What Speech Pathology Did for Me

Remarks On Receiving the Alumni of the Year Award

Communication Disorders & Sciences Department

California State University, Northridge

June 2010

Thank you all so much for this honor. It means more to me than just a professional award and I’d like your indulgence to explain why.

When I began my training here, in 1987, I was in a very difficult time. The previous year, unexpected health problems had forced me to give up both my attempts at a music career, and the office-work day-job that had been supporting that dream.

Everyone else in my family had a terminal degree from Harvard. I had been the hippie artist on a threadbare shoestring, the wandering-troubador black sheep, kept afloat emotionally by creative work that I suddenly couldn’t do any more. Now I was in my mid-30s, living on disability, teaching a few singing lessons, and questioning whether I had any right to a place in the universe.

My everyday communication skills were clumsy at best, and I had no clue about how to make life work out any better. But I had to find a new way to pay the rent. Vocational rehab services told me I should look for work as a phone operator or receptionist. I took the CBEST test just in case there was something I could teach in public school.

Then one day, browsing the “career guides” shelf of a bookstore, a book literally fell open to the page about speech pathology. I read the description and thought, maybe I could do that! Maybe the world had a place for me. I visited all the programs in the area, and CSUN was the best fit. Very few people get disabled, go through vocational rehab, and come out with a masters degree! But my counselor went out of her way to make it possible. Loans, odd jobs, and a thrift-store wardrobe patched together the rest.

In the course of studying speech pathology, of course I knew I’d like learning about the voice. What I didn’t know was how much the rest of the field would capture me; and how much I’d admire the smart, competent, hard-working, disciplined, service-oriented, and ethical people whose student and trainee I became.

I still remember Dr. Sinclair’s clever opening lecture in hearing science. I thrilled to Dr. Trost-Cardamone’s rigorous approach to anatomy, which most students hated. I understood Dr. Hannah’s abstractions about language development. And I was stunned at how quickly a simple prerequisite class in educational psychology changed me into a much better singing teacher.

Here at CSUN, semester by semester, the faculty and advanced students saw abilities in me that I honestly didn’t know I had. I stumbled and struggled through clinic rotations, but nevertheless was asked to be a graduate assistant. I felt humbled and overwhelmed in my internships, yet UCLA medical center offered me the chance to observe voice procedures. I cried a lot during my CFY, but still you invited me to be a lecturer in speech science (yes, anatomy!) I gradually started to believe that I was smart, and that I had a chance at satisfaction, a future beyond the shoestring.

All in all: I can honestly say that this profession changed my life. I’m more organized and disciplined in everyday tasks. I’m confident that I can communicate with a wide variety of people, of all ages, disabled and not. I found a career niche that fits my abilities and has enlarged my personality. I am as grateful for these things, as for any public honors.

One of my geeky hobbies is reading history, and I’d like to close with a quote from 1791. Biographer James Boswell wrote:

“The art of communication instruction, of whatever kind, is such to be valued; and I have ever thought that those who devote themselves to this employment, and do their duty with diligence and success, are entitled to very high respect from the community.”

With such high respect, I salute you all. Thank you for helping to create this wonderful profession, and thank you for honoring me with tonight’s award.

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