A great performance on New Year's Eve


Published: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 11:44 p.m.
On New Years Eve 2005, the world witnessed one of the virtuoso performances of all time.
It wasn't any of the football bowl games, it wasn't Mariah Carey, it was simply Dick Clark broadcasting on ABC's New Years Rockin' Eve one year after suffering a stroke which resulted in motor aphasia (a loss of ability to form precise body and speech movements).
In his opening remarks, he freely admitted "Last year I had a stroke. It left me in bad shape. I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again. It's been a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect but I'm getting there."
Even myself, with a BA degree in speech pathology and years of working with post-stroke vocal rehabilitation patients, was apprehensive. Would I understand him, would America understand him, and even if we did, would we be uncomfortable at his struggle? Would we turn away and demand a perfectly coifed, immaculately toothed, bright smiling youngster?
He slurred a few of his "r"s , his voice sounded hoarse at times and his vocal dynamics were a bit limited. But I understood everything he said. He spoke about the excitement of the night, the music and past celebrations with his usual enthusiasm, warmth and professionalism.
It was only a few decades ago when speech disorders were viewed as mental disorders. Stutterers were thought of as neurologically impaired, "deaf" and "dumb" were paired together and post stroke victims were institutionalized.
In the 1970s, Barbara Walters was terribly hurt over Saturday Night Live's "Baba Wawa" skits with Gilda Radner's imitation of her supposed speech problem. Yes, Barbara "shaded" her "r"s slightly but she was no less intelligible and her successful career as a public, professional speaker speaks for itself.
I am proud of ABC for not limiting him to 10 second sound bites. I am proud of Dick for narrating a major segment on Johnny Carson's first broadcast of the Times Square ball dropping. I am proud of my friends in Gainesville who told me that even though they noticed some differences, they appreciated his effort and still understood him.
Many of us grew up with Dick Clark. He taught us all about music. Now, in his later years, he taught us a far greater lesson that Saturday night. Dick showed us all that the only boundaries are the ones we put on ourselves, or the ones that society arbitrarily and unfairly puts on us.
As we move into 2006, perhaps we are realizing Martin Luther King's dream of a society where we are not judged by external factors, but only by the content of our character. No one's character shined more brightly than Dick's and America's. I am proud of us all.
What a great way to start off the New Year!
Ed Kellerman is a senior lecturer in the Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication in UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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