My name is Will Esseks and I have stuttered my entire life. Through my family's support and the help of the American Institute for Stuttering, I have learned that it is truly okay to speak with confidence and conviction; whether I am stuttering or not. I have realized over the years that finding my voice has not been a single journey. I've found pieces of my voice along the way, and I've learned to accept that my experience with stuttering will naturally ebb and flow over time.
Recently, I applied to a postgraduate entrepreneurial fellowship program. As part of the application, I was asked to provide an essay on how I could contribute to the diversity of the university.
My goal was to explain how my experience with stuttering would be my most valuable contribution to the diversity of the program. In sharing my answer below, I hope to give people who stutter a sense of how we can talk about stuttering in terms of diversity, and also as a life-shaping condition. The experience of stuttering can give us empathy, patience, strength, courage, and more.
"How will your identity, actions, and/or ideas contribute to the diversity of our fellowship program?"
I was born with every possible privilege in the world except the ability to speak freely. I have stuttered my entire life. Every time I speak I am keenly aware of the risk of physically struggling with the next word. For me, words come at a premium. Daily, I am reminded that something so easy and natural for others is hard for me. Instead of getting discouraged by my stutter, I have learned to embrace my speech difference. I refuse to let my words go unsaid. Facing and overcoming the daily challenges of stuttering has taught me how I can apply the powers of empathy and patience, and the strength inherent in kindness to any situation.Stuttering has taught me that the key to minimizing the discomfort other people may have when presented with a difference is to directly address and show personal acceptance for the difference. While stuttering qualifies as a speech disorder, for me, stuttering is a human difference that I have come to accept. After I introduce myself I immediately address the fact that I stutter. Providing my audience with the knowledge that I stutter breaks down the barrier of discomfort, allowing the focus to be on what I have to say instead of how I am saying it. Addressing my speech difference outright lets me be heard. Navigating the challenges of stuttering has taught me to tackle diversity head-on, a philosophy that I will bring with me to the ABC Fellowship Program and beyond.
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.
Carl Herder, M.A., CCC-SLP, BCS-F
Atlanta Clinic Director, Board-Certified Specialist in Fluency Disorders
Carl is our Clinic Director for the Arthur M. Blank Center for Stuttering Therapy in Atlanta, GA. He joined AIS in New York in 2006 and worked closely with our founder, Catherine Montgomery for nearly five years. In 2016, he moved to Atlanta to open our first satellite office.