EDUCATION

Column: I went from not wanting to speak, to wanting to be heard

Jack Clements speaking on camera in a studio. Photo by Clay Blanchard.
Jack Clements speaking on camera in a studio. Photo by Clay Blanchard.

Jack Clements
Oxford Stories
djcleme1@go.olemiss.edu

Nothing is impossible.

People who know me now and know how much I love a microphone and broadcasting may find this hard to believe, but I used to struggle with speech. 

From the time I could talk, all the way through about the third grade, I struggled with a speech impediment. I was unable to pronounce the “r” sound at all. Imagine Elmer Fudd. I was hunting wabbits, not rabbits. 

I went to speech therapy three times a week, for years. That was hard, and I often thought it was hopeless. It was embarrassing, especially when my brother who is three years younger would laugh when I couldn’t pronounce words correctly and proceed to speak with perfect, mocking pronunciation. 

As a result of the embarrassment, I began to hate talking to people, and this grew into another source of struggle. It eventually got to the point that I was pretty much scared to talk to people and developed an inability to look people in the eye when speaking. On top of that, I also stuttered, which was likely caused by the anxiety brought on by my flawed speech. 

I was losing hope, but thankfully my parents were not. They kept sending me to speech therapy, largely against my will, but it started to work, albeit very slowly. However, the therapy only addressed the “r” sound, not the stutter or the anxiety I had about speaking to people. 

There is only so much elementary speech therapy a person can endure, before one of two things happen. They either lose their minds, or it takes hold. I did not lose my mind, although it was looking like a possibility for a while. 

Finally, after years of struggle and being made fun of, I was able to pronounce words such as rabbit, red, rover, and roll correctly, at least most of the time. That was a great triumph, but it was largely covered up by the fact that I was still not conversational. 

Clements is pictured as one of the students anchoring the Bruin News Now. Photo from Bruin News Now.
Clements is pictured as one of the students anchoring the Bruin News Now. Photo from Bruin News Now.

I could pronounce all my words correctly, but I still stuttered and was extremely nervous talking to most people. If you were not immediate family, I had something like a 10-word limit, and was not going to look at you. My mother came up with a solution, and at the time, it felt like torture. 

Every single day, I had to make a phone call, and there was a timer. I had to call a family member or close family friend from one of my parents’ phones and have a conversation with them for five minutes. This was hell, and the first several times went poorly. If someone witnessed these calls, they would have thought I was in physical agony. 

I was so uncomfortable, because, ultimately, I was embarrassed, and that made the stuttering and nerves worse at first. Eventually, however, things improved. Slowly and gradually, there was a shift from awkward conversations that I imagine felt like pulling teeth for the victim on the other end of the line, to comfortable casual conversations, mostly with my grandmother and aunt. 

My mother figured that practice would eventually make perfect, and to my initial surprise, she was correct. After years of struggling, hard work, and giving up a few times here and there, I was able to proficiently perform the basic human function of speech. 

As silly as it sounds, I still count this as one of my greatest accomplishments. Not because, I have not accomplished much since, but because without this, many of my other accomplishments would not have been possible. 

After I gained my confidence back and was comfortable speaking to people, I decided I should speak to more and more people, maybe even crowds. I was in the third grade the first time I read at Sunday Mass in front of the entire congregation. In high school, I was the one who introduced the homecoming court every year. Oh, how things change. 

Clements interviews U.S. Congressman Michael Guest. Photo by Terry Cassrieno.
Clements interviews U.S. Congressman Michael Guest. Photo by Terry Cassrieno.

My mom still gets a kick out of the fact that the kid who was scared to speak to one other person in private as a child, decided to pursue broadcast journalism in high school. I started with my high school’s radio team, taking stats at the varsity football games. Soon after that, in my freshman year, I began hosting the halftime show, live, on the radio. 

That was just the beginning. I became heavily involved in the journalism program. I  was on the newscast, eventually becoming the head of Bruin News Now. I was on the radio, and by my senior year, the boy who couldn’t speak properly was The Voice of The Bruins and gave the play-by-play for Bruin Sports Radio. 

The kid who could not have a five-minute phone call started a podcast where I interviewed people on a range of topics for 30 minutes. I am now a radio DJ and reporter. I have interviewed the governor, state senators, and U.S. congressmen, among countless others. 

I am a testament to the fact that anything is possible. My podcasts, newscasts, and game broadcasts are all award-winning. I went from not wanting to speak, to wanting to be heard, and from not using my voice, to using it for good, and to make a difference. Most people will never know that.

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