Taking a Handicap in Hand

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

I sat quietly at my desk on the morning of September 4th, 2005, steeling myself for my first day of second grade. Thus far, I had managed to deflect my classmates’ earnest conversation attempts, and my seeming indifference made them wonder about this new student. The teacher finally claimed the attention of my classmates and, one by one, they stated their names, their favorite foods, and their favorite animals. Soon, the moment I had been dreading arrived, and all eyes were on me.

“My n-n-name’s An-n-nita.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my teacher’s lips curve into a smile, and my classmates exchange looks of amusement. They probably attributed this first disfluency to nerves. However, after I spent the next several minutes struggling through ‘P-p-izza’ and ‘D-d-ogs,’ their looks of amusement turned to confusion. My secret exposed and my heart pounding, I finished my introduction.

Because my stutter was at its worst when I was young girl, these classroom scenes were as frequent as they were awful. Each time I raised my hand in class, I risked mangling words as simple as my own name. My teachers and the school administration did their best to protect me from my classmates, but to what extent? My peers’ snide glances and whispered mimicry were things that the administration could do nothing about.

I have particular difficulty pronouncing hard consonants; the toughest are words containing ‘N’s, ‘L’s, ‘P’s and ‘D’s. To most children, these letters are punctuated sounds strung together to form emphatic conversation. To me, these letters are obstacles, uncomfortably and incessantly lodged in my throat. In my speech therapy classes, I could fluently recite the texts my counselor set before me. But this confidence deserted me in front of my peers. They teased me mercilessly, calling me ‘retarded’ and regaling me with choruses of “An-n-nita”s as I walked in and out of the lunchroom. As a young girl I was silent, not by choice, but from fear of ridicule. Though my thoughts were colorful and bold, they were censored by something within me that I thought I couldn’t control.

When I was twelve years old, my dad, from whom I inherited my stuttering, hoisted me into his arms and said that just because I had a different way of speaking did not mean that I should be ashamed. He explained that my desperation to hide my stuttering only further reinforced it. By embracing my uniqueness, I could challenge others to accept me as well. As to my intelligence, he said something that has inspired me ever since:

“Retarded? No. In fact, stutterers are intelligent because their thoughts come faster than their lips can move.”

I was so galvanized by his words that I resolved to either rid myself of my speech impediment, or finally accept it as part of my identity: a quirk of the “An-n-nita” that I strive to be. I developed a love of language and vocabulary, using both as means to survival. I read voraciously because I wanted to so expand my vocabulary that I could replace a word I was having trouble saying with a new and more powerful one. Eventually, my love of words fostered a love of writing. Indeed, writing is a seamless method of expressing myself, in that I can connect with others without uttering a word. Though my stutter has vastly diminished, I still find solace in writing, and continue to let it speak for me.

To paraphrase James Baldwin, the things that hurt one most often help one most. I came into the United States as a six year old girl who hid behind her stutter and struggled to find her voice. Today, however, I can proudly say that stuttering has enriched my life. By taking my handicap in hand, I have learned how to find value in my voice and in myself.

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