Your Everyday Senior?

by Kelly Snow

The life of the ordinary high school senior is filled with joy and anticipation, but it also contains anxiety and stress. Deciding which colleges to apply to, which parties to attend, and which person to ask out are just a few of the dilemmas we go through. Most teenagers can do things such as ordering a pizza, answering a question in class, or even making a simple phone call without thinking twice of it. For me and many others, this is not so easy.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Kelly Snow, I am from North Carolina, and I am a stutterer, but that is not all that I am. I am also a very active person not only in my school but in my community. I participated this summer in an organization called Youth Alternatives. We went to some of the roughest neighborhoods in my home town of Roxboro and spent time with some of the brightest children in our community. My job was to help them see themselves in a more positive light and to show them that there are numerous avenues which they could follow and be very successful. Besides my volunteer work, I am also a three-year member of my high school tennis team as well as being a scholar student. I have also participated in several community plays and have even spoken to my junior high student body.

Stuttering has been a part of my family for about 40 years. My mother, father, brother, sister, and uncle at one time or another stuttered. They all stopped stuttering around the age of 14, but I still have a major stuttering problem at the age of 17. They went about their situation somewhat differently than I do. I have always been a very outgoing and vocal person despite my speech. My family members were always on the shy side and were not as vocal as I am. It may be the norm for a stutterer to be quiet and withdrawn but it is not my personality. I love being around people and expressing myself regardless of how long it takes me say to my words.

I have had many experiences, both positive and negative,as a result of my speech. The most humiliating and belittling experience of my life happened when I was in the eighth grade. I was participating in the county spelling bee for the first time and I was extremely nervous. When they asked me to spell my first word I stuttered terribly and I heard several snickers and laughs emanating from the audience. I tried my best to block it out and I did a fairly good job. Eventually, I was one of four spellers left, and it was my turn. The word was alibi. I spelled it perfectly but the judges did not understand me so they asked me to repeat it. As I glanced down, I saw this boy in the front row laughing and pointing at me. I looked around and he was not the only one. Many people were entertained because I stuttered. This time I could not block out my pain and I spelled some awkward way because I had lost my concentration. As I left, my principal tried to console me, but the pain just ran too deep. I left that auditorium in tears, and every time I see that boy who was sitting in the front row, that same anger and intensity grows ever so slightly in me. Had it not been for the kind words of a compassionate school counselor who called me in his office the next day, my confidence and determination could have been lost forever.

I had an adventure this summer that was as rewarding as the spelling bee was painful. I hopped on a plane and traveled to Houston to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine. As I introduced myself to the first person I met, I stuttered miserably. The next words she uttered were, "Ok . . . what's wrong with you?". I answered in a really disturbed tone,"I stutter . . . is that Ok with you?". After this I became so intimidated because I thought everyone would be that self-righteous and judgmental. Fortunately I was wrong. As I got to know many of the brightest teenagers in the country, they got to know me and my stuttering. Many of my new friends asked me very intelligent questions that truly fascinated me. I had never had anyone be so open and direct with me about my speech or even show any concern about it at all. These new friends of mine seemed to sincerely care about the kind of person I was and about the mechanisms of my stuttering. The more I discussed my speech in an intelligent manner, the easier it became to talk because I did not have to hide who I was anymore. When those two weeks were over, I gained several new friends, and they gained a new awareness of a very serious problem many people suffer from in our world today.

While on a visit to the Shriner's Hospital in Galveston, TX, a young boy changed my life. As one of the shriners was giving us a brief introduction to the hospital and its many functions, a boy tugged at my sports coat. He was burnt so severely that he was left with just patches of hair upon his head. He asked me if I would like to come into his room and look at some of his drawings he had made since he had been at Shriner's. This little boy, who had suffered third-degree burns, was the epitome of life and the joys of childhood. Although he had suffered devastating injuries due to a fire, during those 15 minutes I shared with him, the only emotions he expressed were laughter and joy. To this day I do not know why this little boy chose me to talk to but I firmly believe it was a blessing from God. At this time I was becoming deeply depressed about my stuttering as well as what kind of person I was becoming. I was slowly letting my speech rule my life . Meeting him and seeing the hardships he had endured made me realize that my stuttering is no reason for depression. I feel that I am a very blessed young man. I have a family and many friends who love me, I am intelligent, and I love to help people. I have many advantages in my corner which will enable me to live a productive life, even if I stutter for the rest of my life. If my young friend who is in a much worse condition than I am can live his life with the joy and glee that I saw, I know that I can do the same.

A very unique experience happened to me just a week ago in my AP Biology class. I was to give a presentation on how the brain affects speech. I began telling my classmates about the Wernicke's Area and the Broca's Area and how they produce and alter speech, but I stuttered terribly. The more I talked, the worse it became because I was trying so hard to fight the blocks off. Then I began to talk more about my stuttering and what I was doing to overcome my speech impediment. What surprised me was that it seemed like everyone in my class had a question for me. Some of the questions asked of me were:

        "What do you think about when you stutter?"
        "How do you feel when you stutter?"
        "How can you sing without stuttering?"
As the class discussion continued, I became increasingly more comfortable as I answered their questions with relative ease for the rest of the class period. I feel that every time I talk about my speech as candidly as I did on that day, I am slowly knocking down the wall that separates me from the fluent speakers of the world.

Since I began elementary school, I have had contact with approximately 12 speech pathologists through the public schools. Most of them left because they were not making an adequate salary in the school system or they were released because of their lack of knowledge about speech. This has encouraged me to pursue career in speech pathology. I sincerely feel that I could help people with speech impediments overcome them because I know the feelings that stutterers experience everyday. I will be attending East Carolina University next fall and majoring in speech language audiology/pathology and working with some of the finest professors and pathologists this country has to offer. I plan on being a very active member of the stuttering community for many years to come through other articles and possibly even books.

I truly hope that by writing this article, I have helped someone realize that he or she does not have to live in fear. The only way to overcome your stuttering is to attack it with stubborn determination. I have always made a conscious effort to live my life just the same despite my speech. It is up to you. If you want to live in silence, do it, but please do not do it for the wrong reasons. My role model, the late Jim Valvano said it best: "Don't give up, don't ever give up."

Kelly Snow
1227 Mountain Rd.
Roxboro, NC 27573

(910) 599-5137 added May 17, 1996