Fla. Teen inspires with a voice he hasn’t always accepted
When you go to the same small school with the same crowd for most of your life, it is safe to say by last year that most students have found their voice and are not afraid to use it.
Sean Emmons, a student at Lakes Academy in Pasco County near Tampa, is no exception.
But for this politics geek on the school’s debate team, using his voice was never the problem.
Accepting his voice and stammering with it was the challenge this 17-year-old remembered.
“It means everything and nothing at the same time,” Shawn explained when asked what his stuttering meant to him.
“I will obviously get frustrated when I can’t say what I want to say,” he recently told reporter Katie LaGrone.
The way Sean relates it, his stuttering first became noticeable to his parents at 3 or 4 years old.
In third grade, he was in speech therapy but got frustrated and quit two years later.
At the time, Sean was convinced that his stutter would go away on its own.
Then came the awkward years of middle school that became even more awkward for a boy with moderate to severe stuttering that his classmates couldn’t understand.
He described it as “cruel”. “They were like I don’t know what to do with you because you are so different in a number of ways.”
During the summer after eighth grade, when most young teens weren’t even close to figuring out who they were, Sean realized it was time to accept who he would never be.
“I realized no, it’s not just going to go away, it’s going to be here and it’s still going to be as bad as it is as long as I choose not to do anything about it,” he explained.
So speech therapy is back with a whole new look. Instead of hating his stutter, Sean made the decision to own it and embrace the voice he couldn’t stand for years, as the one that now makes him stand out and stand out recently.
On October 22, International Stuttering Awareness Day, Sean stood in front of about 150 classmates, teachers, and parents Giving upper-class speech Somehow he just can.
“I spent most of my time wishing my stuttering would magically disappear,” he told the audience. “I treated it like a disease. With the help of my father, my psychiatrist and a speech therapist, I finally accepted stuttering as part of my personality. It is our differences that define us, not the similarities.”
By the time Sean finished speaking, there was no dehydration in the school gymnasium.
Mom and Dad heard Sean’s words for the first time when the others heard them, too. Proud doesn’t even begin to describe it.
“Man, yes I am proud of that kid every day, but yes, it was a very proud day. It was a very proud day,” said his mother, Jessica Hawke Tillman.
His father, James Emmons, has replayed Sean’s Youtube speech about a dozen times and it is still emotional.
“Knowing everything he went through, to see him get through it was wonderful. It was excellent,” he said, adding that Shawn’s words reverberate outside his school campus.
“It is important for someone to see them accept themselves for who they are and what they have been through and be true to themselves. It is a great lesson for anyone who wants to prejudge different things,” Emmons said.
Leaving your parents speechless is great, but Sean’s speech had a lasting effect on his teachers and classmates.
“This is a kid who has a severe stutter, but he never stops sharing and using his voice,” said Kim Freeland, Sean’s English teacher who also helped guide him through the process of writing his big speech. “While I was watching it I was like come on buddy you got this you can do it and it was beautiful.”
“I loved the way he stayed positive about it. It wasn’t a sad story, it was a story about perseverance,” said her friend and colleague Anisa Nanavati.
And Elise Faith, also a friend, added, “He really showed us with his speech, sometimes you have to take into account what life gives you.”
Next year, Shaun, an AP student, will attend college with his sights set on statistics and data science, leaving behind a journey that took him years to express fully in the words he could finally accept.
“No matter who this story will affect, it’s great, but the most important part of it to me is that this was the last piece of the puzzle to put to rest for myself,” Shaun said.
Fast facts on stuttering:
- Stuttering usually begins in childhood, between 2 and 5 years
- Stuttering is a communication disorder that involves disturbances in a person’s speech
- Stuttering is more common in males than in females
- Stuttering is often hereditary
- It is estimated that about 1% of the world’s population stutters and about 5% of children experience a stutter.
Source: National Stuttering Association. For more information, visit https://westutter.org/