Struggling with communication as a nonverbal student on the autism spectrum, Sef Scott was never the outspoken type. He was known by his friends and classmates to be a timid and quiet young man, until he delivered a commencement speech that moved his audience to tears — and ended with a standing ovation.
“Unexpected,” began Sef. “This is what I want you to remember. Unexpected.”
These first words of his speech marked the theme of the 17-year-old’s inspiring message. “I would imagine that, to the seniors that know who I am, it is entirely unexpected that I would be standing here giving a speech,” he said. “Just by my being here speaking to all of you — me — that alone is unexpected.” Sef discussed the unlikelihood that someone like him would be the one delivering this commencement speech to his peers — one which he had to spend months writing, editing, rehearsing, and eventually auditioning for in order to earn a spot on the podium. He spoke about how he had the help of his mother Vicki Scott, and his brother Sim, who had survived a brain tumor earlier in life and now speaks publicly on his experience. According to his mother, Sef was deeply inspired by his brother’s ability to affect people with his speeches, and when presented with the idea of delivering a comencement speech, he decided that this would be his own chance to make a difference and connect with the classmates he grew up with in a way he never had been able to before.
But the speech wasn’t just about Sef and his brothers’ inspirational stories. He went on to give several examples of how everyone can use the unexpected to make the lives of others brighter using simple gestures of kindness. “Say ‘thank you for doing a good job’ to the special needs individual who bagged up your groceries . . . you can sprinkle unexpected moments throughout your everyday life that can benefit those around you with very little effort on your part,” remarked Sef.
And the wise young student brought his speech full circle when he spoke on how the unexpected comes up in our personal lives as we try to follow our individual paths, a message that anyone could relate to. He concluded by asking his audience to consider, “Are your next steps where you want to go? If they aren’t, then step off of that path. Will that be unexpected? It probably will be . . . but don’t follow someone else’s dreams. Don’t waste time on something you never wanted. Do the unexpected. It is your life that you are living, not anyone else’s. So do what fulfills you. Don’t fear the future. Don’t fear the unknown. Will it be unexpected? Yes, yes it will. But that doesn’t make it wrong.” We would very much agree.