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Joe Biden Opens Up About Childhood Stuttering Problem

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Ben Baker/Redux

As King George VI in The King’s Speech, Colin Firth touched millions with his Oscar-winning turn as the painfully shy leader who triumphed over his debilitating stuttering to give a crucial war-time speech.

For Vice President Joe Biden, who knows a thing or two about public speaking, the film felt very personal.

In the wake of the movie’s success, Biden has opened up about his childhood struggle with his own speech disorder in an essay he wrote for PEOPLE. In it, he discusses childhood taunting and reveals the tireless support of his mother, who refused to let stuttering define her son.

I was in 7th grade at St. Helena’s and I still remember the reading: “Sir Walter Raleigh was a gentleman…” I remember reciting, “Sir Walter Raleigh was a gentle man.” The nun said, “Master B-B-B-Biden! What’s that word?” She wanted me to say gentleman. But by then, I had learned to put my sentences into bite-size pieces and I was reading it: “gentle” | breath | “man”.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, the nuns were great. I never had professional therapy, but a couple of nuns taught me to put a cadence to my speaking, and that’s why I spent so much time reading poetry – Emerson and Yeats. But even in my small, boys’ prep school, I got nailed in Latin class with the nickname Joe Impedimenta. You get so desperate, you’re so embarrassed.

To read the full essay by Vice President Joe Biden, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

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