Autistic student who graduated at the top of his class shares his valedictory speech


At 3 years old, Montel Medley had difficulty making eye contact and communicating with his mother, and he was diagnoed with autism. At 17, and with a 4.0 GPA, he was giving the valedictory speec at Surrattsville High School. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post )

Unable to communicate at the age of 3, Montel Medley was diagnosed with autism.

With support from his mother, Roberta, and his teachers in Prince George’s County, Montel went on to earn a 4.0 grade point average at Surrattsville High School, graduated at the top of his class and gained acceptance to Towson University.

“Having a disability doesn’t mean you have a disadvantage,” Montel said during his valedictory speech. “Sometimes it can be an advantage.”

Here is the full speech Montel gave as valedictorian of Surrattsville High:

Good Morning distinguished guests, faculty, staff, family, friends and most importantly, CLASS OF 2014!! I am Montel Medley and I am proud to be your valedictorian. My fellow classmates, we finally made it, so give yourself a round of applause.

We had a lot of distractions, but we managed to deal with them. As we graduate from high school, we know it is a new chapter because we get to step into the world, no more living inside a vacuum with our parents. We must leave our comfort zone and step into the light!

Going to high school was a serious transition for me. But each year, I became more mature and disciplined. In my freshman year, I was a bit nervous. You see, in middle school, I didn’t make a lot of friends because I had autism. Autism made it hard for me to interact with others, so I isolated myself.

However, when I entered Surrattsville’s Autism Program, I met students just like me and I started making friends both in and outside the program who had the same interests. Tenth grade brought about self-control by not being playful like my classmates since I liked to joke around. I enrolled in Geometry and French 1, even though my mom wanted me to take Spanish. Going to the advisory sessions that emphasized leadership and individuality was an advantage.

After sitting through a few honor roll assemblies, you notice other students who had GPAs of 4.125 or higher and suddenly you want to be like those students. Learning about AP courses, knowing that you could gain college credit for them was good news, but I wondered if the courses were too much for me? The pace was quicker and the workload was heavy. However, AP Biology was fun and very interesting. And AP English with Mr. Shannon, you all remember Mr. Shannon? Working on his essays and praying to at least get a passing C or better. Wow. My friends would say things like, “AP classes are too hard” and “that’s why I’m not taking them.” AP courses can be intimidating but everyone just needs to know that they just require you to change your work and study habits. So, thanks Mr. Shannon for trying to push us to the next level.

So, in my junior year, I made a lot of friends and improved on my academic skills. Classmates started looking up to me and I felt great. Senior year was my busiest year with AP Psychology and AP Statistics. Some of the exciting events were the softball games and this year’s homecoming. Walking the parade route, going to the dance and turning it up.

Then applying to colleges and universities, I remember waiting for acceptance letters … and recently was the task of applying for scholarships. I am sure we all weren’t happy with all the essay writing but we did it anyway. I remember running to Ms. Pegues’ office asking for transcript after transcript. I think I’m good now and I’m sure she’s happy.

All that led us to today, graduation. Class of 2014, I am glad that I was a part of those exciting years. Having a disability doesn’t mean that you have a disadvantage. Sometimes, it can be an advantage. I met fellow peers that had good memories, and some excelled in challenging subjects. Math was an area where my skills were an advantage. Everyone has a special talent. Today, I am proud to have broken out of the mold and to have disproved some stereotypes about autism, because each year we all can learn something about life and that knowledge can stick with us for a lifetime.

We must inspire and motivate students, especially those with a disability, to work hard to one day be that one in a million.

I would like to thank my mom, who pushed me towards excellence. I want to thank the rest of my family and friends, the administrators and all the wonderful Surrattsville teachers and support staff. Class of 2014, I want to wish everyone good luck on your future goals. Because remember, we started from the bottom and now we are here!

Thank You!

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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