Make Room For The Stuttering

Exposed and Vulnerable: 100th Post

Posted on: June 3, 2009

Who ever said stuttering publicly on a big stage and in front of a big crowd was easy? I never said it, that’s for sure.  As comfortable as I am with Pam, who happens to stutter, it is still daunting to get up in front of a big crowd and expose yourself. Stuttering or not, you want to look good and do well. That’s human nature.

Last night was the annual induction ceremony for our school’s National Technical Honor Society. As adviser, I orchestrate the ceremony, which includes symbolic candle lighting, a pledge that inductees recite, and calling each student  individually to receive their awards.

I arranged a practice session an hour before the actual ceremony. Because the students were from different programs and all had different schedules, this would be our only practice. I had given everyone the script well before this date, so the kids knew who was  to say what and when. The practice was to include walking up to the stage in pairs, “twisting on” the fake, battery-operated candles (can’t use real ones in a school), and arranging in some order on a small stage for the reciting of the pledge.

One kid was an hour late, so we had to practice without him, assigning another kid two parts. Late kid came as we were starting for real, so we went back to plan A.

During practice, my moment of truth came right away. As I was saying one line for the kids to repeat, I got stuck on “education”, which came out ” ed-ed-ed-uuuu-cation.” One kid towards front starting laughing, mimicked me, and laughingly said, “did you hear that?”

I stopped, and said ” Lets get this right out in the open. I stutter, and you’re going to hear some of that tonight, maybe a lot. I’m OK with it, and I would like you to be too, OK? Now, when you need to repeat after me, don’t repeat the stutter.” The kids laughed, as did some of the parents already there, watching practice. That was weird, but what can you do? I needed the kids there at a certain time, and their parents brought them. They were getting to see two shows. Some even took pictures during practice! The young man who had laughed was now very somber.

We finished, I reseated the kids and I talked to them again before we began officially. I very calmly suggested that the kids get all of their giggles out now, as one girl and same boy who had laughed earlier were giggling. The girl was just nervous. I reminded them all about my stuttering again, and to not let it throw them off.

So the time comes. I get up on stage, begin introductions, and proceed. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Stuttering definitely wanted in on this night. She was making her presence known. I remembered to breath and did what I needed to. I had a lot of whole word repetitions and some prolongations. And some good blocks! An especially tense moment was when “ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-college” took forever to come out. The sound of the blocking seemed to reverberate through the whole room over the microphone. That was the most vulnerable moment.

Then came time for the pledge. I gave the students thier instructions, and added over the microphone, “Remember, don’t repeat any stuttering.”  Nice, easy laughter followed. I stuttered several of the words. A senior student not being inducted was standing next to me, as she was a second year member. We read the lines together. It was awkward when I was stuttering a line, and she was done.

Without missing a beat, we reverted to her reading one line smoothly, the group recited, and I read the next, with stutters, and the group recited. We just kind of fell into that pattern of sharing the lines and it worked. What a great kid!

Then came the calling of the names. I had to read each students complete name, first, middle and last. Several were fine – several were stuttered on all three names. I felt a bit self-conscious, and quite exposed, but I was doing it. I paused long enough between names for parents to photograph their kids as they crossed and exited stage. It remained the kids night, as evidenced by all of the cameras flashing and the applause after each student was called and strode across the stage.

Before concluding and announcing that the next part of the ceremony would begin in a few minutes, I decided to add lib one extra thought. I have a favorite part from Nelson Madella’s inaugural speech that I know by heart. I shared this with the audience:

“As we liberate ourselves from our own fears, whatever those fears may be, our presence automatically liberates those around us.” I had liberated myself. Yes!

The induction ceremony then concluded and I had time to prepare to announce all of the scholarship winners towards the end of part 2 of the program.

The victory is in the doing. I had obsessed about how this night would go, for I really wanted to do well. I really did feel vulnerable and exposed. When I was speaking at the microphone, it was quiet. Everybody heard my words – and my stuttering. I put myself out there. I did my best. I did my job. I celebrated with kids who are beginning their adult lives. It was meaningful to be a part of that. We all learn from each other. I like to think that some people who didn’t know me before last night learned something about being true to self.

What do you think?

Copyright © 2009

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17 Responses to "Exposed and Vulnerable: 100th Post"

You did an awesome thing! You told the first kid exactly how acceptable it is to laugh at someone with a disability. And you showed everyone how to accept and work with a disability, and how to keep a sense of humour, work as a team, and adapt on the fly.

