Ben Hartranft visits KCSD for #ALLin

As I came into view of the signs of Kennett Middle School, I noticed several people masked up. One—who was wearing an Eagles shirt—cheered first to welcome our arrival. Stepping off the bus into the warm spring day, I assumed the person who cheered was a new teacher at Kennett Middle School. However, as I walked into the stadium, Mr Moore told me, “The speaker’s name is Ben; he’s the one in the Eagles’ shirt.” I assumed he was a person learning how to socialize, but he placed smiles on faces while dancing with anyone he encountered. The music calmed down and then Ben spoke. Despite having autism, he was speaking and socializing like a professional. When I heard about his efforts through his story and saw videos of him on the football fields, my brain exploded. He learned how to achieve almost anything without his disability getting in the way. Having a disabled sister, I can relate with him as he struggles to work his way through the condition he didn’t choose. It’s rough to have a family member with autism; I can tell because I have one. Since it was hard to hear his speech via Microsoft Teams, I will retell his story.

For many—Ben and my sister included—being diagnosed with autism began at a young age when their parents noticed something was off. As toddlers, children should speak 200 words; Ben had 20. Later, he was diagnosed with autism. After working hard over the years, he learned how to speak the words he needed.

By high school, he ended up becoming a social butterfly: Ben treated everyone at his school like they were friends, and his friends accepted him like that. Despite doubt from his parents, he campaigned for Homecoming King and won. Most likely because the other nominees for the title wanted their peers to vote for Ben.

Growing up, he was also doing well in life. He got a job at Dorney Park where he enjoyed making others happy and turning frowns into smiles. So much so that they later named him the Mayor of Dorney Park. He also raised money for autism by being an Autism Ambassador for the Eagles. There, he met several of the most popular Eagles players. Ben wanted to be on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and after 3 years of asking, he got his chance. (See Ben on The Ellen Show here; his reaction when meeting Ellen is just priceless!)

Of course, not every dream came true for Ben. He talked a lot about most of his success but mentioned a little about his many failures. One of which is how he failed to get the lead role in the school play. Despite those setbacks, that didn’t stop him from trying; he continued to reach for his dreams. That was the key takeaway of his presentation—despite one’s condition, one can achieve great things if they keep on trying.

— Billy Wikol