Local student with autism whose high school graduation speech went viral scores first job

Posted at 5:23 AM, May 14, 2021

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WXYZ) — Four years ago, we were buzzing about a Seaholm High School senior’s graduation speech that went viral. This month, I caught up with that young man to see where he is now. Guess what? He continues to inspire.

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

“I’m not the captain of the football team. I’m certainly not the valedictorian of our class. I am a student with learning disabilities. In fact, I am autistic,” he said in the opening of his speech. His mom told me back then that a hush fell over the room.

It was a mic drop moment that went viral. It got more than 1.6 million views in two weeks on the Autism Speaks Facebook page.

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

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

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

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

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

He was accepted into the Honors College his sophomore year, majored in journalism, reported for the student newspaper, and even became one of The Western Herald’s editors.

After two broadcast-related internships, he set his sights on news.

As we chatted via Zoom about this, I brought up a conversation we’d had after shooting our first interview together four years ago. I remembered he’d mentioned that he was interested in going into broadcast news.

I told him to go for it! And now I find out that Ben is fulfilling his dream!

“Here I am about to go into my first job,” he said 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 in TV News.

“WXYZ and FOX 17 – we are sister stations! We’re both in the E.W. Scripps family. This is exciting. We’re going to be co-workers!” I said.

And Ben replied, ”I know! This is really exciting. I got this job, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m going to be co-workers with Alicia, I’m going to be Alicia Smith’s co-worker.’”

It was a full-circle moment for both of us.

And it’s also another milestone he’s reached -- another challenge he’s conquered.

"My parents were basically told that I would never graduate college, and here I am. My parents told me that I would not be talking, and here I am talking to you. I’m going into a business that we talk for a living. So, I would say don’t give up. Don’t let anybody tell you what you can and can’t do,” he said.

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

This journalist is very proud of you, Ben, and so glad you’re now part of the E.W. Scripps “Work-Family.”