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Utah student with Cerebral Palsy inspires with high school grad speech

Max Brown's speech earned several ovations during his speech of inspiration and finding his purposes.

OREM, Utah — When 18-year-old Max Brown wanted to audition to speak at his high school graduation, his mom was hesitant. 

Brown, diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, reads slowly and had not delivered a speech to a large crowd before.

“I told him, ‘you can try out but there’s a really good chance you may not get it’,” said Maryann Brown, Max’s mother.

But it was fitting the faculty chose Max. During his four years at Mountain Ridge High School in Herriman, Utah, Max inspired his fellow students to such a degree that the final page of the yearbook was dedicated to him. More than any other student he embodies the spirit of the school, the yearbook states.

As for the obstacle of reading his speech, Max memorized it instead.

“He would not stop practicing. He read it over and over and over,” Maryann said.

The results did not disappoint.

'It’s ok to be different'

The crowd of students and parents on Thursday at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah gave Max several ovations during the speech

Max delivered the lines, which his mother and a relative helped him write, with energy, precision and good humor.

“The list of my accomplishments is impressively long, including, it seems, public speaking,” Max said, bursting with a laugh. “And that’s why I like to get a crowd pumped up.”

At one point he referenced the school’s sentinel mascot, a soldier that guards and keeps watch.

“As I look out at all of you, I see sentinels. Beneath the caps and tassels are the faces of people who stood and kept watch over me, people who included me and helped me remember that it is ok to be different,” Max said.

Looking back on the day, Max said he wasn’t nervous at all.

“Dude it was crazy. It was fun to speak in front of everybody. Everybody just went wild and crazy,” Max told 12 News.

Ellen Degeneres and finding purpose

The speech focused on the importance of finding one’s purpose in life, which led to a particularly memorable line.

Max has loyally watched the Ellen Degeneres show for several years and even held Ellen-themed birthday parties.

“At one point I thought my purpose was to be on the Ellen Degeneres Show, but since that ship has sadly sailed, my parents have told me that I am good at making people happy and I think that’s a pretty good purpose too.”

The crowd erupted in cheers.

The Ellen Degeneres show ended last week after 19 seasons. Max wanted to get on the show or be an audience member but never had the opportunity.

Breaking stereotypes about Cerebral Palsy

Maryann recalls that “it was terrifying” after Max was born because doctors said they did not know the extent of his diagnosis. It has been gratifying to watch Max grow up and “just be who he is.”

“Each milestone had its own timetable and tasks that should have come easily but took a lot of commitment, frustration and repetition,” Max said during his speech, referring to his physical challenges.

According to the CDC, Cerebral Palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Symptoms vary. 

Max uses a wheelchair, has difficulty controlling his muscles and is delayed intellectually. He can feed himself and uses assistance to get dressed.

A program at the high school that “mainstreams” students with special needs with the rest of the student body was crucial for Max’s success, Maryann said. Max thrives with peers and brings energy to any crowd.

By speaking, Max demonstrated his own purpose in life as an ambassador for individuals with special needs.

“I think there’s a stereotype, and more often than not there’s fear with interacting with someone with cerebral palsy or anyone with a visual disability,” said Maryann. “That’s why I think it’s important for them to be in front of the public as much as possible.”

Life after high school

Max said he’s glad he was able to end his high school career by giving a graduation speech.

“Mountain Ridge means a lot to me. I’m going to miss it,” Max said.

Moving forward, one unfortunate reality for Max is he will not be able to watch new episodes of the Ellen show.

“Our day is scheduled around Ellen at 3 o’clock and Wheel of Fortune at 6’o’clock,” Maryann said.

Max will celebrate graduation by going to Disneyland with a friend next week. 

Later this year he will attend a post-high school educational program for individuals 18-22 years of age with special needs.

Max wants to be a sports broadcaster in the future. His love of sports recently earned him public attention as a New Orleans Saints “superfan”. Max has followed closely Saints player Taysom Hill since Hill’s days at BYU.

During his speech, Max said he also has dreams of being a DJ, coaching hockey or “driving the tram at Disneyland.”

“He’s always dreaming. He’s always telling people he can do anything,” Maryann said.

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