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"Something I have to Say," by Abbeygale Anderson

When I was 7 years old I moved to Brooklyn, New York, from Jamaica. One night when I was walking back to my broken-down apartment building my mother alerted me that there was a fire so I needed to come home. I walked the same trail I did every night with my babysitter.

Outside of the elevator, Andrew, my 14-year-old family friend who lived in the same building, was filled with rage, standing beside another teenage boy.

I backed away gradually. To myself I thought, “What is this boy, this friend whom I have fawned over, followed, and admired, about to do?”

There was a bulge in his pocket, and because I knew him well I was aware that he carried a knife with him. He used his thumb to slide the knife open, and with no hesitation jabbed it into the stranger’s breast.

He glared at me and ran away, leaving the stranger to die in the center of the hardwood floor in the hallway in front of me.

That night, the police found me in the corner of my pink floral bathroom to question me. Curled up in the fetal position, I stuck myself between the off-white tub and the toilet. I don’t remember hearing a knock on the door, but when I looked up I saw two male police officers. 

They asked me “Can we ask you a few questions about what you saw, honey?” Remember, I was 7 years old at the time so they treated me with delicacy. When I opened my mouth to speak nothing came out.


They asked another question. I tried to speak and nothing came out. A third question, and this time I spoke with a stammer they could not understand. I stuttered so badly they soon gave up and left me to fall asleep that night in the bathroom.

Ever since that night I have stuttered. My mom has never been able to afford a speech therapist, but we started to tackle my speech impediment in different ways. I spoke slowly. I sang when I just couldn’t get out the words.  I paused, took a breath, and started over. As I’m sure you’ve heard, it is still something I struggle with.

The first time I really had to confront my stuttering at Nobles was during our U.S history debate. Each person in the sophomore class was given a topic and a stance to argue regardless if we agreed or not. My topic was SUPER PACS; a federal court case that debated whether or not it was right for SUPER PACS to raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations. I argued that SUPER PACS were unconstitutional, and they lead to the domination over many by a few.

Interestingly, Mo Afhdal was my opponent.

We each had to start with an opening statement consisting of about 150 words. I completely butchered it. I’m sure no one could understand a majority of what I had to say, but I kept going.

This time, I couldn’t speak slowly, I couldn’t sing the words, I couldn’t pause, I knew I just had to keep going.  I refused to let Ms. Maldonado down; even more, I refused to let myself down.  It was time to speak.

Eventually, I got much more comfortable. My stutter became minimal.
I don’t remember any of Mo’s counter argument except for one line he kept repeating with his hands flaring up in the air and spit bursting out with every syllable.

“ARE YOU COMMUNIST?”

No Mo, I’m not communist but I am competitive, so if I had to justify something, then that’s what had to happen.

As for the results of the debate? I kicked your butt Mo.

When I was a junior and realized I had Mr. Henderson for AP European History, I made it a point to go into his office to warn him that I have a speech impediment, and that it will probably come out in class at some point. When I told him this, Henderson looked and me and said, “And, so what?…”

Thank you for that response; it made me realize that I do not need to apologize for something that is a part of me.

Being here at Nobles I have been given the opportunity to be who I am without any apologies. Nobles has become a place where I can take risks. It is a place where I am no longer afraid to put myself in front of a crowd and speak to you with all my imperfections. My stutter will remain with me, and that’s okay.

To my teachers. I have never felt more supported and loved in any environment. I’ve been at Nobles for more time that I have been anywhere else. You all have been my rock. When I first came to Nobles, I was angry. Angry that I knew no one. Angry that I always felt a little behind my peers, but you allowed me to realize that this anger was fear.

Fear of not fitting in; fear of not fulfilling expectations.  You helped me confront my fear and you helped me turn it into fuel. BUT I’m not angry, I’m motivated, I’m inspired, I’m grateful.

To my mom. I would not be up here if it weren’t for you. My mother came here, from Jamaica, with 75 cents in her pocket. She used this money to call me, whom she had no choice but to leave behind. I appreciate the risk and struggle you’ve been through to give me such phenomenal opportunities past and present. Thanks, mom.

My little brother Jordan, I love you. You push me to be a better role model everyday. I hope you’re proud of your big sister.

To the class of 2014:
Our class will always be bound by the legacy we have shaped this year. I will cherish the laughter, and the memories we have created. I know that this will probably be the last time that we are all together. Thank you for giving me the courage I needed to speak without hesitation.

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"Something I have to Say," by Abbeygale Anderson
Abbeygale Anderson