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State Honoree

Photo of State Honoree Rylee Howerton

Rylee Howerton

Vineland, New Jersey

Rylee Howerton, 13, of Vineland, New Jersey, a seventh-grader at Lincoln Avenue Middle School, educates people on the importance of using words that do not offend others, through speaking engagements, public service announcements, appearances at community events and a children’s book that she wrote. “I am a 13-year-old girl who has autism,” said Rylee, “and I don’t like when people say ‘retarded’.” In fact, when she heard two girls use that term at a dance recital, “I was so hurt and went home crying,” she said. “That night I decided I would do everything I possibly could to teach others to choose the right words so no one has to feel like I did at the dance recital.”

“Choose the Wise Words” became the name of Rylee’s initiative. She puts a lot of effort into arranging speaking engagements to urge audiences to be thoughtful when referring to someone’s disability, race, religion or sexual orientation. After her speeches, she asks her listeners to sign pledge cards vowing to use sensitive language. Rylee also has recorded public service announcements that have aired on a local radio station and on her school’s morning announcements. In addition, she wrote a children’s book to use as a companion teaching tool and further promotes her message by setting up booths at community events and utilizing social media. “There’s too much hurt in the world,” said Rylee. “I want hurtful words to one day be extinct from everyone’s vocabulary.”