Good evening everyone,
Last night marked different things for many people. It may have been the biggest party night of the year where you dress to the nines and celebrate, a time to look forward to the promises of a forthcoming year, or a time to reflect on the challenges and think about what we can do to make ourselves a stronger person. For me, it was definitely the last one-even though I'll be 32 this year and I love a good time as much as anyone, there can be no denying that 2009 was a year of emotions. The world met a woman named Stefani Joanne Angelia Germanotta who we went "Gaga" over. We stood by and watched corporate greed almost bring this country to its knees, one man play Wall Street, yet we also saw a barrier come down loud and clear when this country voted a senator from Illinois president, and sent the message that skin color does not matter and anything is possible if the determination is there.
Despite it being a raw and rainy evening, I drove down to Jones Beach, which is a favorite spot of mine to go biking. It also serves as a special comfort to me, a place where I can go when I feel I need to contemplate situations in my life. It felt like a ghost town driving down the Wantagh Parkway, as the rain pelted my windshield like a gentle knock on my door. And as I saw the tower in the distance, I pulled into the parking lot and just reflected. It was a year that was passing, yes, but also a decade. And what ultimately did that mean?
Throughout our history, each decade has been marked by iconic memories forever frozen in time. We had the "Roaring Twenties," the 1970s were the "Disco Era" and it belonged to a little-known actor named John Travolta and a band consisting of the Brothers Gibb, the eighties were about a girl from Michigan who asked her father not to preach and a member of the Jackson Five who made wearing a single white glove very popular. And there's the "00s," if you want to call it that, which will be marked by....what, exactly?
I don't know what others will think about this decade, but I can say unequivocally that for me, it will be marked by five days that forever changed the way I look at my life. This decade is marked by faith, hope, and promise. However, if I had to choose one word to symbolize what this decade means to me, it's a very simple word, but one that has so much power: "Choice."
You see, I say that because I made a CHOICE to fly out to Long Beach, despite my parents trying to talk me out of it. I CHOSE to accept and confront my stuttering, and examine why I lived my life as stuttering thought I should live it, not how I wanted to. I CHOSE to make my stuttering my greatest strength and influence of power.
When I was very young, I thought how cool it would be to grow into an adult, and be able to make my own decisions. In the eyes of the law, you are considered a minor until eighteen. Yet it is always frightening to make our own decisions, because the ultimate responsibility lies with us. But it was this decade that I like to think I became a man, who finally understood that stuttering never had to prevent me from living my life the way I had hoped. Yes, I know I will have many more bad speech days. And maybe others who do not understand stuttering will try to finish my sentences for me. But I am not going to let them do that. I CHOSE to take a chance in my life and join the National Stuttering Association. It's the greatest love of my life, and she contines to show me that life is ready to be lived.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.