girl with autism sits on metal picnic next to body of water
Facebook | Elizabeth Bonker

Non-Speaking Autistic Valedictorian Finds Her Own Way To Give Powerful Speech

For those with forms of autism that prevent them from speaking, life comes with challenges that are often difficult for others to understand.

At some point, we've all faced the frustration that came from someone who couldn't understand us no matter how clearly we tried to make our point. That can be an everyday occurrence when a neurological issue prevents you from putting your thoughts into words easily.

If that wasn't enough to deal with, those who find themselves at various points across the autism spectrum will often find that others will exclude them due to what they assume will happen around them or what they assume they're incapable of.

But as common as these hardships are, we can also find stories in which autistic people unlocked their potential and achieved what they've always wanted to with the help of those who appreciated them for who they are.

And when one college graduate delivered her moving commencement speech, she came away with the belief that she had found a whole community that lives to help others.

Be advised that the video featured in this article contains explicit language

On May 8, Elizabeth Bonker began her commencement speech for the Rollins College class of 2022 by referring to their graduation as a celebration of shared achievements.

valedictorian at Rollins College gives non-verbal speech about challenges with autism
youtube | Rollins College

And as she told it, that term also characterizes her own personal victories as it was through a kind of collective action that her speech was even possible.

She described living with a form of autism that prevents her from speaking and the neuromotor effects that come with it means she needs assistance to tie her shoes or button her shirt.

But because she was taught to type — which is apparently rare for someone with her condition — she was able to type her speech with one finger as her communication partner held the keyboard, which then enabled her to broadcast it via a text-to-speech program.

In Bonker's words, "That one critical intervention unlocked my mind from its silent cage, enabling me to communicate and to be educated like my hero Helen Keller."

girl with autism sits on metal picnic next to body of water
Facebook | Elizabeth Bonker

And armed with what she has learned, she dreams of doing her part to bring about a future where everyone can communicate, particularly the 31 million other non-verbal autistic people who share the fight she's had in life.

She also touched on the fact that this fight was partially to overcome the obstacles set by other people.

Bonker shared that she has had to deal with those who wouldn't try to hear or accept her all her life.

girl with autism looks out window with open curtains
Facebook | Elizabeth Bonker

In one particularly egregious example, she said that the principal at her high school once made the front page of a local newspaper by telling a staff member that he would never allow her to be valedictorian.

Worse yet, he referred to her with an offensive term that I won't repeat here, but that she relays in the full video if your curiosity overwhelms you.

But as she put it, "Yet today, here I stand. Each day, I choose to celebrate small victories, and today, I am celebrating a big victory with all of you."

For her, Rollins College is a place where every student is cared for, where she could find a place that what take a chance on her, and where kindness lives.

And she saw that kindness in every sorority and fraternity fundraiser, every drive to weave blankets for the homeless, and in other examples she found too numerous to recount.

As we can see in Bonker's speech, these acts exemplify and provide further opportunities to live up to the code of Rollins' most beloved alumnus, Mr. Rogers.

After his death, a handwritten note was found in his wallet that read, "Life is for service."

h/t: Good Morning America, Rollins College of Liberal Arts