When Evan Angert, 18, of Germantown sets his mind on a goal, chances are he will accomplish it. Never, he said, does he let the fact that he is autistic hold him back.
And he didn’t let his disability keep him from being selected as the student speaker at the June 5 graduation of Northwest High School in Germantown.
“I wanted to be remembered,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Evan said he encouraged his fellow graduates to always go forward, never look back and always try new things.
His own next new thing is to attend the Germantown campus of Montgomery College in the fall.
“To gain my independence I’m going to go one or two years at Montgomery College, then transfer to another school,” he said. There he wants to study to become an occupational therapist with the hope of working in a nursing home or hospital.
He said he knows it will be a challenge, but that brought him back to discussing his speech.
“The topic was about never giving up,” he said. “Even if there is something that pulls you back.”
Evan was diagnosed with autism — a developmental disorder that affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills — when he was just 18 months old.
“We noticed that he wasn’t playing or speaking the same as his [twin] brother,” said Kathy Angert, Evan’s mother. “The pediatrician watched him and diagnosed it.”
Kathy Angert said she researched the disorder and learned that she had to teach Evan even simple things, like distinguishing between two or three objects, by breaking everything down to simple steps and building on what he learned.
She also realized that early intervention was important and Evan should have 35 to 40 hours per week of therapy. So, she said, she hired college students to work with him.
“We were pretty much running a school out of our house,” she said.
The family moved to Montgomery County before Evan started kindergarten, which he attended with the help of a therapist. Since first grade, he has been in regular classes without an aide, but receiving extra support.
Kathy Angert said she thinks Evan’s story is important, because autism is in the news so much.
“And to give hope to other parents,” she said. “It’s like you get the wind kicked out of you when you get the diagnosis.”
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s website says: “The hallmark feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder is impaired social interaction.”
Which makes it all the more remarkable that Evan addressed his graduating class of 536, including his twin brother Trevor, and their guests.
“I was very nervous,” he said.
Again, Evan, his mother and Northwest English teachers Elizabeth Kominski and Kelly Schlutz helped him break the task into smaller parts and build it back up into the final product.
Together, they worked for weeks, perfecting the five-minute speech and helping Evan rehearse it, adding timing and gestures, Kominski said.
“One of the benefits of his disability is he doesn’t have the social hangups other students [often] have,” Kominski said. “He is willing to put himself out there.”
Evan said the speech was a success. “I got two standing ovations,” he said.
Kominski agreed that Evan did a great job.
“It moved almost everybody to tears,” she said. “It was one of the best and most meaningful graduation speeches I have ever heard.”
Evan’s twin Trevor wrote a statement about his brother:
“Evan’s speech at graduation was moving. He showed the crowd that excuses we, as high schoolers, use on a daily basis are truly pointless. The excuse of being lazy or tired is definitely not an excuse Evan would use. As he said, ‘reach for the stars,’ and while it is unsaid, it is implied that we should let nothing stand in the way of our goals and aspirations. Not laziness, or hunger or being tired, not even having autism. Evan showed me and the class of 2013 that perseverance and hard work has a definite result: success.”