonker noted herself as “one of the lucky few non-speaking autistics” for being taught how to type and express herself. It enabled her to emulate her hero Helen Keller, a deaf and blind woman who went on to become a respected author and disability rights advocate.

Overcoming communication challenges gave Bonker an empowered perspective. That strength and resolve came alive as she referenced Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” to illuminate the importance of forging one’s own path, before putting the concept into her own words.

“The freedom to choose our own way is our fundamental human right, and it is a right worth defending, not just for us, but for every human being.”

Being of service to others was another big component of Bonker’s speech. She provided pens to every student and asked them to write “life is for service” on a piece of their commencement program—a phrase created by the beloved Mister Rogers, their fellow alumni. She encouraged everyone to hold onto that message after graduation and use it to fuel their sense of purpose.

As for her own mission, Bonker’s dream is “communication for all.” That dream is fulfilled through her nonprofit organization, which works to provide other nonspeakers with helpful communication tools and education. She also shared her personal journey in her book “I Am in Here” to instill a sense of hope to anyone facing similar challenges.

There are several factors that might keep us from really speaking up and expressing ourselves, but Bonker’s speech beautifully captures why it’s a necessity not just for our own benefit, but to do more good in the world. Or as Bonker put it—to “be the light.”

“God gave you a voice. Use it.”

You can watch the full speech here:

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

This article originally appeared on 08.21.18


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