Good evening everyone,
We're about to come upon Memorial Day Weekend 2010. No matter what you think of this as, whether it's the official kick-off to summer, or another reason to introduce yourself to the sun's rays and the local beach near you, it's an undeniable feeling that yes, something special is in the air...and this feeling never gets old.
Last night, as I was watching the 10 O'Clock News on New York's FOX affiliate (WNYW/5), the first topic of discussion on the news was the fact that the brand new Meadowlands Stadium located in the suburban swamplands of New Jersey (more specifically, East Rutherford approximately seven miles west of New York City) was being christened by the local band that has established themselves as real pride for local residents everywhere, Bon Jovi. 90,000 fans came out for the celebration, and I couldn't help but listen intently to fans being interviewed. "I grew up with Bon Jovi to get me through law school, and now he's helping me close it," said one woman. Another man who brought his whole family said how his love of "Living On A Prayer" had been passed down to his sons and daughter.
As I was thinking about this, I couldn't help but focus my sights on another feeling that no matter how hard one can describe it, it's unforgettable. That, of course, is the National Stuttering Association's annual conference. In a little less than one month, myself and 700 people who stutter will meet for four days to share wisdom about stuttering...that goes without saying, but when you really get down to it, it's about life. It's about celebrating our great spirit and knowing we are capable of anything we want to do.
Like a rite of passage, the NSA conference has also become for me a tradition and something that demands required attendance. I don't take a lot of vacations, but for me, this trumps everything else. I don't attend family events because in my eyes, I will always be persona non gratis because of my speech-and the fact that my parents will continue to feel ashamed of it. When I see a family I know, we spend several minutes sharing our memories of previous conferences, and the triumphs and tragedies we all share.
Yet it's the little moments that carry the most impact. I can vividly recall people just standing up and saying "My name is ___________" and even if that's all they can, those four words carry such great weight because it is the start of the rest of their lives. We use the term "first-timers" to describe those who have just found out about the conference, and by the closing banquet, they know they are coming back for the next year. We'll all be together to stand with those who have been teased and alienated. And they'll start the transformation process into a special human being.
My countdown started as soon as I got off the plane from Arizona at MacArthur Airport. In a few weeks, I'll be boarding another one to Ohio. Maybe I'll see you there. Or better yet, at a future conference someday.
Number five (Long Beach, Calif., Atlanta, Parsippany, N.J., Scottsdale, Ariz., and now Cleveland) will be just as special for me. May it be for you too.
My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.