A star is born on Commencement stage

Student speaker Addileigh Bowman looks to her mother, Sheila, who gets emotional while while helping fix Bowman's hair and cap before Friday evening's Winter Commencement ceremony.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow / Video

Addileigh Bowman gave a speech before hundreds of people in GCU Arena on Friday night, when talking was once her greatest anguish.

“It hasn’t always been easy for me to let my voice be heard,” Bowman told them. “As a child, I had a severe speech impediment. Words were my biggest enemy, my biggest challenge.”

Yet she spoke, eloquently, for her graduating peers and her parents, Sheila and Tempy Bowman, among the Grand Canyon University Winter Commencement crowd.

And for herself.

Bowman shared how she had limited hearing in her left ear, which caused speech and language acquisition delays.

“It is the biggest thing I can do to overcome this fear of mine,” she said in an interview before the speech. “How much more public can I get? My parents are so excited because they never thought in a million years I could get up and do something like this. I’m doing it for them. I can’t wait to make them proud on the stage.”

The elementary education and special education graduate told the crowd that she often wondered “why God made me different and speaking out loud was such a battle for me. I was afraid to speak in front of others, to read out loud and to make friends.”

It wasn’t until third grade that doctors discovered she had limited hearing in her left ear, which caused speech and language acquisition delays.

For six years, she went to speech therapy, as some peers mocked her speech or thought her of low intelligence.

Gradually, the Windsor, Colorado, native learned to read lips enough to improve pronunciation.

In special education classes she was surrounded by teachers who told her that she was capable of more than she thought and inspired her future career.

“I had to work twice as hard as my peers,” she said in an interview. “I read lips, that’s how I learned to speak correctly. I’d watch their lips and learn how to pronounce things.”

Even as her grades spiraled upward, her confidence was low.

That was when she shared with the audience the words her mother told her every day before dropping her off for school: “Be a shining light in everything we do and say. You might be the only glimpse of Jesus people get to see today.”

Bowman greets her mother, Sheila.

Her senior year, Bowman was fitted with a hearing aid and was overcome with emotion when she heard the true tone of her mother’s voice for the first time.

Then she heard her parents encourage her to enroll at GCU.

“It was hard for me. It was a big transition to leave home and go where I had no family. I was really struggling,” Bowman said before her speech.

Sheila Bowman heard of her struggles and traveled from their Windsor home to Phoenix.

“You are a shining light,” she told her daughter. “You need to believe you are a shining light. If you need a reminder, let me know.”

That’s when she decided her mom was right. She needed a reminder, a tattoo on her left wrist, a Christmas star.

A tattoo of a Christmas star reminds Bowman of her mom's inspiration.

“When I am feeling down, I look at it and my mom’s words go through my head, and I approach my day with a more positive outlook,” she said.

Bowman found friends, she found her place on campus and in the classroom, especially under the tutelage of Professor Dr. Rebekah Dyer, who praised her during her speech.

“Thank you for helping me see that the disability I once saw as a flaw is actually a strength in fueling my passion to inspire my future students. Thank you for making me feel confidence.”

Dyer, an expert on special education, said that Bowman has a natural presence as a teacher and lights up a room. She lived through challenges that her future students will encounter. “She can show them there are ways to build on their strengths.”

Bowman said it was important to get up and speak and show that strength.

“It is time for our voices to be heard,” she said privately. “They have pushed us down and silenced us, the burdens we carry that have kept us from speaking up and speaking our truth. It’s great to use my voice for something good.”

Sheila and Tempy Bowman covered her with hugs before walking into the Arena. Her dad said she was beautiful inside and out, and her mom, a school principal in Colorado, said her speech was a testament to her hard work.

Sheila said the family kept a voice message from their daughter when she was younger and had speech impairments. They would listen to it and recognize how far she had come. Last summer, they finally erased it.

“It’s symbolic of where she’s come from,” Sheila said.

Tempy Bowman, with wife Sheila, signs “I love you” to their daughter and student speaker Addileigh Bowman as she acknowledges their importance in her life.

Addileigh now wants to advocate for her students, starting a job as a fifth grade teacher in January in Windsor.

“The number one way to conquer things is to go at it with a positive attitude. That goes hand in hand with being a shining light. It’s our job to be that shining light for others,” she said. “The world needs more shining lights. People need that positive impact in their lives, and if you can be that, it’s amazing. That is what Jesus wanted us to do on this earth.”

So Bowman concluded a speech that she said she would never forget with clearly spoken words — inspiration that echoed through an arena to hundreds of her fellow graduates when once she couldn’t speak confidently to one.

“When you face negativity, be a shining light. When you see sadness in others, be a shining light. When you see devastation or pain in the world, be a shining light God has made you be.

“God has gifted each and every one of us with the fruits of His Spirit and called us to utilize our unique talents and make a positive impact everywhere we go. Be a shining light with a heart and mind filled with hope and cheer.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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Related content:

GCU News: Early exit gives Winter grads a head start

GCU News: Commencement speaker takes leap of faith

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