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Local student with autism whose graduation speech went viral for his first job


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WXYZ) – Four years ago, we were excited by a senior’s graduation speech from Seaholm High School that went viral. This month I met this young man to see where he was now. Guess what? He continues to inspire.

I first met Ben Gretchko at his family’s home in Birmingham in June 2017 as we watched a video of his graduation speech.

“I am not the captain of the football team. I am certainly not the major of our class. I am a student with learning disabilities. In fact, I am autistic, ”he declared at the opening of his speech. Her mother told me at the time that silence fell over the room.

It was a mic drop moment that went viral. He had over 1.6 million views in two weeks on the Autism Speaks Facebook page.

“I entered four universities. I’m actually going to Western Michigan University, ”he announced later in the speech – which drew cheers and applause from the crowd.

David Gretchko

Ben Gretchko poses with his parents Steve and Lisa Gretchko after graduating from Western Michigan University in May 2021.

Fast forward four years later, we find him a proud Bronco who has just graduated from WMU.

“I know. It’s weird. It’s really weird. I can’t believe it,” he said, smiling.

Ben didn’t just pass his classes. He excelled.

He was accepted to Honors College in his second year, majored in journalism, reported for the student newspaper, and even became one of the editors of the Western Herald.

After two internships related to broadcasting, he set his sights on the news.

While chatting via Zoom about this, I brought up a conversation we had after filming our first interview together four years ago. I remembered that he had mentioned that he was interested in disseminating information.

Local student with autism whose graduation speech went viral for his first job

I told him to go! And now I find out that Ben is making his dream come true!

“Here, I’m about to get my first job,” he says proudly.

This week he started working as a news producer at FOX 17 in Grand Rapids.

And get this! We now have a special connection beyond just working on TV news.

“WXYZ and FOX 17 – we are sister stations! We are both in the EW Scripps family. That’s exciting. We will be colleagues! ” I said.

And Ben said, “I know! It’s really exciting. I got this job and I was like, ‘Oh my God. I will be colleague with Alicia, I will be the colleague of Alicia Smith. ”

It was a loop moment for both of us.

And this is also another milestone he has reached – another challenge that he has conquered.

“My parents were told I would never graduate from college, and here I am. My parents told me I wouldn’t talk, and here I’m talking to you. I’m going into a business we’re talking about to earn my life. So I would say don’t give up. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do, “he said.

Ben Gretchko’s message of acceptance resonated four years ago with so many people, and now his message of perseverance and following your dreams is just as inspiring.

This reporter is very proud of you, Ben, and delighted that you are now part of the EW Scripps “Work-Family”.

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