Jennifer Anniston has it all

Jennifer Aniston has it all: She is accomplished, beautiful, rich and famous. On Friday, January 30, she is scheduled to receive the prestigious Montecito Award at the 30th Annual Santa Barbara Film Festival in recognition of her career-long “classic and standout performances” and her style that “has made a major contribution to film.” And, as she recently revealed, she has dyslexia.

In a lengthy article published in The Hollywood Reporter, Aniston noted that school had always been a struggle for her, that her favorite classes were art and drama—and that she never considered herself smart. She spent much of her time in school developing her sense of humor and cultivating friendships. When she was identified with dyslexia in her early twenties, it was “life-changing,” she said.

“I felt like all of my childhood trauma-dies, tragedies, dramas were explained.” Jennifer Aniston is in good company. Show business—past and present—is full of talented, award-winning individuals with dyslexia, including innovative directors Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg; actors Kiera Knightley, Orlando Bloom and Tom Cruise; screenwriters Fannie Flagg, Brian Grazer and Billy Bob Thornton.

So why does it matter for any of us to know about a famous person’s dyslexia? Because people with dyslexia struggle so much in school, they need to know there is successful life after the classroom. They need to have hope that they will succeed.

Just this week, I met with the mother of a high-school girl with dyslexia who aspires to be a photojournalist. She is a cheerleader with lots of friends; she’s bright, funny, and motivated to achieve, and she loves to perform. But she does not do well on tests; she struggles with her reading and she often stays up until two o’clock in the morning completing her homework. The poor girl is getting ground down; she, does not feel like she is smart, and is reluctant to set high educational goals for fear she will not succeed.

When I told the mom that she should tell her daughter that Jennifer Aniston just revealed her dyslexia and her feelings of not being smart, she brightened at the thought.

Positive role models matter. Because Jennifer Aniston was willing to talk freely about her struggles in school, her feelings of inadequacy in the classroom, she will have a whole new group of admirers when she steps out on that red carpet: the 1 in 5 individuals who share her dyslexia will now view her with the respect that comes from shared understanding of triumph over difficulty.

Her revelation—that grabbed headlines around the world—means hope: If she could succeed with dyslexia, maybe they can, too. For so many of these kids and their families, dyslexia is a hidden issue of quiet desperation. But she has shined a bright light on dyslexia, and brought to it to a much bigger stage, right at the moment when all eyes are on her for her many accomplishments throughout her career.