Being a first-year student at Trinity University, I was terrified during my first few weeks. You see, I was born with a speech impediment. Ideas flourish in my mind, but they just don’t transfer smoothly through my vocal cords like for other people.  Having this stuttering disability subjected me to a cloud of hopelessness for a large portion of my life. I thought my dreams would never come to fruition, that I could never feel normal or accepted. Sure, public speaking is a common fear, but I could not even speak privately; in fact,  for the longest time, I did not believe I had a voice.

As far back as I can remember,  I have stuttered, and expressing myself has never come as easily as it does for most people. Stuttering is developed in the voice box with something like a clasp cutting off air through the valves. I never know when a block might occur, which feels like a broken, teetering building about to collapse in my throat. When it comes crashing down, my body is programmed to react rashly – from shutting my eyes, flailing my arms and shaking my head, or making foreign sounds and other jerky bodily movements. It feels like drowning in a lake. You do crazy things to try and save yourself, but I need to do crazy things simply to keep the meaning of one sentence audible. If I am unsuccessful in breaking through, I drown; I lose the essence of my sentence. When this happens I am forced to go through the whole fiasco again-while managing the side glares and stares – the unwanted attention that stuttering grants. I have always felt trapped because something so damn basic for most people is always an uphill battle for me.

Making the transition to Trinity was no different. I was terrified that my life would be a failure. Throughout my first weeks, the pressure weighed on me. My stutter and my fear of public speaking was still ruling my life.  Even though this burden tried to keep its hold on me, I began to desperately search for ways to break free. I started befriending the people I met and pushed myself to be a part of the many student organizations that Trinity has to offer. Using my heightened sense of observation, I began studying the people I met there and the world around me. What I saw was that, from the kid who grew up in poverty, to the kid in the suburbs, to the special olympics athlete winning a gold medal, to the star basketball player, and even to the people at Trinity, every person has a battle, a lifelong struggle. Understanding these problems revealed to me the fact that what defines us as people are not our struggles, but our ability to overcome them.

Through this understanding, my stutter – which was once a source of anguish and imprisonment – transformed into the very fuel needed to jumpstart my stagnant life. I am more motivated than ever to show that my stutter does not control me; that I am great. And that, most importantly, I can do great things for other people. When I look at people now, I see not what their outside presents, but what they might be fighting on the inside. Whether it is as obvious as a mental illness or as hidden as an abusive father, it is the personal plight of individuals which I try to discover and alleviate. Most people, like me, submit to their struggle and allow it to direct them but this only leads to more torment and despair. The way out is a fight, a fight which can only be won by focusing on bringing good and joy into a world clouded with misery.

I understand that it is not easy to deviate from your own routines, your norms, your history, just as it was hard for me to break out of mine. Stuttering has taught me compassion, understanding and resilience. My voice is real, and my voice is strong. From emotional imprisonment to newfound empowerment, I’ve discovered my passion, and I owe it to my very own agent of change:  my stutter.

Brandon White is a first year majoring in computer science.