Good evening everyone,
The years of our lives are often filled with peaks and valleys, as the expression goes. We have times when we feel so alive, transformed into dazzling and powerful human beings, and then we experience those times that try our souls, as Thomas Paine used to say. And then, we have times that you count down the whole year for, to be in a certain environment where time stands still. Where you are free to be yourself, to share, to challenge yourself and your beliefs about stuttering. That time came and passed, and it never gets old. It is what I live for, and we strive to attend each year in the summer. I give you the National Stuttering Association 2009 Annual Conference.
This year has been one of the most demanding. We're living in unprecedented times right now. And when the NSA announced that we were going to be in Scottsdale, in July....the voices were raised: "Do you know how hot it's going to be?" was the most asked question. But if you really think about it, the site of the conference doesn't matter as much as the substance. Yes, it's nice to get on a sold-out plane and have so much space to move about the country (note the sarcasm, although I love Southwest), but I wouldn't care if the conference was held on a dude ranch in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I will follow the NSA anywhere.
I have had the honor of presenting my workshop for two straight conferences. There's no greater honor than standing up in front of your peers and helping them reach deep down in their souls and make them examine and then re-examine their feelings on stuttering. At this conference, we had 600 teammates in attendance, and about 160 of those were first-timers. A record number for the NSA, for sure. I never get tired of watching the metamorphisis of teens and adults who come in feeling so frightened, and by the end, they're laughing, dancing, and sharing.
This year's conference, by the nature of the fact that we held it at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, had a distinctly unique summer-camp feel to it. During the wee hours of the morning (and doesn't it feel good to be swimming at 1 am West Coast time), many of my teammates were just gathered by the pool, laughing, commenting about life, our goals, and our dreams. In some ways, we all live vicariously through each other. Our goals are each other's goals. We triumph together, we cry together.
All the conferences I've attended (and it's been four so far) have been unique in its own identity. But this one has a special place in my heart because I now know, that I am in love.....in love with the National Stuttering Association. This conference had moments you always remember: You remember what it feels like to connect so powerfully and talk about your stuttering with another teammate. You remember that you wake up, and no matter how angry or frustrated you get, you know that there's a place where we are all accepted and welcome.
Was it hot in Scottsdale? Of course it was. (Then again, coming from someone who wore a Yankees jacket out there, it may not have been at all). But it's safe to say that while Arizona brought the heat, we also brought hotter heat: More chapters are getting started, more teammates want to present seminars.....I'm crying as I write this because it is special. I love my teammates and would give anything if they needed it.
To my NSA teammates, I love you forever. To those future teammates who want to join us, please check out http://www.westutter.org. It may be the best decision you ever made. There are 160 teammates who will very happily give you references.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.