Peter Dankelson Delivers Choose KIND Speech


Dankleson poses with the Best Buddies club, the audience to his speech last week.

Rachel Benner, Staff Writer

On Thursday, Oct. 13, sophomore Peter Dankelson gave a speech advocating for his #ChooseKIND movement at the Best Buddies club meeting.

Peter lives with a craniofacial disorder, setting him apart from others. He was diagnosed specifically with Goldenhar Syndrome, which is a congenital birth defect relating to deformities of the face.

The premise of Dankelson’s speech is spreading kindness, despite differences amongst everyone.

“Opening yourself to be friends with someone different than you will enrich your life,” Dankelson advised the audience during his address.

Throughout the speech, Dankelson used humor, such as unexpectedly pulling off his fake ear, sparking gasps and laughs amongst the crowd. During his discussion, he had volunteers read love and kindness quotes from people such as Ghandi. He also touched on bullying, and how wrong it is to ridicule someone’s differences.

Why does kindness matter?” Dankelson asked the crowd. “Everyone has a story that you know nothing about. How you treat people matters…everyone’s life has value.”

This is not Dankelson’s first motivation speech. He consistently gives speeches about the book “Wonder” and the importance of kindness, mainly to 5th and 6th-grade students who have read the story in class. He is a national ambassador for Children’s Craniofacial Association, delivering speeches like he did at Best Buddies.  If he is unavailable to speak in person, he will often hold Skype calls with classrooms to do a question-and-answer session with students.

According to the CCA, a craniofacial disorder is an abnormality of the face and/or the head.  These differences can develop from abnormal growth patterns of the face or skull, involving soft tissue and bones. However, Dankelson explains it differently.

It mostly means I’ve had a lot of surgeries and a lot of doctors. I’m high maintenance and pretty expensive,” he joked.

In addition to a multitude of doctors and surgeons, Dankelson has had to undergo 26 surgeries. This number includes one that took place this previous summer. That surgery implanted a magnet on the side of his head that his magnetic hearing aid is able to attach to. This makes it easier for him to use day to day.

Along with a select few, Dankelson was recently awarded The Champion of Hope Award, presented by Global Genes, for teen advocacy. He was nominated by the director of CCA. In October of 2015, he traveled to Huntington Beach in California to accept the award at a banquet.

“Peter is a high school student with the goal to educate students across the country about craniofacial conditions and encourage them to Choose Kind,” stated the Global Genes website as to why he was granted the award.

Dankelson holds "Wonder", a book whose main character has a similar story to his own.
Rachel Benner
Dankelson holds “Wonder”, a book whose main character has a similar story to his own.

In 2012, the book “Wonder” by Raquel J. Palacio was released featuring a main character, Auggie, who lives with a craniofacial disorder. Palacio based the character off of Peter and other kids like him. Dankelson is mentioned in the letter to the readers at the beginning of the book.

“Peter, born with craniofacial issues, now felt like had a hero he could root for in Auggie Pullman,” writes Palacio in the introduction.

The most prominent theme in the story “Wonder,” matching Dankelson’s personal mantra, is that kindness can be world-changing. In Dankelson’s speech last week, he discussed the concept of kindness and what it means to him.

“I believe kindness is a choice that anyone can make, any time, any where. Kindness costs nothing, but it can change the world. It’s a superpower known to anyone,” said Dankelson.

A few years ago, Dankelson was invited to play the lead Auggie in a staged reading of the show adaption of “Wonder.” The director of the reading asked CCA for someone to act as Auggie and they chose Dankelson. After practicing it for a month, he traveled to Santa Monica, California, where he described the event as “really fun.”

Starring in the play and presenting his speech, Dankelson has met an abundant amount of people.

“It is kind of amazing at some times. I speak to schools all over the nation, and I’ve got to meet some really incredible people,” Dankelson said.

People he was introduced to include Palacio, Cher, Ed O’Neill, and some of his favorite Red Wings hockey players.

There is a lot more to Dankelson’s story: more information on his story and future endeavors can be found on his website