Parker Mantell urged his peers to rethink disabilities

By Michele Corriston
Updated May 22, 2014 08:30 AM

This year’s Indiana University commencement speaker has a stutter – but that didn’t stop him from delivering a moving speech that has gone viral.

Parker Mantell, 21, addressed the school’s graduates May 10, acknowledging his speech impediment and encouraging his peers to dream big.

“As the student commencement speaker, perhaps my admission that I am far from the best orator comes to you as a surprise,” he began. “Far too often, society has instilled and reinforced the idea that those of us with disabilities are to remain disabled and perhaps even incapable.”

But, he added, “Doubt, as has been observed, kills more dreams than failure ever will,” he said. “Yet if doubt were to be a disease, its cure would be confidence.”

Despite his stutter, Mantell has interned for conservative political stars like Eric Cantor, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, answering phones and giving White House tours for some of the biggest names in government.

“I mention those experiences not out of individual pride or vanity, but rather out of desire to share Indiana University’s role in instilling the idea that someone who is barely able to talk for himself can dream big enough to talk for public servants who represent local, state-wide and national constituencies,” he explained. “While any other university may have told me to manage those expectations, IU taught me to grow them.”

He also listed great thinkers with disabilities who have changed history, challenging the graduates to overcome whatever barriers they may face.

“Beethoven was deaf. Imagine if he never dared to listen to his calling to compose music. Ray Charles was blind. Imagine if had never dared to envision that he could touch the keys of the piano. Albert Einstein was dyslexic. Imagine if he had never dared to embrace seeing things differently by formulating equations. FDR couldn’t walk. Imagine if he had never dared to run,” Mantell said. “Imagine what you are depriving our world of if you never dare to achieve your purpose.”

Watch his full speech below.