The crowd parted for 17-year-old Jared Smith.
President Biden had just finished a rousing stump speech, calling the upcoming election a choice, not a referendum, and declaring his optimism in America.
But as “Joe from Scranton” (how Rep. Mike Levin introduced him) began shaking hands Thursday night at the MiraCosta College gym, he made eye contact with Smith, a senior at Sage Creek High School.
Biden asked the lanky Carlsbad teen for his name and phone number. (An aide gathered the info.) He gently touched Smith’s shoulder.
Earlier, Biden was finishing a denunciation of airlines’ “hidden fees” during his 45-minute talk when he turned to his left and spotted a rough sign Smith held up.
At first, Biden blew off the young man in a gray Henley shirt about 30 feet away.
“I’ll read what you’re saying later, kid,” Biden said. “I’ll look at it later. It has small print on it.”
A woman nearby piped up, reading aloud the top half of the unfolded page: “Thank you for having a stutter.”
That stopped Biden in his tracks.
“Oh, God love ya,” he told Smith.
Thus began a 2-minute, 40-second detour from a mostly unscripted talk as Biden recalled his stutter until college — a “really debilitating thing.”
“If I grew up and I told you I had a cleft palate and it was fixed, no one would laugh,” Biden said. “If I told you I grew up and had a clubfoot and it was fixed, no one would laugh.”
He demonstrated his old stutter.
“I used to ta-ta-ta-talk like that whe-whe-whe-when I was a kid,” Biden told Smith. “It’s awful hard to ask a girl to go to the p-p-p-prom with me. Sounds funny, but guess what — it makes you feel like an idiot.”
Biden advised Smith, with 1,000 fellow Democrats looking on, that a stutter “cannot define you. It will not define you.”
He said he stays in contact with 35 kids overcoming their speech impediment.
“Remember the young man who nominated me?” said Biden recalling young Brayden Harrington. “What courage it took — a serious stutter.”
Biden, who also referenced the 2010 movie “The King’s Speech,” apologized for veering off topic but used it to make a point.
“The truth of the matter is there’s a lot of people in America, not just [those who] stutter, who need some confidence-building measures,” he said. “That’s even more important in my view as a consequence of what happened during the entire COVID crisis. There’s more need for — how can I say it? — for mental assistance than any time in American history.”
The Oceanside audience cheered.
Destiny Smith, Jared’s 18-year-old sister, recalled her emotions.
“He’s gone through a lot in school, and I just broke into tears at that moment,” she told Times of San Diego. “I’m still in awe.”
She said it was amazing to see the crowd make way for her brother to speak to Biden.
Jared told a reporter what he wrote on the bottom of what his sister called a “makeshift” sign: “You’re an inspiration to every kid like me.”
He also said he suffers what he called other “nonphysical disabilities” — autism and ADHD.
Jared, active in supporting ranked-choice voting and other electoral reforms, said he felt Biden’s presidency has been amazing and changed societal understandings.
Destiny Smith simply said of her brother: “I’m so proud of him.”
Updated at 6:52 p.m. Nov. 5, 2022