At our virtual gala last month, we honored John Hendrickson with our "Freeing Voices Changing Lives" award. During the award, John shared his story with Emily Blunt and Joe Biden. Since then, we got to catch up with John to hear more about his experience at the gala, as well as his personal journey of how he got to where he is today.
What was the experience of talking to Joe Biden and Emily Blunt like for you?
Obviously, the two of them are famous, and I am not, so it felt a little funny to see all of our names on the same line. I appreciated how the conversation was focused on advice for young stutterers, since all three of us had different challenges growing up, but we share the universal experience of being people who stutter. They each had keen insight into what it’s like to live with this disorder.
What is something you learned from the conversation?
I really liked how Emily spoke of certain present-day challenges as a person who stutters, such as delivering certain types of lines in movies. I think people misunderstand how difficult and nuanced acting is, and the amount of energy it takes. To see a successful actress like Emily admit that, yeah, it’s still hard, even at her level, is a really positive message.
Looking back 5 years, would you ever have expected this experience to occur?
I would not have expected this experience even one year ago. This time last year, I was preparing to interview Vice President Biden for my Atlantic story, but I was still several weeks away from even sitting down to write the first draft. I had never really written anything for public consumption about stuttering. I never expected the piece to take off the way it did, nor did I know much about this worldwide community of people who stutter. I’ve met so many amazing people from all walks of life over the past year. I don’t take it for granted.
What personal choices did you make that led you down that path?
Writing my Biden story last year changed everything for me, personally and professionally, not least because my piece carried with it several risks. For starters, I was challenging one of the most famous people in the world about his framing of a very sensitive, difficult topic. That’s a risky endeavor. I was also challenging myself to admit certain hard truths and emotions I’ve long suppressed. After the story was published, I faced the challenge of public speaking opportunities, something I have avoided my entire life. At no point was any of this easy, but it all helped me grow as a person.
What are you most proud of as you reflect on your journey and how far you've come?
More than anything, I’m so grateful to have met hundreds of other people who stutter over the past year. The conversations I’ve had -- over person, over the phone, over Zoom, over email -- have been some of the most meaningful of my life. The stuttering community is one of strength, of grit, of character, and I’m proud to be a member of it.
* * *
To watch John's conversation with Emily Blunt and the former Vice President, click here or watch the video below:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTHyWnAwwlcTo watch the entire virtual gala, including Vice President Joe Biden, Emily Blunt, Eric Dinallo, Arthur Blank, Wayne Brady, Clarence Page, Austin Pendleton and more, click here.--The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA, and services are also available Online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.
Chaya Goldstein, M.A., CCC-SLP
Chaya brings a unique understanding of the stuttering experience. As a person who uncovered her voice after being covert about stuttering for many years, she has a passion for helping others find their power and joy in communicating.