Senior with Autism Gives 'Unexpected' Speech at Graduation that Takes Everyone by Surprise


The end of your high school career is a time of intense emotion and mixed feelings. It’s exciting to be moving on, becoming an independent adult and starting “life after.” But it’s also sad and scary to be leaving a type of schooling environment that you’ve known for 13 years.

Once you’re a senior and reach the day of graduation, the surreal feeling becomes all too real, and that emotion most certainly catches up with you. As you stand in life with your gown on, cap on your head and tassel hanging on the right, you prepare yourself to enter to the classic commencement song, knowing that your loved ones in the audience will be cheering for you with tears in their eyes.

The one thing that you want as you sit there, preparing to get your diploma and leave high school forever, is a memorable commencement speech.

On Saturday, June 9, at the Ford Center in Frisco, Texas, high school senior Sef Scott delivered an inspiring and wise commencement speech to the graduating class of Plano Senior High School.

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Scott readily admitted first and foremost to the audience that it was truly unexpected for him to be speaking to them. He started off his six-minute speech saying, “Unexpected. That is what I want you to remember. Unexpected. First and foremost, I would imagine that … to the seniors that know who I am that it is entirely unexpected that I would be standing here giving a speech.”

He goes on to explain why it is “unexpected.” “My name is Sef Scott, and I am a student with learning differences. To be more specific, I have Autism and a social communication disorder.”

When Scott described his ability to produce vocabulary like his classmates, he admitted that speaking doesn’t come naturally to him. He told the story of his 9-year-old brother, who is a brain tumor survivor, and his mom who helped him formulate his words and went through each sentence with him to prepare him for this impressive speech.

He proceeded to break down the barriers of cliques and labels that high school naturally produces by pointing out something that may not have been so tremendously obvious to everyone in the crowd — they all made it to graduation, wearing their caps and gowns and getting ready to move forward in life.

“Yes I have Autism, but I am also a smart aleck, unexpected right?” Scott said, making the audience erupt in applause and laughter.

And while Scott pointed out that some people have every day of their lives planned from the moment of their birth, there are others that don’t know what they will do the moment they step out of high school. Yet, he obliterated this wall and said it is all okay, as long as we “do the unexpected.”

“In your lives, going forward after high school, the unexpected from you can be a blessing to those around you. Standing in a long line, waiting for a table at a restaurant, when your name is called let the people behind you go first instead. That simple gesture could brighten what may have been a gloomy day. Unexpected,” Scott said.

He went on to give more examples of little ways that his peers could deliver unexpected brightness to someone’s day.

“Bought two tickets to a concert, months in advance, then something comes up preventing you from going. Why not donate your tickets to an organization like Hope Kiss, so a family with a sick child can go instead. Unexpected. Say thank you for doing a great job to the special needs individual who bagged up your groceries in a checkout line at Kroger. Unexpected,” he said. “You can sprinkle unexpected moments throughout your everyday life that can benefit those around you with very little effort on your part.”

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He pointed out that not one of our dreams are worth it if we don’t truly follow our own dreams. He urged his peers to follow their own paths and give a little back as often as they can because it is the unexpected things that make days brighter for those who need it.

So, in the words of Sef Scott:

“Actually ask yourselves are your next steps where you want to go? If they aren’t, then step off of that path! Will that be unexpected? … 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 that be unexpected? Yes. … Remember, if you are following in someone else’s footsteps,  you will only get where they want to go.”

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Erin Shortall is an editorial intern for The Western Journal. She is currently finishing her Bachelor's Degree at Grove City College. She has a passion for homeless ministry in her home city of Philadelphia, PA.
Erin Shortall is an editorial intern for The Western Journal. She is currently finishing her Bachelor's Degree at Grove City College. She has a major in English, minors in both Writing and Communication Studies, and a Technical Writing concentration. She is currently working on designing and writing a book of poetry to financially support a new homeless ministry of Grove City, PA called Beloved Mercy Ministry. In her spare time, she loves to sing, play piano, exercise, traverse cities, and find the cutest coffee shops. She also has a passion for homeless ministry in her home city of Philadelphia, PA.
Philadelphia, PA
Scholarship of Academic Achievement and Moral Character
Grove City College
Grove City, PA
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
Visual Design, Document Design, Technical Communication, Literature, Computer Ethics