“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I knew coming to HBS would be an enormous challenge. Not because I came from a “state school.” Nor was it because I had never moved away from the state of Georgia. Simply put, I had trouble speaking. 

At the age of four, I was diagnosed with a severe stutter. Growing up, other students didn’t understand. There were times when it took me ten seconds to utter three words. I found a way to succeed in most scenarios, but this time would be different. I was about to attend an institution whose foundation is built upon communicating. I was terrified. 

My time at HBS hasn’t been easy. I wake up each morning before class, afraid that I won’t have the courage to speak in front of 90 peers. Job interviews can be even worse. But as my late father frequently told me: “If you say you can’t, you won’t.” He was right.

I can, and I will.

70 million people worldwide suffer from a speech disorder. It’s my hope that by raising my hand in an Aldrich classroom, I am promoting awareness for stutterers everywhere. Setting an example for others to follow. Giving them optimism for the future.

I am speaking out – because I can.

— Justin Ernest