Hallie Hovey-Murray ’16 brings a fresh voice to autism advocacy
Almost everyone has something that makes them “different.” But that distinction can become your strength, says Hallie Hovey-Murray ’16. She speaks from experience. Just weeks before graduating from SMU, she wrote an op-ed that began, “Hi, my name is Hallie, and I have autism.”
Soon after the piece was published, Hallie’s inbox blew up with invitations to tell her story. A history major in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, she earned her bachelor’s degree at 20 and decided to use her new-found celebrity to shine a light on autism. She returned to her home state of Virginia to study law, and became the only contestant with autism to compete in the Miss Virginia pageant. For her talent, she taught herself ventriloquism. She began using “Gus the Goose” and other puppets as icebreakers during speaking engagements and her volunteer work with teens on the autism spectrum.
“Autism was a struggle for me, but it also has been a way to give back and help people.”
Hallie was ready for the spotlight, partly because of the skills she honed at SMU, where she served as president of the debate team. Ben Voth, director of debate and speech in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, says almost every student starting his program shares a huge hurdle: “overcoming the natural human fear of public speaking.” While Hallie chose to deal with her challenges in her own way, all SMU students can take advantage of the array of services and resources available through the Autism Success Foundation. The center houses the Disability Accommodation and Success Strategies program, which helps students with disabilities participate as fully as possible in academics and activities.
“Hallie knew things would be harder for her, but she pushed herself and never made excuses.” – Ben Voth, director of debate and speech at SMU”
The 6-foot-1 dynamo received her law degree from William and Mary Law School last year and started a nonprofit, the Autism Success Foundation, which promotes academic and career opportunities for young people on the autism spectrum. She recently earned the title of Miss Chesterfield 2020 and is now focusing on Gordian Partners, LLC, a consulting firm she founded that works with businesses, nonprofits and educational institutions to develop inclusion strategies. As she builds both her nonprofit and her company, Hallie sees her work as uplifting everyone, not just people with autism or another disability.
“I believe that having an inclusive society for every individual benefits us all.”