From Stuttering to Governing- President Biden’s Road to Overcoming a Speech Impediment

From Stuttering to Governing- President Biden’s Road to Overcoming a Speech Impediment

Clare Acuti, Staff Writer

On Wednesday, January 20th the 2021 Presidential Inauguration took place on the balcony of the recently violated Capitol building. I for one felt hopeful and invigorated after hearing President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inaugural address where he talked about coming together as Americans in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and persevering like Americans always do. I think that it is critical for Americans to be educated on how our President has dealt with his own personal struggles in order to become the leader that we know today. 

In my time watching the news and President Biden’s many speeches, it has been difficult for me to notice a serious speech impediment or stutter. When I was first told by one of my peers that Biden had dealt with a speech impediment since he was in elementary school, I was shocked. But the more I thought about it, I was proud. Proud of my President and proud of the fact that I wasn’t able to detect something that many people might consider to be a visible sign of weakness. It is evident that people in Biden’s life identified his trait as a weakness, just like some Americans do today. For example, his elementary school teacher referred to him as, “Mr. Buh-Buh-Buh-Buh-Biden” in front of his entire class. I don’t know about you, but being called on by a teacher can sometimes be embarrassing, so I can’t even begin to fathom having my biggest insecurity showcased by the adult I’m supposed to respect and trust. Biden’s mother went to his teacher and expressed how appalled she was by her actions. Mrs. Biden even threatened to knock the sister’s (President Biden went to a Catholic school with nuns as teachers) bonnet off if she were to humiliate her son again. I think that the demand for respect and ability to stand up for the people you care about were qualities that Joe Biden saw growing up. It is clear that he has used that in his path to success. His mother’s display of courage and affection must have been fuel for him to keep fighting and working towards fixing his speech impediment.

Biden also expressed in interviews that he never got help from speech therapists or professionals, instead he was encouraged by his family and especially his mother to keep working at it. She would remind him of all of his amazing characteristics and accomplishments, helping him to remember who he was and what he was capable of. For example, it was recalled by his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, that he would frequently stand in front of the mirror as a young boy, reciting poetry and correcting the mistakes he made in his speech. He would recite poems by WB Yeats and Ralph Waldo Emerson with a flashlight up to face so that his face would be distorted by the light. With a distorted face Biden thought that he would learn to deal with even more embarrassment. It is interesting to learn that Yeats and Emerson are some of Biden’s favorite poets today. Biden has repeatedly included the quote, “All has changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty has been born” in many of his speeches. It is evident that he remembers these formative words that he burned into his brain while trying to shut out the bullies that he encountered on a daily basis. 

It is exciting to learn that President Joseph Biden became President of his high school class, despite the bullying he suffered at the hands of the kids who elected him. As a figure in the public eye, Biden has tried to bring awareness to the bullying of people with speech impediments. He once said, “Stuttering, when you think about, is the only handicap that people still laugh about, that they still humiliate people about. If I said to you when I was a kid that I had a cleft palate or a withered arm, no one would smile.” This is a great point, because the awareness brought to disabilities and deformities in the past few years have been tremendous and it has made a difference. Biden hopes that the same kind of change will be made in the world when it comes to stuttering.

President Biden has said that he still deals with some stutters that come to him from time to time. In times of stress or exhaustion, they can come out more frequently. What this information has helped me understand is the fact that politicians are humans. They have dealt with their fair share of struggles, and hopefully they will use those struggles to grow into a passionate and caring leader. After a speech, one of the people at a Q and A expressed their challenges with a stutter. President Biden ended up giving the student a private number so they could discuss and share their experiences. This gives me faith in the person we have elected into office and I think that it is crucial to know someone’s story before assuming the worst. To some people in America he might be “Sleepy Joe”, but what they might not understand is that dealing with a speech impediment could mean changing your wording to get around a word that you are having trouble saying (during a sentence or speech). This is prominent in high stress situations, which Biden deals with in the eye of the public very often. 

What I hope you learn from this article, if anything, is that everyone has a story. Politicians, teachers, your parents, and you. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves before making cruel judgements about people. This can make us more considerate, aware, and kind. This has given me a new level of respect for President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and I hope it has given the same to you.  


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