In the News

Sarah Jane Weaver: How a graduation speech is powerful in simplicity

Last week, while listening to KSL NewsRadio, I heard what might be my favorite graduation speech of all time.

It was straightforward, pure and void of pomp and circumstance.

A young woman from Farmington High School and a member of the Burton Ward, Kaysville Utah Deseret Mill Stake, spoke about overcoming trials brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and succeeding. “Here we are,” she said to the cheers of her classmates. “We did it!”

Born with Down syndrome, Aubry Alldredge is no stranger to overcoming.

Her father, Claron Alldredge, said the 2-minute, 44-second graduation speech was a living testament of everything his daughter is — the culmination of many years of speech therapy, special education, acting classes, lessons and productions.

Yet she made it sound easy.

Her advice is powerful in its simplicity. “Some of you know, I collect friends,” she said. “I would encourage all of you to collect more friends.

  • “Smile more.
  • “Worry less.
  • “Don’t be afraid of the future.
  • “Don’t be afraid of hard work.
  • “Never give up.
  • “Continue to replace fear and discouragement with hope.
  • “Be kind.
  • “Be positive.
  • “Make every day your best day.”

Aubry’s mother, Cindy Alldredge, helped her write the talk. They spent hours practicing the pronunciation of each word.

Then while auditioning to give the speech, Aubry spontaneously added an extra piece of advice: Never give up.

Her parents loved the phrase spoken by their daughter who practiced skiing for six years before being able to ski to the lodge from the gondola.

Persistence is built into Aubry’s DNA — just as is her ability to make friends.

Claron Alldredge recalled an experience some years ago when Aubry and her parents met with a new speech therapist. “Aubry and the therapist were playing a get-to-know-you version of the game Jenga,” he recalled. “On each block was written a question. With each withdrawn block, Aubry and the therapist would each answer the inscribed question. This gave the therapist a way to distract Aubry so that her speech difficulties could be observed.”

Her parents were sitting on the opposite side of one-way glass watching and listening on headphones to the conversation. Aubry answered questions like “What is your favorite color?” and “Do you have any pets?”

Then came the question, “Do you collect anything?”  

“Cindy and I looked at each other and said to each other, ‘No, she doesn’t really collect anything,’” her father recalled.

“Aubry paused for a moment and then responded, ‘I collect FRIENDS.’

“Aubry, knew what she likes to collect. The most important thing to collect: not things, but friends.”

The graduation speech is a 2-minute blueprint for life, courtesy of Aubry. She smiles more and worries less. She is kind and positive. She looks forward to the future with hope. She collects friends.

Aubry Alldredge graduated from Farmington (Utah) High School on May 26, 2022.

Aubry Alldredge graduated from Farmington (Utah) High School on May 26, 2022.

Credit: Provided by the Alldredge family

Still, as her classmates and others crowded around to congratulate her on the extraordinary speech, her mother paused. Aubry is everyone’s friend — a collector of friends — who doesn’t always have a friend. At her senior dinner she had nowhere to sit and no one to sit with. But after 45 minutes of waiting, a friend finally came and found Aubry. Others danced with her after the event. Her mother was grateful — and reflective.

“Sometimes we forget that just saying ‘Hi’ or giving a compliment isn’t enough … sometimes people need a little more … an invite, they need us to sit with them, walk with them, bring them into our circle of friends, and include them,” she wrote on social media.

“I’m so grateful to my Savior, who set the example of how to include, how to go the extra mile and how to look for ways to include those around us,” Cindy added.

It is the message of Aubry’s life — and her graduation speech. It’s a message that has sunk deep in my heart. How aware am I of those around me? Who in my life needs not only a friend, but also a call, a letter, a walk, an invite. Who needs my notice, my love and my time.

It’s not a hard question for Aubry — a collector of friends who champions never giving up.

“Class of 2022,” she said at the end of her graduation speech, “we’ve got this.”

Listen to the speech, featured on KSL NewsRadio’s Inside Sources, or watch it on the Utah Down Syndrome Facebook page.

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