Not your ordinary graduation speech

June is the perfect month for this guest post by Megan Cauley, a Public Relations and Social Media Intern here at Easter Seals Headquarters.

He showed us!

by Megan Cauley

My 2013 graduation from Indiana University was a whirlwind and is already a distant memory: sitting next to friends, looking for family in the stands, working to get my decorated cap on the Jumbotron. With all these distractions, commencement speakers have their work cut out for them. Getting grads to simply make eye contact is an impressive feat, so I was surprised when friends who graduated from IU this year started sharing this year’s student commencement speech online.

What did this speaker say to get through all of the distractions and make such an impression on the graduating class? I finally watched the speech and found out. It wasn’t all about what he said. It was about how he said it, too.

Parker Mantell has a stutter (a type of speech disorder where an individual involuntarily repeats the first syllables of words) and opened his commencement address with an admission that he is far from the best orator. I didn’t have to listen long to discover that Mantell was being modest in his admission. He didn’t let his stutter prevent him from delivering a captivating speech with remarkable eloquence.

Mantell has worked for politicians in DC — conducting tours and even making outreach phone calls — despite his challenges with verbal speech. In his graduation address he urged his graduating class to take on challenges and not doubt themselves. He used famous historical figures with disabilities as examples, describing them as individuals who reached their full potential because they dared to dare themselves. “FDR couldn’t walk,” he says. “Imagine if he had never dared to run?” Mantell asked graduates to follow these figures rather than let doubt deprive the world of their talents.

It’s a very powerful speech, and what I liked most about it is that it works on three different levels: it’s a commencement address that encourages graduates to reach their full potential, it makes me proud to be a Hoosier, and it has a special message about individuals with disabilities. Watch the speech yourself and see what you think –society might try to manage the expectations of people with disabilities, but Mantell encourages all of us, whether we have disabilities or not, to ignore limitations and believe in possibility. When he took to the podium and delivered a commencement address to 17,000 people, Mantell did more than tell us what is possible. He showed us.


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