During a campaign rally in New Hampshire last year, Joe Biden met a 13-year-old named, Brayden Harrington. Harrington's father told Biden that Harrington wanted to hear Biden's speech because like Biden, he too stutters. The moment Biden listened to this, he looked at the boy and said, "Don't let it define you... I've 25 stutterers, I continue to work with, and I can tell you the things that helped me."
Yesterday, as the world watched Biden take oath as the 46th President of the United States of America, and deliver a powerful speech, he not only offered hope and promise to all Americans who had been reeling under partisan politics, racial injustice and the deadly pandemic but also to the millions of individuals across the world, who like Biden, stutter.
Media reports claim that approximately 70 million people across the globe have this speech impediment. For those people, Biden is an example of what can be overcome with perseverance, when an impediment is not treated as one's weakness. Another person in attendance at the Presidential inaugural ceremony, whose own words were no less inspirational than Biden's speech, is the young poet, Amanda Gorman, who recited her poem titled, The Hill We Climb.
Gorman, at the age of 22, became the youngest poet to recite in any Presidential inaugural. While her words were powerful, evocative and captured the moment with elan, it wasn't the only thing about her that captivated viewers across the world. Gorman's recitation, her speech and voice moved with such grace and confidence, her words flowing like water in the sea, that few would believe that she too like Biden had been dealing with a speech impediment since childhood.
Biden and Gorman have another thing in common. They have both broken the stereotype and popular beliefs about age. While Gorman is the first Young National Poet, Biden is the oldest President United States has ever had.
Poetry and Stutter
Reports claim that Biden has never received any professional training or expert help to mitigate his stuttering as a child. But it was the regular practice that helped him. He would stand in front of the mirror and recite poems for hours. Often, those were poems written by William Butler Yeats.
Many stutterers turn to poems for its natural rhyme and rhythm, which automatically slows down the speech and helps them enunciate the words better. But, for Amanda Gorman, her love for poetry faced a tremendous obstacle due to her auditory processing disorder.
In an interview to NPR, Gorman said that because she has difficulty pronouncing certain words, it became challenging for her to stop herself from self-policing, and leaving out hard to pronounce words.
She said, "I would be in the bathroom scribbling five minutes before trying to figure out if I could say 'earth' or if I can say 'girl' or if I can say 'poetry.' And you know, doing the best with the poem I could."
Overcoming the Stigma
For Gorman, this speech impediment soon turned into a social experiment. While she was under-going speech therapy, many would mistake her accent as either British or Nigerian. In an interview with Harvard Crimson, Gorman said, "If they thought I was from Europe, they would treat me very well like I was a sophisticated intellectual; if I let them believe that I was from Nigeria, they'd make comments like, 'Oh, this is how credit cards work,' or 'You might not know this in the village you come from.'"
Biden, however, faced much worse. As a kid, he was mocked mercilessly by his older siblings, as by his school mates. And, little changed as he became the Presidential candidate, last year. There were some moments in the campaign trail, and debates during which Biden struggled to get words out of his mouth, and that elicited muffled laughter from the crowd. In fact, Fox News thought that these moments were important enough to make a mini montage out of it. Biden, however, did what he always does, power through.
Seizing the Moment
As he began his first address as the President of the United States, it became evident that he had no intention of glossing over the precarious position democracy is in, in the United States of America. In his speech, Biden said:
"We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility.
Much to repair.
Much to restore.
Much to heal.
Much to build.
And much to gain."
It is only fitting that someone who has known what it is to be vulnerable, can address the fragile position the United States of America is in with hard truths and without any false hopes, especially after the hallowed ground where Biden stood and gave his speech, was, just days ago, the epicentre of violence.
It also seemed like the most natural progression that Gorman would follow Biden's speech with the following words:
"For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it."