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College valedictorian with nonverbal autism gives heartfelt speech during graduation



  • One of Rollins’ College’s valedictorians has nonverbal autism.
  • The disease has affected her ability to talk.
  • The college valedictorian is also an author and a poet.

In her commencement speech on May 8, Elizabeth Bonker told the Rollins College graduating class:

A college valedictorian who hasn’t spoken since she was 15 months old because of autism gave a heartfelt graduating speech, imploring her fellow grads to speak up.

“God gave you a voice. Use it. And no, the irony of a non-speaking autistic encouraging you to use your voice is not lost on me. Because if you can see the worth in me, then you can see the worth in everyone you meet.”

Bonker was chosen by her four fellow valedictorians to give the commencement address to the school’s 529 graduates. According to the private college, she delivered her address using a text-to-voice computer application.

Since she lost her ability to speak at 15 months old due to autism, a developmental disorder caused by anomalies in the brain, Bonker has depended on typing to communicate.

In her speech, Bonkers shared how she struggled her whole life with not being heard or accepted. She also told the story of how the principal at her high school told a staff member said, ‘The retard can’t be valedictorian.’”

Bonker, who earned a degree in social innovation, founded Communication 4 ALL, a nonprofit organization that aims to “ensure that non-speakers with autism have access to the communication and education necessary to live meaningful lives,” per its website.

She is also a poet and author who penned “I Am In Here,” a memoir on her experiences growing up with autism.


According to the organization, up to 31 million people worldwide have nonverbal autism, meaning autism has affected their ability to talk.

Rollins College of Liberal Arts/Scott Cook

In her commencement address, Bonker encouraged her fellow graduates to use their voices but also to be of service, citing Fred Rogers, an alumnus of Rollins College.

Bonker shared that during her freshman year, she heard a story about how Rogers kept a handwritten note in his wallet that said, ‘Life is for service.’

“Whatever our life choices, each and every one of us can live a life of service — to our families, to our communities and to the world. And the world can’t wait to see our light shine,” she said later in her speech. 

Source: ABC News