Meet Andrew Carlins.
He stutters. And I am the speech-therapist. But this guys leaves me speechless - every time.
His parents (shining examples in their own right) brought him to meet me in the Long Island office. And the journey continues years later. And so much more yet to come.
As a high-schooler, he participated in our panel Q&A events; he collaborated in designing and traveling to Israel to conduct epic research; we co-presented the research at the National Stuttering Association Convention in Atlanta, GA - and we "bowl" together at the annual Paul Rudd SAY Bowling Event. He continues to shine, and finds time to serve as a mentor for our teens who stutter.
He has an amazing way with words, and moves me every time. Enjoy.
The Alchemist’s Secret
Alchemists look to change iron into gold, trying to perfect the imperfect. We are all alchemists trying to refine ourselves; however, only the few who learn the alchemist’s secret are successful. I achieved my revelation through overcoming my greatest obstacle: my stutter.
Imagine you have a question, but when you try to ask it, the words get trapped in your throat. Your ability to express yourself is attached to an iron chain around your neck. Others laugh as you struggle to break the chains that keep your voice trapped within, itching for freedom.
Welcome to the world of a stuttering child. Scratch that.
Welcome to the world of a stuttering child who allows that stutter to overpower his voice.
As a fifth grader, I was a full time stutterer and a part time entrepreneur with a business selling sports memorabilia to my friends. To build my inventory, I consciously decided to write letters to several teams, fearing I would stutter if I attempted to call. I thought the letters were convincing, but, based on the lack of responses, the teams did not.
I walked into speech therapy that week frustrated and disappointed. I wanted so much to be free of my stutter, which seemed to keep my business, and me, from growing. My speech pathologist suggested I call the sports teams to personalize my request. He insisted I start each call by bluntly saying that I am a stutterer, predicting positive results. Surprisingly, the more forthcoming I was, the better the outcome. It rained memorabilia during the following weeks.
I distinctly remember my first call to the Long Island Ducks. I hoped no one would answer, counting each dial tone and anticipating the relief of the voicemail recording. My desires went unfulfilled as I heard a respondent on the line.
“Hello. M-my n-name is Andrew,” I said stuttering as my chains tightened. I continued, “I-I-I am a st-u-uttt-erer a-and I am int-e-e-e-eeres-s-s-s-s-sted i-i-in y-your mem-mem-memorabilia.”
As the pitch progressed, the chains of my stutter stopped burdening me. I was so focused on achieving my goal that others’ perceptions ceased to bother me. For the first time, I spoke freely. I controlled my voice. The iron chain around my neck turned golden, as I realized my disfluent speech could not silence my voice. Only I could.
Although I still occasionally stutter, I speak confidently wearing my now golden chains, proudly. My gift of stuttering inspires me to use my voice to empower others to find theirs. I act on my inspiration by giving back to the stuttering community. As a member and mentor of the not-for-profit organization Stuttering Association for the Young and a researcher leading an international stuttering research project, I raise awareness that stutterers are not alone and that there are multiple treatments that lead to success. Throughout my journey, I have had the privilege of ringing the NASDAQ bell announcing National Stuttering Awareness Week and presenting my research findings at an International Stuttering Conference. Reflecting on my experiences, I realize millions stutter, including Joe Biden, but only the extraordinary are "stuttering alchemists" who embrace their perfect imperfection and stutter well. I now know the alchemist’s secret, and I hope to empower others to learn it too.
My stutter no longer defines me, but my journey with it still shapes my worldview. I have come to understand that accepting oneself entirely leads to courage and self-confidence, which are gateways to success.
Since this essay is my first impression, I would like to introduce myself in a fashion I found successful years ago, that also takes into account my experiences and current self-perception: “Hello my name is Andrew. I am a stutterer….I am also a scholar, a musician, a poet, an entrepreneur, a researcher, an athlete, an actor, an advocate, a mentor, a leader, a listener, a brother, a dog-lover, an individual... and an alchemist.”
Andrew Carlins is a student at Duke University, studying Financial Economics, Environmental Science and Policy and Ethics. He is concerned with refugee rights, environmental economics and getting to know people. At Duke, he mentors refugee students in Durham, NC, and engages city officials on behalf of refugees. Andrew shows them that a stutter doesn’t have to hold someone back, and can actually make someone a better, stronger listener.
Andrew is proud of his stutter and grateful for the opportunity to share his experiences with others. Feel free to email anytime (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions or thoughts. Andrew would love to hear from you.
*This was also submitted as his college essay.