Opening Keynote: Nelson Lauver

Nelson Lauver

It was a job he almost turned down because there just wasn’t any profit to be made…But on that morning in 1992, twenty-nine year old painting contractor, Nelson Lauver began his day on this particular job: painting parking lot lines at a local car dealership.

Nelson created his small line painting business because he wasn’t qualified for other types of work. He didn’t have the literacy skills to fill out a job application. As a young boy, Nelson fell through the cracks of an educational system that was ill-prepared to deal with a student who couldn’t learn like all the rest.

Nelson was socially promoted and actually graduated from high school (104 out of a class of 104) receiving a diploma he struggled to read. He knew he was different…he just didn’t know why.

On this particular day, though, a chance encounter would change Nelson’s life.

A gentleman approached Nelson and asked him for directions to a local greenhouse. Nelson stopped his work to explain the directions. But the man wanted more. He wanted Nelson to write them down. He pulled out a pad and pen and handed it to Nelson, who struggled and tried to draw a crude map. Again, now more insistently, Nelson repeated the directions. Finally, the man took back the pad and pen and asked Nelson point blank, “You can’t read and write, can you?”

After an entire lifetime of struggle to hide his literacy issues, Nelson finally admitted his secret to this stranger, “Sir, you are correct.” This “stranger” just happened to be a professor at Penn State University. He asked Nelson to sit down and talk with him for a moment. For the very first time, Nelson heard the word “dyslexia.” Their conversation lasted an hour and a half.

For the first time ever, Nelson had a name for his mysterious problem and he also had hope–hope that he might finally be able to change his life for the better.

On the advice of the professor, Nelson sought assistance from the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. He was tested, and a dyslexia diagnosis was confirmed. With the help of Vocational Rehabilitation, Penn State University, and a reading tutor–18 months later–Nelson Lauver was able to read and write and start his new life.

“It’s still hard to believe. That professor could have stopped and asked anyone for directions…but he approached me. Why?”

Today Nelson is an acclaimed author, broadcast journalist, speaker, humorist, and education rights advocate.  He shares his story as a way of helping others reach their maximum potential.

Nelson is known to radio listeners across the country for “The American Storyteller Radio Journal,” a daily 4-minute slice of the American experience, broadcast from 2001 to 2010.

2011 marked the release of Nelson’s award winning memoir, Most UnLikely to Succeed – an inspirational story of hope and determination against seeming insurmountable odds.

The more than 300 stories from The American Storyteller, have become more than just a source of entertainment, they have become a valuable tool in ESL and adult literacy across the globe.

“I certainly recognize the irony. There I was, the kid who couldn’t read and write, and now my stories are helping people all over the globe with reading and writing.

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