This story originally appeared in Source.
Savanah Overturf was nonverbal until she was 4 years old. Now, the 28-year-old Colorado State University student is pursuing a career in public speaking, and reads slam poetry at a Fort Collins coffee shop once a week.
Overturf, who is pursuing a major in communication studies with a minor in creative writing, was crowned National Miss Amazing earlier this month. The pageant highlights women and girls with unique abilities, and teaches leadership and advocacy skills. More than 270 people competed this year.
During the competition, Overturf read a poem she wrote about the “R-Word” and the hurt it causes. She has autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy, and said she wants to be a voice for people like her.
Ahead of the fall semester, Overturf spoke to SOURCE about her latest accomplishment and what her goals are for the future.
SOURCE: Congratulations on the Miss Amazing title! Tell us more about the competition.
Overturf: Technically it’s a pageant, but it’s not run like a beauty pageant in that sense. Miss Amazing is for women and girls with disabilities like myself, and it’s a pageant about creating social change and changing the way people look at those with unique abilities. It gives us a unique platform to create a change we want to see in the world.
We do different sections, we do interviews, because as people with unique skills, that’s something we want to work on.
There is also a “right-hand man” portion, which is literally no speaking, it’s just confidence onstage, how you can non-verbally influence people. We also do an intro portion, and it’s ‘Hi, I’m so and so from here, this is what I believe in and this is what I do.’”
We do a talent portion, but we consider it a “passion presentation,” as there are many different types of talents. There’s singing, there’s dancing, we have comedians.
I myself am a slam poet.
How did you get into slam poetry? What was the inspiration for your winning poem?
I’ve been doing poetry for a long time. The poem I read at nationals was called “The R Word,” and it’s about why we shouldn’t use the word, the stigma behind it and how it makes people feel.
During nationals I wore a cape. It has an “R” with a “no sign.”
I try to write at least four or five poems a week. It depends on what happens in the week I guess, to make me feel inspired to write a poem. A lot of my poetry is advocacy-based, so something will happen and I will write about it.
I go to First Friday poetry slams at the Bean Cycle in Fort Collins.
Watch Overtorf read her poem about the “R Word” at First Friday below:
What made you so passionate about public speaking, and willing to put yourself out there?
I was non-verbal until the age of 4, so learning to speak and learning to use my words to get the things I wanted was really important. Once I learned to speak, I noticed my voice could make a change.
I wasn’t always confident because I was bullied in school.
I was part of an organization in high school, a class called the Callico Cat Café, and it was a secluded classroom that was specifically for individuals like myself with disabilities. We created a restaurant there during school time, so that was very, very interesting and intriguing, and it gave me friends.
I felt very confident because I knew everyone, was always in the same room with everyone, and they were all different like me.
The café did a banquet ceremony, and I think my junior year I was able to do my speech for everybody there. That was the first speech I gave. I always wanted to give TED Talks and use speeches to make a difference.
Watch Overturf’s 2020 TED Talk called “Autism Through My Eyes” below:
What will you do with the National Miss Amazing crown?
I really want to expand something I do a lot, which is to go into organizations, businesses and schools.
I talk to them about my struggles and kind of what I’ve gone through, and give them a role model to look up to. I also discuss how to work with someone with IDD (intellectual developmental disability) like myself, and autism in society.
How can we work in society to educate ourselves? If someone with a unique need comes into your establishment, how do you act? How do you make someone look comfortable in their own skin?
How do you balance the 12 credits you take each semester with all of this advocacy work?
It’s something I do. I think if you love it enough, you find a way to make time.
School is very important to me, and I think without school, I wouldn’t be doing my advocacy work. They go hand-in-hand.
What misconceptions do people have about you?
People tend to see me, and they obviously don’t see my disabilities and the things I struggle with, so they act a little differently because I act differently sometimes.
Even though I have an intellectual delay and struggle to do certain things, it doesn’t mean I don’t try my hardest. Sometimes I have meltdowns on campus, and I want people to understand my unique needs.
People like me can go to school, we can further our education, and that’s something people need to know.
What’s your advice for other students?
I think you have to find your passion, and once you find your passion, just follow it.
When I’m at CSU, I really like the Center for Public Deliberation. It’s really given me a spot on campus to find confidence.
Finding your spot to shine is really important here. From there, you can do anything.