Kebba Kanuteh Speech – 2017 Salutatorian

I am severely dyslexic and the school asked me to read my speech!  Let’s keep our fingers crossed! 

Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Garrison, honored guests, the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, family, friends, and fellow graduates.

I am so honored to be receiving this award. In a million years, I never thought I’d be graduating from college. My whole life I have struggled with dyslexia. When I was 10, I was doing poorly in school, so my parents sent me to Gambia in West Africa to live with my grandparents. While I was there, I attended school, but when they found out that I couldn’t read, I was kicked out of school.

I came back to New York at age 15, and I still couldn’t read or write. This frustrated my parents and it made me unhappy to disappoint them.

My frustration grew into depression, and I grew with it to 315 pounds. I was an overweight, illiterate, high school dropout, so I moved to Philadelphia. In 2004, I got a job at the Navy Yard as a janitor. To lose weight, I exercised during my lunch breaks. I ran up and down flights of stairs, from the first floor to the ninth.

Pretty soon a lot of the engineers started joining me in my work-outs. I lost one hundred pounds, and I gained a community of friends. It became my dream to work alongside them, not as a janitor, but as a colleague.

Some people told me that, given my level of education, my dream would be impossible. But the Navy supported me and wanted to help me reach my goal. They provided special dyslexia tutors who taught me to read, write, and solve math problems. After receiving my high school diploma, they sent me here to P.I.T., where I found another community of amazing friends and teachers.

I have learned the importance of a positive attitude, hard work, and connecting with others. My experience has shown me that when you have a positive attitude and let your needs be known, people are willing to help you in every way. It is the magic of love that when you share it, it comes back to you tenfold. That has been the story of my life.

I would like to thank my amazing friends, family, and tutors for encouraging me over the years. I would also like to thank Suzanne Felix for guiding me when I first came to Philly. And also a special thank you to Pat Woody, Glenn Ward, and Joanne Simons at the Navy Yard for hiring me and helping me make my dream come true. Thank you to Diane Seider and Mary Ann Bucklin who were incredibly dedicated and patient tutors.  I also want to thank Tom Perotti for supporting my education at Arizona State University where I will pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering. My friends at the Navy Yard have been an inspiration to me and my dream is to be an inspiration to others.

Finally I would like to thank my dedicated P.I.T. teachers and staff for encouraging me for the past 2½ years. Without all of you, none of this would have been possible. Thank you.

Congratulations to all my fellow graduates!

…And guess what Mom? I can read now.  Happy Mother’s Day and I love you!