Elizabeth Bonker (‘22), valedictorian and founder of the upcoming non-profit Communication 4 ALL, communicates by typing.
Bonker is on the autism spectrum and is nonverbal. Originally from New Jersey, she is majoring in social innovation with a minor in English.
Soma Mukhopadhyay first taught Bonker, who was six years old at the time, to communicate by pointing to letters. Bonker’s mother saw Mukhopadhyay on the television show “60 Minutes” working with her own non-speaking son and reached out to her.
“Over the past 20 years, she has taught thousands of non-speakers to spell out our thoughts,” said Bonker.
Bonker describes herself as “one of the lucky few. There are millions who need to be taught.” After graduation, she hopes to increase communication for non-speakers with the nonprofit Communication 4 ALL. Her nonprofit’s goals include advocating for and empowering non-speakers, building community, and following a detailed action plan, with projects such as a website, film screenings, music festivals, and social media accounts.
Bonker’s activism goes beyond her non-profit. She is a member of Pinehurst, an on-campus organization dedicated to social justice.
“I have been an advocate for non-speakers for more than a decade. It started with publishing my book, I Am In Here,” Bonker said.
A woman of many talents, Bonker also finds passion in music. She has a new music album coming out soon titled after her book.
“All ten songs for the album are advocacy songs, and they also cross over to speak to anyone who doesn’t feel seen and heard,” Bonker said. Additionally, Bonker has written lyrics for The Bleeding Hearts, a Boston-based band. Tom Morello, one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, is a guest artist in one of the songs.
When writing for the band, Bonker said, “They asked me to remember my life before I could type, for my suffering brothers and sisters.”
Bonker and her mother are also subjects in the film “In Our Own Hands: How Patients are Reinventing Medicine,” which tells the story of Bonker and three other people with chronic illnesses and their progress. The film will be screened at Bush Auditorium on April 7 in a special showing for Rollins. On the same day, Bonker will officially launch Communication 4 ALL.
When asked if there is anything that Rollins could do to better accommodate students in the autism spectrum, Bonker said, “My years at Rollins have been truly amazing. My professors and fellow students have been so supportive.”
As one of five class of 2022 valedictorians, Bonker wants to emphasize the importance in “showing that non-speakers are capable students.”