Here is the letter that my better-half, James Wilson, wrote and mailed to Brayden Harrington, the inspiring teenager who spoke to the Democratic Convention about stuttering. This young man moved many in this nation first to tears, than to clapping, and then to a renewed sense of what the majority will do this fall as we head to the election polls or cast a ballot by mail for Joe Biden.
Dear Brayden Harrington,
Let me begin my letter this evening by saying how proud I am of your performance this evening at the Democratic National Convention. Your speech was fantastic and moving. Bravo! And I am quite jealous of your friendship with our future President, Joe Biden.
I was a teacher for twenty-five years. I taught French and Spanish literature and language to young people your age, and later to adults at a technical college here in Wisconsin (though I grew up in central Maine, not so far from you). Of all of the students I had over the years (in the thousands) the ones that made the biggest impression on me and for whom I felt I had to work the hardest were the ones who were different than all the others. Not different because of some defect or something that made them an object of pity, but rather something that made them determined, hard-working and, most of all kind. Those things that make you struggle also, as the Vice President said, will lead you to be empathetic and decent. In short, you are building those qualities which will make you a great friend. I am delighted to see you embrace what makes you unique and what sets you apart from others your age.
In my career, I have worked with a student who was completely blind. I researched for her how to read letters in Spanish with accent marks on them in braille. We worked together until she had learned the new braille symbols and could read with her fingertips books like Harry Potter translated into Spanish, and completely on her own. Now, I have not read any of Harry Potter, so when she asked me what a muggle was, or what a horcrux was, in Spanish, I was a bit at a loss! I have worked with a student who was completely deaf since birth, but by the time she came to the end of my class, she was telling her classmates, “Come on now. You aren’t even trying to pronounce that correctly!” When asked how she could possibly know how French sounded, she replied, “Watch his lips—yours aren’t forming anything at all the same shape as his. There is no way you are doing it right!” And she was spot on! I have had students who were eleven years old, and those who were in their eighties. I have worked with students so profoundly dyslexic that they thought they would never be able to learn English, let alone French or Spanish, but we researched together strategies on how to overcome the difficulty in a second language. All of these students made me a stronger teacher, and a better person by being in their presence because they called upon me to meet them where they were and to go beyond.
I feel very much that way with you this evening. You sound like you are the age where they are going to be asking you to learn a foreign language soon. Don’t be scared by that, but be aware that the letters and combinations of sound which cause you to stutter in English may not be the same sounds and clusters of letters which will trip you up in a foreign language. Just ask the disability resource specialist at your school, or if there isn’t one, a beloved librarian who loves the challenge of finding obscure texts, to help you find information written by specialists who have dealt with your stutter before and follow their advice. Some of that writing is very technical, and not overly exciting, so if you need help wading through it, you may feel free to send me a copy of the text in an email and I will read it for you and give you a call to talk about it. I am happy even to help you in the research if that is the part that seems the most difficult—I have a lot of librarian friends to help me with that! What makes you unique is a challenge I am willing to help you overcome because in the end, we need young men like you to show the rest of the world what it means to be kind, hardworking and determined. We need more friends of the future President of the United States to succeed because when I am Joe Biden’s age, I want to know that the world is in the hands of someone like you, someone who is empathetic and decent. I want to know that my future leaders were the kind of students I would have wanted to go that extra mile to help.
Very sincerely yours,