August 24, 2020
Twenty seconds into his speech on August 20, Brayden Harrington struggled to say his next word, as he undoubtedly knew he would. There was a long pause before the 13-year-old was able to triumphantly say that word: “Stutter.”
It was one of the most moving moments of the night, Vogue reported—and perhaps of the entire Democratic National Convention: a young boy speaking to a national audience about his disability and the 77-year-old man who, drawing on his own experience, was trying to help him overcome it.
Introduced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the evening’s celebrity emcee, Harrington, dressed in a dusky orange tee-shirt and reading his speech on a white sheet of paper he held with both hands, opened by saying, “My name is Brayden Harrington, and I am 13 years old. And without Joe Biden, I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”
He continued, “About a few months ago, I met him in New Hampshire. He told me that we were members of the same club: We”—and then came the long pause before he completed the sentence—“stutter. It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became [the] vice president. He told me about a book of poems by Yeats he would read out loud to practice. He showed me how he marks his addresses to make them easier to say out loud. So I did the same thing today.
“My family often says, ‘When the world feels better,’ before talking about something normal, like going to the movies. We all want the world to feel better. We need the world to feel better. I’m just a regular kid, and in a short amount of time, Joe Biden made me more confident about something that’s bothered me my whole life. Joe Biden cared.
“Imagine what he could do for all of us. Kids like me are counting on you to elect someone we can all look up to, someone who cares, someone who will make our country and the world feel better. We’re counting on you to elect Joe Biden.”
Harrington and Biden had met in February at a campaign event in New Hampshire. After they first spoke on the rope line, the former vice president invited Harrington backstage to continue their conversation and told him about how he had worked to overcome his own stutter.
Biden’s own stutter emerged when he was a child, he told The Atlantic earlier this year. At times, he was tormented for it. He recalled one nun at school calling him “Mr. Buh-Buh-Buh-Biden” and demanding that he repeat a passage from a book, and high-school classmates nicknaming him “Dash”—as in Morse code staccato.
According to the Vogue report, Harrington’s was a stunning opening to a night that would later see Joe Biden accept his party’s nomination for the presidency, and based on the reaction on social media, there were few dry eyes on viewers at home. (According to The Washington Post, a video of Harrington’s address that was shared on Twitter by the Democratic National Convention had been viewed more than 3 million times by Friday morning.)
“I want to say this to Brayden Harrington (the precious young man with a stutter): Young, Sir: You humble me. I am in TOTAL AWE of your courage,” tweeted Pam Keith, the former Navy JAG running for Congress from Florida’s 18th District. “You have a titanic spirit and unshakeable will. You made the worst bully look pathetic, ridiculous, and so very small. I salute you.”
On MSNBC, Claire McCaskill, the former U.S. senator from Missouri, contrasted Biden’s empathetic outreach to this young boy—and then giving him a high-profile speaking slot at the party’s national convention—with Donald Trump’s widely reported mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter during the 2016 campaign. She said his speech might have been, “the most important moment of the night.” (That same point was also made in a tweet by Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the State Department: “As I watched Brayden Harrington talk about Biden helping him with his stutter, could not stop thinking of the clip of Trump mocking a disabled reporter. What a contrast.”)
And CNN’s Chris Cillizza said, “Holy cow. The Brayden Harrington speech. The courage. My god. I am going to remember that one for a long time.”
But perhaps the most moving tribute came from a woman who herself has struggled to recapture the power of speech. “Speaking is hard for me too, Brayden,” tweeted Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was almost killed during a mass shooting in 2011 and is still recovering from those near-fatal injuries. “But as you know, practice and purpose help. Thank you for your courage and for the great speech!”
Research contact: @voguemagazine