This post was first published June 19, 2015.
I recently attended the graduation ceremony for our dyslexic students, and it was especially moving. The students seemed even more excited than usual to be moving on to their new schools. Maybe it was the gorgeous weather or the fact that there were a record number of graduates.
I think, however, that it was due to our inspiring commencement speaker, Mr. Britton Burdette. Mr. Burdette is not only an alumnus but also a successful businessperson and an articulate advocate for dyslexic children. He spoke to our children with the conviction that comes from personal experience. Britton told our children that they would face obstacles along the way, and that their paths would be difficult. Dyslexics, he said, would always need to work harder than everyone else to accomplish their goals. They would need to maintain a strong work ethic in order to be successful.
The good news, he said, was that dyslexics possess unique talents that take them far in life. They have creativity, imagination, problem solving skills, and an ability to think outside the box. These gifts enable dyslexics to go beyond the ordinary and become visionary leaders who push the envelope and devise creative solutions to whatever obstacles come their way. Sally Shaywitz of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity says it well: “Dyslexia is surrounded by these strengths of higher cognitive and linguistic functioning, reason, conceptual abilities and problem solving.” She goes on to say that: “ . . . what has become obvious . . . is not only that dyslexics can be, and often are, brilliant, but that many develop far superior abilities in some areas than their so-called ‘normal’ counterparts.”
You don’t have to look far to discover dyslexics who have offered unique solutions to the world’s problems. This number includes such successful professionals as investor Charles Schwab, Paul Orfalea, creator of Kinko’s, John Chambers of Cisco Systems, Apple founder, Steve Jobs and author John Irving. Chris Warren, in a 2008 article, discusses a 2007 study by Julie Logan, professor of entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School in London. She reported that more than a third of the American entrepreneurs she surveyed said that they were dyslexic. Logan found that “dyslexics, because they face difficulty navigating their way through school, often develop the kind of skills they’ll eventually need to launch and grow their own businesses . . . the dyslexic who has had to overcome problems to survive at school has much experience in this area.”
Britton Burdette came to our school in first grade as a non-reader. His family and teachers celebrated when, at the beginning of his second year, he was able to read a complete sentence. A complete sentence . . . something that his former peers were able to do easily in kindergarten. But what a cause for celebration! Britton was reading. This wonderful young man went on to be very successful in undergraduate, and graduate, school. He is now an accomplished businessman who continues to find unique and creative solutions in his work.
Britton concluded his talk by telling our students that, when faced with the opportunity to hire for open positions within his company, he always chooses the dyslexic. He said that he spoke of his dyslexia in every college essay and job interview. Celebrate dyslexia . . . it truly is a gift.