Jonathan Mooney Redefines “Normal”
by Nicholas Taborsky on Friday, October 21st, 2016
What is normal? That was the question posed to students on Wednesday, October 5th by Talbot Speaker Jonathan Mooney. Jonathan Mooney, a member of Brown University’s Class of 2000, is an accomplished writer of three books about neurodiversity: The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal, Learning Outside the Lines, and A Traveler’s Guide to Initiation. He is the president of Project Eye-to-Eye, a national non-profit organization dedicated to advising and teaching kids of all ages about each child’s own learning style.
According to the American Program Bureau, Jonathan Mooney was selected as a Harry S. Truman Scholar for Public Service and a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship as well as recognized for his work by the LD Access Foundation and Lab School of Washington, all in the last 16 years. Jonathan Mooney has spoken in over 43 states, educating a wide variety of people on learning differences and what it means to be “disabled.” He has been mentioned by dozens of renowned publications and news outlets such as The Boston Globe, NPR, New York Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and more.
During last week’s Wednesday assembly, Jonathan Mooney came to Milton Academy to talk to the Upper School about an extremely important and current topic: learning differences. He discussed how the idea that there is such a thing as “normal” has become so ingrained in our society that it inhibits those with learning differences to excel and succeed later in life. As a person who truly understands what it is like to live with these learning differences — Mooney has both dyslexia and ADD — Jonathan Mooney opened up about his own personal experiences as a kid and how the myriad of labels and expectations that were placed on him affected his outlook on life dramatically.
Jonathan Mooney was constantly told that he would never be successful in life. Even worse, he was told that he would be working in a fast food joint if he didn’t end up in jail. All the claims made against him stemmed from the belief that his learning differences made him “disabled” and “unfit” for the real word. He made it clear that these differences should be embraced, so we can help each other grow.
Henry Westerman (I), praised Jonathan Mooney, saying “he was one of the best speakers we’ve had in my time at Milton. He really related with [the] students in the way that he spoke; he used jokes that actually landed, and he spoke on an issue that doesn’t get too much airtime here. I hope his speech will have a lasting impact on attitudes at the school.”
Sophia Li (III) shared a similar experience to Henry’s, indicating that “[Mooney] changed the way [she] thought about ‘normal.’” She adds that she always “thought that ‘normal’ was succeeding in school and being like everybody else, but now [she believes] that you create what you think is normal.”
Alex Chen (II) shared his understanding of the speech, saying it was “very moving.” He goes on to say that “Mr. Mooney demonstrated the faults of the modern American society. In a nation so focused on normality and efficiency, many believe that any outliers should be ignored and forgotten. Also, Mr. Mooney shared a side of the conversation that is often neglected: the views of those ‘non-normal’ people. By sharing his personal history, Mr. Mooney forced all of us Milton students to think about how unique every individual is. While some may view certain characteristics as handicaps, others may view them as advantages.”
Jonathan Mooney set out to change our perspective on neurodiversity, and he achieved just that. Mooney helped the Milton community realize that kids with disabilities possess numerous gifts and talents that often go underutilized or overlooked. Jonathan Mooney’s speech brought a unique perspective to the community as well as a reminder that we should all embrace and respect our differences. Mooney was clearly a popular speaker, and I strongly encourage you all to watch one of his presentations, as he will seriously change your way of thinking.
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