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Spoken poem on Tourette’s goes viral


Jamie Sanders '16 performed his spoken word poem about having Tourette's Syndrome. A video of the performance has received more than 20,000 views on YouTube. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

Jamie Sanders ’16 has always wanted to be a performer, and he has never let Tourette’s Syndrome get in his way.

Now, with a little help from the popular website Upworthy, Sanders’ spoken word performance, which was filmed for an Emerson video production class, is capturing people’s hearts worldwide.

“It was pretty emotional,” said Sanders, who has received countless emails from children with Tourette’s Syndrome and their parents since the video—with 20,000 hits and counting—went viral April 8.

“At first, I would tear up, and get choked up, and write very thoughtful messages back,” he said. “The entire reason for putting this video online was for kids to see it, and even to just improve their day.”

A member of the Emerson Poetry Project, Sanders wrote the poem, “This Time,” about six months ago. Recently he was approached by an acquaintance, Nicholas Hanley ’16, about performing the poem on camera for Hanley’s video production class, taught by part-time faculty member David Humphreys, MFA ’12, in the Visual and Media Arts (VMA) Department.

Performing is not foreign to Sanders, a VMA major who studied theater at La Guardia High School in New York City. His mother is Tony Award-winning actor Mary Ann Plunkett, and his father is actor Jay O. Sanders, whose credits include Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

“When I was little, around 4 or 5,” Sanders said, “my parents told me I stood on a chair with a poufy shirt and started acting. It was right after seeing Shakespeare in Love.”

He said Emerson has allowed him to hone both his writing and performing.

“When you’re performing in front of people, you become a harsher critic,” Sanders said, “which helps when you’re writing a script.”

Sanders begins his performance of “This Time” by sharing his experience as a sixth grader, when his classmates discovered he had Tourette’s.

“I see fear, and then amusement,” he said. “Two reactions most commonly seen to occur at a freak show.”

Sanders said many of the involuntary physical tics and verbal outbursts that come with Tourette’s are less severe in his case than with others who have the neurological disorder.

“I’m extraordinarily lucky,” he said. “But I do deal with it every second of every day. I’m able to have control over it and deal with it better than some others.”

There are several messages in Sanders’ poem, but he says a main theme is that managing Tourette’s improves over time. He also wants children with the disorder to be able to overcome embarrassment.

“It’s so much a part of me,” he said. “All the little tics and intricacies are an important part of my existence. I hope some little kid who’s getting picked on every day can [watch this and] come to that realization sooner.”

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