March 15, 2012
A supportive network of faculty, students, and staff have enabled Julie Kendall to excel at The College of Wooster.
WOOSTER, Ohio — No one ever had to tell Julie Kendall to “keep quiet” when she was growing up. As a moderate-to-severe stutterer, she was all too willing to remain silent.
“I rarely spoke when I was young,” said Kendall, a junior sociology major at The College of Wooster and a resident of the Cleveland suburb of Westlake. “I’m sure people just thought I was quiet, but really I was embarrassed about my speech disorder.”
Occasionally, the kids in elementary school would tease her, and the pressure grew with age as she became increasingly aware of the difficulty she had with oral communication. Every once in a while, the anxiety would build up to a point where she would “shut down” and refrain from conversation, but for the most part she remained strong and plugged along so that she could blend in with her classmates, while trying her best to remain social and active.
By the time Kendall got to high school, she stepped up her extracurriculars, playing saxophone in the school band and competing with the varsity swim team. She also wrote for the school newspaper, which helped to reveal a previously hidden talent. “I knew I could express myself as a writer,” she said. “It was easier than trying to do it orally, so I focused on that as a way to communicate more effectively.” As it turned out, she was quite gifted in this area.
Although Kendall excelled academically, particularly when it came to composing essays, she continued to shy away from oral presentations. “I had trouble not only managing my speech, but also dealing with my anxiety,” she said. “There was a long period of time when I felt just awful about myself.” Then she made connections with a speech therapist who “really knew the best ways to help me out of a difficult spot.” She guided Kendall through the emotional and social issues, as well as the physical aspects of stuttering. “She pushed me through a lot of things, showed me how to get over the barriers of stuttering that I thought existed but really had constructed against myself,” said Kendall. “She also helped me to realize that if I wanted to have a future, I had to overcome my fear of speaking and interacting with others.”
After graduating summa cum laude from Westlake, Kendall chose to further her education at Wooster because “it seemed like a place that would be accepting of a lot of different types of people.” She added that she got “good vibes,” not just from the faculty and administrators, but also from the students. “They were happy, and they seemed to want to make everyone else’s experience positive, regardless of their background or situation,” she said.
Kendall’s assessment of Wooster’s welcoming nature and accepting atmosphere turned out to be right on target. “I came here knowing that I couldn’t hide anymore (or) make my speech disorder an excuse to fail,” she said. “I needed to be as normal as I could be, and everyone here has been very supportive. I still get nervous speaking in front of a group, but the professors have been very encouraging.”
Not only has Wooster provided a comfortable social setting, but it has also offered a fertile learning environment. Currently, Kendall carries a 3.94 grade point average, and although she is uncertain of her future plans, a career in writing, possibly as a journalist, is certainly on the radar. She’s also thinking about becoming an author.
Whatever she decides to do, Kendall acknowledges that Wooster has helped her to strengthen her resolve. “I’ve learned how important it is to have confidence in your abilities and to know that how you speak isn’t the only thing about who you are,” she said. “The more self-assured you are, the better the response from others will be.” She went on to say, “It’s still tough at times, but because I’ve been able to surround myself with wonderfully supportive people at Wooster, my stutter doesn’t seem like such a huge handicap anymore.”
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