Valedictorian with Nonverbal Autism Urges Fellow Graduates to 'Use Your Voice' in Powerful Speech.

Valedictorian with Nonverbal Autism Urges Fellow Graduates to 'Use Your Voice' in Powerful Speech.

June 7, 2022 by By Cathy Stack

WINTER PARK, Florida—Rollins College’s valedictorian, Elizabeth Bonker, recently took to the stage to address the class of 2022. She delivered a powerful speech at the school’s graduation ceremony using text-to-speech technology. "God gave you a voice. Use it,” she advised graduates. “And, no, the irony of a nonspeaking autistic encouraging you to use your voice is not lost on me. Because if you can see the worth in me, then you can see the worth in everyone you meet,” she continued. Her moving speech touched not only her fellow classmates, but a worldwide audience, with a powerful message of hope. 

Throughout her academic career, Elizabeth has studied hard to reach her goals at school and in life. She wrote a book, “I Am in Here,” which highlights the abilities of people like her with non-speaking autism. She also writes poetry and lyrics, and she founded a non-profit organization called Communication4All.  

Elizabeth has a form of autism that resulted in her losing the ability to speak at 15 months old.  After she lost her speech her family helped her learn to communicate by typing.   She has become a strong advocate for assistive communication and typing instruction for those with nonspeaking autism.

“I have typed this speech with one finger with a communication partner holding a keyboard,” shared Elizabeth. She delivered her eloquent speech through text-to-speech technology.

“I am one of the lucky few nonspeaking autistics who have been taught to type. That one critical intervention unlocked my mind from its silent cage, enabling me to communicate and to be educated like my hero Helen Keller,” she said.

Elizabeth majored in social innovation with a minor in English. She aims to help the 31 million people in the world who have nonspeaking autism. She strongly believes that service to others gives meaning to each individual and to those they serve.  

In her speech, she quoted Rollins College alumnus Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers, who died in 2003. 

“When he died, a handwritten note was found in his wallet,” she shared. “It said, ‘Life is for service.’ So simple, yet so profound.”

Throughout her life, Elizabeth has sought a platform where others would hear and accept her. She ignored negative comments and disregarded the low expectations others had for her life.  Instead, she forged her own path and set out to accomplish her dreams using intellect, talent, and sheer determination. She has brilliantly proved all the naysayers wrong.

“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," she said. 

“Each day, I choose to celebrate small victories; and, today, I am celebrating a big victory with all of you,” she added. 

She encouraged her fellow classmates to use their education and the power of their own minds to help make their dreams for the world a reality.

“God gave you a voice. Use it,” she continued. “And, no, the irony of a nonspeaking autistic encouraging you to use your voice is not lost on me. Because if you can see the worth in me, then you can see the worth in everyone you meet.”

PassItOn and The Foundation For A Better Life believe that Elizabeth Bonker is a hero. Her action is a great example of the value of inclusion. She has given a voice to millions suffering in silence and she has inspired them to choose their own path instead of letting others define them.  Through her example and her advocacy work, she encourages us all to achieve our personal goals and to address the urgent challenges of our times. Please help us salute this hero by sharing her inspiring story.  

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Your Comments
nikhil from C/195.lavkush nagar indira Nagar lucknow  JUNE 14, 2022
Great 👍

Yash jaiswal from Indira Nagar Lucknow JUNE 10, 2022
Very good

Susan Tenorio from Sac., Ca. JUNE 8, 2022
Your pass it on, peace is absolutely inspiring+ made me smile! Wonderful!!!.

Lynise Tarring from Hilo, Hawai'i  JUNE 7, 2022
I treasure your ray of sunshine, your hope, and your strength. God Bless you for your sincerity of being who you are. I love Helen Keller too, you both are the seeds of hope.

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