This past week, close to a thousand of my fellow stutterers and their families descended upon Washington DC for the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference. It’s been decades since our nation’s capital experienced such clear and concise communication.
When I got into the taxi at Reagan National Airport, I gave the driver the address to my hotel. “999 9th Street,” I said. By the way, I wasn’t stuttering. That was the actual address. I knew from that point on, that this would be my most memorable conference yet.
We have a lot of fun each year at the conference, and it’s always in a great city. It’s not a pity party, although some tears are likely to flow. On the contrary, it’s education, empowerment, enlightenment, entertainment, and loads of fun.
Hoping to make the most out of it, I went up a few days earlier than usual. Be that as it may, the week just whizzed by. By attending the last four conferences, I’ve met many amazing people, and one week is simply not enough time, not only because they are simply that amazing but also because we stutter. Our conversations are seldom of the quick type.
Although we may not agree on everything, we are tighter and more cohesive than any military unit I’ve ever served with. In many cases, we are tighter than family. Lucy, my wife, arrived midweek and was welcomed with open arms. They loved her, and she loved them. Over lunch one day, she was brought to the brink of tears as she reflected upon her experiences throughout the week and how she could relate to the challenges of stuttering in her own way. It was her first time attending, but it will definitely not be her last.
We, along with our friend David, toured the monuments along the National Mall one night. David, a person who stutters, is an avid photographer. As Lucy and I sat on a step reflecting upon the National World War II Memorial, David walked up and sat down next to us.
“I s-s-s-set the t-t-t-timer on the c-c-c-camera for it to t-t-t-take a p-p-p-picture…Dang! It’s too late,” said David, as we all laughed.
Humor is all around us. We can’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. That gets us nowhere.
One of the highlights this year was being able to lead a workshop called “Connecting with Humor” with a room full of young children ages 6-12. It was my first time as a presenter, and I couldn’t have asked for a better crowd. I told them stories from my childhood in a humorous manner, and then allowed them to do the same. Although they quickly got off topic, knowing they had the courage to stand and stutter in front of a group of people gave me all the satisfaction I needed.
I had another role at this year’s conference, too. I, along with Rohan Murphy and Parker Mantell, had the incredible honor of being one of the keynote speakers. Murphy lost his legs at birth but went on to wrestle at Penn State. He was also featured in Nike’s “No Excuses” campaign. As you may recall, Mantell is the young man who stuttered his way through his commencement speech at Indiana University earlier this year. Both men were incredibly inspiring and are true testaments of what one can accomplish in spite of their perceived flaws.
I even met a gentleman from Huntsville who works for NASA, and, get this; he graduated from the University of Alabama. If that’s not proof that one, in spite of their perceived flaws, can achieve greatness through hard work, dedication, and self-confidence, I don’t know what is.