Elizabeth Bonker, Rollins College’s class of 2022 valedictorian, delivered a powerful speech last week, calling for “communication for all.”
Bonker has nonspeaking autism, so she communicates by typing.
The Rollins alum used a text-to-speech computer program to deliver her address on May 8 – where she also urged her fellow graduates to remember that, like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” star Fred Rogers, “life is for service.”
Bonker received a degree in the social invention.
She said, “God gave you a voice. Use it. The irony of a nonspeaking autistic encouraging you to use your voice is not lost on me. Because if you can see the worth in me, you can see the worth in everyone you meet.”
Bonker spoke with her mother, Virginia Breen, about the reception of her speech – which has resonated across the country.
Bonker told USA Today, ” This commencement address was important to me. I worked on it for months, and she added that she has been “overwhelmed with gratitude” for her support.
Bonker thanked Rollins’ faculty, staff, administrators, and her fellow valedictorians – who voted unanimously for her to deliver the commencement speech.
Bonker also acknowledges the 31 million nonspeaking autistic people worldwide.
According to Autism Speaks, around 40% of autistic people do not speak.
Bonker said, “I have typed this speech with one finger with a communication partner holding a keyboard. I was able to communicate and be educated like Helen Keller through that one critical intervention.”
Since 2013, Bonker has been advocating for the rights of autistic children and adults.
Bonker founded Communication 4 ALL, a nonprofit that ensures communication is possible for people with autism who are nonspeaking, especially in educational settings.
Bonker said, “My life mission is to gain communication for all 31 million nonspeakers with autism worldwide. It will start with students in school. We can change the way the world sees nonspeaking autism. It is a neuromotor disorder, not a cognitive one.”
Breen said, “The American Disability Act states that people with communication disorders should be guaranteed effective communication, but “nonspeakers were left behind” in most classrooms.”
Bonker is also a poet and lyricist. “I Am In Here,” a book Bonker published in 2011, also featured the two first songs of her “I Am In Here” album, “I Am In Here” and “Silent Cage.”
She plans to work for Communication 4 ALL and advocate for nonspeaking people with autism after graduation.