The fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention wrapped up on Thursday night with a speech from now-official nominee Joe Biden, and fireworks in place of a balloon drop. But the most powerful moment of the four-night event came in the form of a two-minute speech from an extraordinary teenager.
Brayden Harrington recounted how he met Biden at a campaign event in New Hampshire earlier this year.
“He told me that we’re members of the same club: We stutter,” Harrington said. “It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became vice-president. He told me about a book of poems by Yeats he would read out loud to practice. He showed me how he marks his addresses to make them easier to say out loud, so I did the same thing today. And now I’m here talking to you today about the future — about our future.”
Harrington and Biden are two of around 3 million Americans who stutter; Biden has spoken about his struggles with public speaking throughout his career, and famously has given his personal phone number to young people who stutter. Stuttering is a neurological disorder and its effects can be improved or overcome with practice and speech therapy, but as Biden’s occasional moments of disfluency to this day show, for many people it never completely goes away.
“I’m just a regular kid, and in just a short time Joe Biden made me feel more confident about something that’s bothered me my whole life,” Harrington said, pushing calmly through a couple of moments where he struggled with a particular sound, and urging viewers to consider the future of the country. “Joe Biden cared. Imagine what he could do for all of us.”
Biden has on occasion discussed his stutter in the context of the campaign so far, where it’s been mocked by his political opponents and even held up as evidence of cognitive decline. Harrington’s appearance at the convention serves as a pointed reminder of Biden’s struggle with the disorder, as well as burnishing the aura of essential decency that his campaign seeks to display in contrast to the behaviour of a president who has openly mocked people with disabilities.
But whatever the campaign machinations behind the speech, Harrington’s bravery in delivering it on national television was evident to all watching, and especially meaningful to people who stutter. Senior Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway and conservative radio host Erick Erickson even praised his courage and poise on Twitter.
Barack and Michelle Obama delivered stirring, beautifully written speeches this week, underscoring qualities that have been missing from the White House since 2017 — but Harrington’s sincere, simple tribute was the moment that really reminded viewers what real kindness and courage can do.