Elizabeth Bonker is profoundly affected by autism and cannot speak. On Sunday, May 8, she will give the valedictorian speech at Rollins College via a text-to-speech program. Receiving her degree in Social Innovation, Elizabeth recently formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Communication 4 ALL, which is dedicated to promoting communication access for non-speaking individuals with autism.
Rollins’ College of Liberal Arts other four valedictorians who all achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA – Emily Curran, Sofia Frasz, Jessika Linnemeyer and Charles Mellin – unanimously elected Elizabeth to give the speech to the graduating class of 529 students. The commencement ceremony is being livestreamed at Rollins.edu/Commencement.
During her time at Rollins, Elizabeth pursued an interest in public policy and advocacy. Through connections with professors at Rollins, she was able to connect with Representative Stephanie Murphy, as well as several other lawmakers on Capitol Hill, to advocate for GED access for non-speakers.
At the age of 15 months, Elizabeth lost her ability to verbally speak. Her family traveled across the country, searching for answers from various medical professionals. When Elizabeth eventually learned to communicate, first by using a letterboard and later by typing, she felt as though she was “freed from a silent cage.” The poetry she wrote became proof of a glorious, life-affirming victory for the young girl and her family. Her book, “I Am in Here – the Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds her Voice,” is widely acclaimed.