Rollins College Valedictorian With Nonverbal Autism Delivers Inspiring Commencement Speech

"God gave you a voice. Use it."

Elizabeth Bonker hasn't said a word since she was diagnosed with nonverbal autism at 15 months old, but that didn't stop her from giving the valedictorian speech at Rollins College on Sunday.

Bonker, 24, delivered the moving address via a text-to-speech computer program.

Elizabeth Bonker at Podium Rollins College
Rollins College

"God gave you a voice. Use it," she told the graduating class of 529 students. "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."

The private Florida college's four other valedictorians—Emily Curran, Sofia Frasz, Jessika Linnemeyer, and Charles Mellin—unanimously elected Bonker to give the speech.

Bonker, who received a degree in Social Innovation, recently formed a nonprofit called Communication 4 ALL. The organization is dedicated to promoting communication access for the millions of non-speaking individuals with autism worldwide.

"I am one of the lucky few non-speaking autistics who have been taught to type," Bonker said during the address. "That one critical intervention unlocked my mind from its silent cage enabling to communicate and to be educated."

Bonker's professor and mentor, Dr. Rachel Newcomb, described her as a "brilliant" and wonderful student.

"She's teaching us all a new way to communicate and that we're going to be more open to seeing it and helping people to use it in the future," she told Click Orlando. "I think that her future is limitless so I'm really excited to see where she goes."

Congratulations, Elizabeth! We can't wait to see what you accomplish next.

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