Erick Rommel

When a child challenges an adult, they hear one statement more than anything else: Children should be seen and not heard.

Some people continue to use that refrain long after the person has moved past childhood. Those who use that statement as a weapon have a limited comprehension of the world. They’re so obsessed with insulating their point of view that they dismiss insightful and inspiring individuals who happen to be young yet could broaden their world.

I can’t imagine anyone dismissing Dillan Barmache because of his age. The California boy may be 14, but his challenges make the obstacles most of us face appear incredibly small. As a featured speaker at his class graduation, the teen spoke about the power that comes from self-expression.

“We all want to share who we are, we all want to share our thoughts and ideas and questions and worries, and I think every individual has that right,” he said.

That’s fairly insightful for a teenager who has never spoken a day in his life.

Dillan is autistic and nonverbal. As a child, he frequently became frustrated because he was unable to share the ideas in his head.

That changed when a school instructor taught him to speak using an iPad. With that technology, our world is no longer denied Dillan’s voice.

Next year, Dillan starts high school. And though it’s still early, he’s already thinking about earning a psychology degree in college.

Another teen who shouldn’t be dismissed is Griffin Furlong, who recently graduated as valedictorian of his class and will attend Florida State University this fall. He’s known for never missing a day of class and never skipping assignments.

“Everyone thinks I try to make good grades because I’m smart,” he said. “Not true. I perform the way I do in the classroom because I have everything to lose.”

Griffin isn’t speaking metaphorically. He is homeless. He spent most of his high school years living in shelters and on the couches of family and friends. He’d prefer to forget the past, but bad experiences have served as inspirations that help him bring an important point of view to others.

“Don’t dwell on the past. Use it as motivation for your future,” he told his classmates. “It’s amazing what you can do with your life when you have motivation, ambition and most importantly, a purpose.”

These young men have used their voices and experiences to share a lesson that empowers many of us, regardless of age. If they refuse to be silent, why should we find it acceptable to say nothing, to refuse to share our experiences with others?

The next time you feel you shouldn’t speak up because of your age, or your lack of experience, or your education, or for any other reason, think of these young men. They are young, they are untrained. At this stage in life, they lack the traditional measures of expertise, but what they have to share from life so far is greater than anything learned from age alone.