Shannon O'Hara

I peer out of a shiny glass window, looking at a bushy tail flicking along the bird feeders. The beady eyed creature was exploring the wide expanse for its next meal. “Look mommy, It’s a sqwal,” I looked up to see my mother puzzled and her face in confusion. She follows my gaze to the creature that I am so fixated on. She smiles and asks me if I was looking at the squirrel. I nodded happily and she laughed. I didn't understand why she was laughing. She probably just thought the squirrel was a funny little creature.

I was eight years old and looking through that same window pane once again. Another squirrel was scurrying outside along the trees and I turned to my older sister. “Look Hannah, the sqwal is in the twee,” I looked up to see the same expression that was engraved in my mind. A look of pure confusion. I didn’t know my words were “weird,” or that there was something “strange,” about them; however, puzzled faces followed me constantly.

The faces even followed me into school. A spew of words dribbled out of my mouth and my teacher just looked at me. Their face was hard in concentration until they deciphered my string of words. After a million puzzled faces in school, I was directed to a “special” class during a portion of my english class. I would speak and sound out syllables for hours upon hours. “Ah, eh, ee,oh, oo. Ah, eh, ee, oh, oo. Ah, eh, ee, oh, oo,” I repeated over and over like a broken record.  

It wasn't easy talking to other kids once I realized that I had a problem.  I lost all my confidence when I discovered that I had an issue, so I avoided conversations at all costs. To me, at the age of eight, my speech impediment was a complete embarrassment.

Despite what I had believed, my impediment was vital in pushing me forward. I had been encouraged to compete in public speaking competitions at the age of five years old to combat my shyness, long before my speech impediment was declared an issue. I never won a single competition when I had my impediment. At that time, standing at a podium was a torture tactic that my parents wanted to force on me. I would walk up and stumble over my words with strings of “umms,” and long awkward pauses. It felt like the whole world was watching me speak.

In 2015, I graduated from my special class for my impediment. That same year, I walked up to a looming podium and clearly said  “Good afternoon, my name is Shannon O’Hara. I am thirteen years old and an eight year member of the Houston Cardinals 4-H Club,” I felt proud of my improvements. Little did I know, I would also make it to the state competition and place first. After nine total years of battling my speech impediment, I had a way to see my progress. Today, I am involved in the performing arts, choir, an advanced women’s choir, and have continued competing in my public speaking competitions. I never want to stop talking to people like I did during my impediment. I want to learn, grow, and share my experience to those who think they can’t overcome a situation. I want to share my growth and continue to improve through a college major of communications. If a shy five year old with a speech impediment can find the courage to talk in front of a crowd of people, any person can accomplish anything.

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