Rollins College Valedictorian with autism delivers inspiring ‘silent’ commencement speech

WINTER PARK, Fla. — The Valedictorian of the Rollins College graduating class of 2022 has a non-speaking form of autism, but that didn’t stop her from delivering an inspiring message to her fellow graduates.

Elizabeth Bonker lost the ability to speak verbally before she was even two years old.

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After her family spent years searching for answers, Bonker eventually learned to communicate using a letterboard, and later by typing.

On Sunday, Bonker received a degree in Social Innovation from the Rollins College of Liberal Arts.

Be the Light: Elizabeth Bonker’s 2022 Commencement Address

Rollins College valedictorian Elizabeth Bonker ’22, who is affected by non-speaking autism and communicates solely by typing, urges her fellow graduates to use their voices, serve others, and see the value in everyone they meet. A transcript of Elizabeth's speech is available here: https://bit.ly/3yzL4QW

Posted by Rollins College on Tuesday, May 10, 2022

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The other four valedictorians who graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average unanimously chose Bonker to give the speech to the 2022 graduating class of more than 500 students.

She delivered her address Sunday using a text-to-speech computer program.

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“God gave you a voice. Use it,” Bonker said in her speech. “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.”

During her time at Rollins, Bonker pursued interests in public policy and advocacy, and recently formed a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting GED programs and communication access for non-speaking people with autism around the world.

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