Haley Mitchum

Human Resources Professional

Alexandria, VA

When my A.P. English teacher said we would be reciting Beowulf aloud for a grade my heart nearly stopped. Thankfully, I had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that allowed me the option to present only to the teacher, not the entire class. alone. However, it still meant that I would have to recite it orally. I tried to convince him to let me write it instead of presenting it, but to no avail. He needed to hear the pronunciation of the verses in old English. Panic swept over me preparing for it and when I took those dreaded steps to his classroom that day, I could barely speak. Every single syllable leading up to the presentation was caught in my throat. My friend was finishing an assignment in the classroom when he gave me the floor to speak. I honestly do not remember how it came out. I think I managed to get it all out eventually, but in hindsight it is blurry and foggy and covered in gray and complete embarrassment.

Apparently, I must have been a wreck for some time after I left the classroom, because another friend of mine alerted my mom who also worked in the school that I was crying. She took me straight home because I was pretty much inconsolable. When my dad came home that night from work, I was locked in my room. I didn’t want to talk, I just wanted to be left alone. My mom told me that my dad felt that this was all his fault, because he passed stuttering on to me. I knew that they felt hopeless because there was nothing they could do to fix it. There were no successful therapists to cure it and no dosage of medicine capable to take away the beast that steals words and ruins my self-esteem.

But, life went on. Despite stuttering, I was still able to accomplish many things with the help of great friends, family, and teachers. With their encouragement, I became a leader while serving on Student Government and leading our girls’ soccer team to numerous championships as the team captain for both my Junior and Senior year.

Throughout all my childhood with uncountable speech therapy sessions, IEPs, and emotional breakdowns, my parents were there with me every step of the way. While they recognized the challenges of having a daughter who had a disability, they never stopped believing in me. They never told me that I couldn’t be whatever it was that I dreamt of doing. They never treated me differently or let me believe that I was different. I’m sure that they have done many things behind closed doors to help fight for me and I’m sure that they probably have shed tears and felt their share of frustrations, but everything that they have done for me caused me to be the woman that I am today. Confident and not afraid to go after what I want. Yes, I speak differently than 99% of the population, and yes I encounter some bumps along the way. But I know that it will all be okay because I have been through it all before, and I will move forward. My stuttering does not define who I am. It is a part of me, just like I am also a daughter, a sister, an artist, an athlete, and a proud dog mom.

Today, I am a human resources professional who has conducted over 200 orientations. I frequently participate in conference calls and meetings with colleagues and third-party vendors. I am the face of the company when it comes to employee relations and corporate social events.  Communication is a main part of my job. And I won’t lie, some days can be harder than others. I still find myself in that struggle of debating whether I should either call someone or just take the easy route and email them. However, I have come to realize that I do not learn or grow in comfort zones, so I push myself every day to at least do something that challenges me. I know that the fear of stuttering is far worse than the act of stuttering.