I’m not sure I consider my stuttering as a disability. At one time it was, because I was so literally disabled by fear and shame, that I barely communicated.
And last year, when I got my first evaluation from my boss at my new job, he verbally commented as we went over the evaluation, “Notice how I didn’t mention your disability?”
I really thought that was a strange thing for a manager to mention, and it would have been even stranger if he had actually written that in the evaluation.
But in terms of the kid laughing, yeah, I am glad I called him on it right away. I would have been kicking myself all night if I hadn’t done it.

I thought hard about what word to use, but that one fits better than the other options. If someone confined to a wheelchair plays basketball well enough to win against a typical high school team, he’s still disabled. He has to work harder than the rest of us to do the same things. He has to deal with discrimination and everyone else’s awkwardness.

I like your distinction between having a disability and being disabled by it.

Thinking more about it. You are the one who stutters. What word would you prefer?

I guess the way I look at it is stuttering can be disabling if it interferes with your ability to communicate, and most of the time for me, it doesn’t. But for some people who stutter, it is truly a disability. Stuttering for some can be so limiting that it impedes communication. I never liked the word impediment either, because I am not impeded from getting my point across. I just do it a little differently and it may take a bit longer. I think the best thing to call it is a “different way of talking.”

Sounds like you handled it all really well! Educating the world one person at a time (but in this case it was many people in one fell swoop). Shayna

Shayna, I am glad you are reading. Its really cool for someone from a different part of my life to be following this.
I appreciate your feedback – we all learn from each other.

Absolutely fantastic ,you totally said it as it was !!!! Keep this up – its fantastic.

Pam you are one incredible lady. You handled the laughing so well, better than I would have done at this moment in my life. I am about to give a big presentation at my church next week about stuttering in general, about the fact that I stutter and I probably will actually stutter as I’m very scared. You have shown me you can survive and stay strong. As for the use of the term disabled, as you know I am blind and so technically this is a disability. But I do not let it disable me, but the world has to call it something. I have let stuttering disable me far more in my life and I had never thought of that as a disability because I was ashamed to even admit I stuttered. Thank you for your inspiration.

Lisette,
Thanks for the comments and for reading! I am so proud of your decision to do a presentation at your church. That is wonderful. Of course, you are scared, but there is a reason you are doing it, and you will be touching people most powerfully by expressing this most authentic part of yourself.
How did this come to be? You’ll have to let your fellow covert groupies how it goes. Well, you really won’t be covert anymore, right.
And as Cricket says about the word “disability”, the world does have to call “it” something”, but I prefer to think of it as how we talk.
I remember when I talked to the kids recently, I described using a wheelchair as a different way of moving, and a hearing aid as a different different way of hearing. And you have a different way of seeing – you see with your senses and your feelings and your heart.
My head no longer writes most of these posts – it is my heart.
Good luck to you – be sure to let us know how it goes.

Pam you are such a tower of strength, I would have just crumbled after the first kid laughed.

You stood true to yourself, you are truly a stutterrockstar.

Looking forward to linking up with you as I am feeling a bit frightened and frustrated all at the same time now as I am job hunting and is wondering if I will be able to manage a job efficiently. I am truly frustrated to the point of tears as sometimes I feel I have this and then the next I just fall apart.

I have walked off jobs in the past because of frustration but now needs to go back out there as I have a family now.

I will be drawing on your resolve and strenghth a lot.

Pam-
I like how you handled this situation. You have grace and courage. Keep it up!! Lori

Thanks Lori – it doesn’t always feel like that, but you do what you have to in those exact moments.

Hi Pam
I really like that – thinking of it as a different way of talking. We all appear different from each other and I guess we all talk differently too. The old feelings of shame come back though and then I think stuttering is the most terrible thing ever and it wipes everything else away. Do you find those powerful negative feelings get less the more you are open about your stuttering with others? I’m hoping so. The reason I’m doing the talk is to move on from being in that terrible place.

Hey Lisette 🙂
I remember you from attending stuttertalk with Russ at the NSA conference last year. Love the way you talk!! I just wanted to say that I think it’s so cool that you’re moving away from being covert and getting out there. Well done!! Please let us know how it goes. Good luck!

Tone

How do you feel it went compared to last year? I’m so proud of you for the way you handle the situations you get into. Time and time again you show your strength of character. I admire the fact that you manage to stay strong in situations most ppl would run away from. And even though a part of you want to run, you stay and see it through. Well done Pam!

Pam

One word – WOW.

That’s an incredible thing that you did. Just reading about it is something. I can imagine what is was like for you to go thru.

Your blog and posts are really insightful and inspiring.

Matt

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