After Ben Gretchko’s parents found out their 2 hand a half year old, non-verbal son had autism, they never imagined that they would see him stand up in front of his high school to give an eloquent and sincere speech that would warm the hearts of more than 1.6 million people. Gretchko began his speech announcing, “My name is Ben Gretchko. I’m not the captain of the football team. I’m certainly not the valedictorian of our class. I am a student with learning disabilities. In fact, I am autistic.”
7 Action News reported that he audience was silenced by shock at this introduction. Lisa Gretchko, his mother, explained “You could hear people take a mini gasp. That’s what I think was the power of that particular speech. The delivery was good, and people just listened. [It was a] simple message, his truth.” Gretchko took this opportunity to express his gratitude to his classmates and his teachers. He cited that his classmates “helped [him to] feel accepted” and thanks to his teachers’ “dedication and hard work with me, [he] got into 4 universities.” In the audience, one of Gretchko’s teachers, Stacey Raznick was filled with pride. Raznick told 7 Action News, “Him going up at graduation and saying what he said, that’s why, that’s why I am a teacher. You can change someone’s life.”
It wasn’t only Gretchko’s teachers who were touched by this impressive accomplishment; his parents were astounded by their son’s abilities. His mother reflected on the moment saying, “When I saw Ben up there [speaking at graduation], I couldn’t cry. I was just sort of blown back in my chair with this poised person that I remember as a silent young boy standing up there and delivering such wise words.” his dad, Steve Gretchko, beamed with pride saying that “Afterwards in walking out and in the little reception they had afterwards, [his speech] is what people were talking about.”
“I thought it would be an inspiring speech. What is a surprise is the fact that I got [so many] views,” said Gretchko to 7 Action News, reflecting on how quickly his speech went viral. He will be staring a six-week transition program for college students with autism in Kalamazoo to prepare for his freshman year at Western Michigan University this fall.
And remember, in Gretchko’s words, “Your acts of kindness can and will make a huge difference in the lives of others – just as they made me the person I am today.”
Watch his wonderful speech!