Think Out Loud

Ashland High School valedictorian on dancing, acting and overcoming challenges from cerebral palsy

By Allison Frost (OPB)
June 23, 2023 11:39 p.m. Updated: June 28, 2023 7:09 a.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, June 28

Luke Hogan Laurenson at his graduation from Ashland High School in June 2023. He was a valedictorian and delivered a speech using a communication device, one of the tools he uses to overcome the challenges he faces from dystonic quadriplegia cerebral palsy.

Luke Hogan Laurenson at his graduation from Ashland High School in June 2023. He was a valedictorian and delivered a speech using a communication device, one of the tools he uses to overcome the challenges he faces from dystonic quadriplegia cerebral palsy.

Courtesy Bob Palermini/ / Bob Palermini,


Luke Hogan Laurenson graduated with straight As from Ashland High School and gave a valedictorian speech at his graduation earlier this month. His high achievements are especially remarkable given the challenges he overcomes every day. Laurenson was born with a form of cerebral palsy that makes speech and movement difficult. Doctors told his mother that he would never be able to walk and would likely spend most of his life in an institution. But as he said in his graduation speech, he just “never believed that.” He walked by himself at age 12 and shortly thereafter, danced by himself. A video of him dancing to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” went viral. Laurenson has also acted in roles with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and at his high school. We talk with Laurenson and his mother, Jane Hogan, about his life and his post-high school plans, which include traveling the country to share his experience and what inspires him.

The following trancript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. We end today with one of this year’s valedictorians from Ashland High School. Luke Hogan Laurenson got straight A’s, he acted in productions at his high school and with the Oregon Shakespeare festival, and he has a form of cerebral palsy that makes speech and movement difficult. In fact when he was born a doctor told his mother that he would never be able to walk and would likely spend most of his life in an institution. But he walked by himself at the age of 12, and soon after that he danced by himself. We talked with Luke yesterday, along with his mother, Jane. Luke uses a machine to help him communicate which you’ll hear as we go. In Luke’s valedictorian speech, he said that he never believed the doctors who said he wouldn’t be able to walk. I asked him why.

Luke Hogan Laurenson: Because I do not have any cognitive damage, and I was determined to prove them wrong.

Miller: Jane, what about you? What drove you in those early years? And did you believe those doctors?

Jane Hogan: No, because I was told this on day six. And I just remember being grateful on the way home because they said he didn’t have cognitive damage. And I thought “Okay, I can work with this then, and I’m gonna prove him wrong.” He wasn’t a very nice doctor. So I just set out to prove him wrong as well.

I knew that there were many miracles out there and that this could happen for Luke.

Miller: Luke, what kinds of messages did you get from your mom and your sister?

Laurenson: You can do anything that you want.You can dream big. And it is really important to work hard.

Miller: What do you remember about the first time that you walked on your own?

Laurenson: It was amazing to walk by myself. I wanted to walk over and show my neighbors.

Miller: What about the first time that you danced?

Laurenson: It was amazing to dance by myself and it felt incredible.

Miller: Jane, what about you? What do you remember about the first time that you saw Luke dance?

Hogan: I just tried to grab a camera, because somebody else remembered that for the walking. He just got off the sofa and just started dancing. So I grabbed my camera, and I couldn’t hold it still because I was so moved by it. But I hit record, and it was just one of the happiest moments of my life.

Miller: Luke, my understanding is that this is connected to a Taylor Swift song “Shake It Off,” which became a kind of anthem for you. How?

Laurenson: “Shake It Off” was my favorite song to dance to. It became my anthem because I have damage to my nervous system that makes it hard for me to handle stress. So my mom and I would always shake it off when I was having a hard time. Dancing always makes me happy.

Miller: That’s just one song, but how important has Taylor Swift been for you? I should note that you mentioned it in your valedictorian speech recently.

Laurenson: Taylor has been super important to me. Her music helped me so much over the years. There’s no one I would rather dance to or sing with.

Miller: Jane, have you become a Taylor Swift fan as well?

Hogan: Yes. We did “Shake It Off” before we got on today, and it was so much fun to just shake off our nerves. I think she’s been such a beautiful influence on so many people, and she was so kind when we met her. She’s just an authentic person.

Miller: I understand that a couple of years ago you went to one of her concerts and then you met her. What was that like?

Laurenson: It was absolutely incredible because it was my dream to meet her. She and her mom were so kind to us. Her mom invited us up to their booth to watch the concert with them. When Taylor came backstage, she called across the room to me: “Luke, my mom says I am going to love you.”

Miller: Am I right that you actually got tickets to her current tour, the tickets that were so hard for some people to get that there were congressional investigations.

Laurenson: Yes, we are going to see it around July 29th. My sister Julia worked for two days to help us get the tickets.

Miller: How are you feeling about seeing her again?

Laurenson: This is a dream come true because during the pandemic I worried that I would never get to see her in concert again.


Miller: You grew up in Ashland, a city that’s obviously famous for theatre. When did you realize that you wanted to be an actor?

Laurenson: My sister was an actor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And when I was 11 I was in a summer camp called Project UP. It was a camp for kids with different abilities to do a musical. The show is High School Musical, and I got to play Troy. That’s when I knew I wanted to be an actor.

Miller: What was it like to work with professional actors at OSF?

Laurenson: It was fantastic. I knew some of the actors from shows they did with my sister at the Festival. So it was a lot of fun to be in a show with them. I also met a lot of amazing new actors.

Miller: What did you learn from them?

Laurenson: I learned more about acting by watching all of them. I also learned how hard they worked in their job.

Miller: Can you tell us about the Ashland High School production of Curtains?

Laurenson: The director Michael Hume was someone that my family knew from the Festival. We told him that I wanted to be in the show. He was amazing and came over and met with me and my mom a few times and wrote a part in the show for me.

Miller: How do you approach timing on stage, since you need to program your speech into the device, the device you’re using now, to actually say them out loud?

Laurenson: It was really hard at first. I think my mom should help explain it.

Hogan: Yeah, it was pretty complex because he was trying to hit the Talk Buddy with the same hand that he was navigating his wheelchair with, and then add blocking to it and add timing. And then after about a week of rehearsals, Luke had the idea to use his head pointer. So we put the head pointer in a baseball cap, and then he had his hand free to navigate. And then it became much easier, just a matter of the repetition of it. It took him a show or two, but by the second show the timing was really succinct.

Miller: A head pointer, I think I’ve seen that on the video from the valedictorian speech where it’s kind of like a stylus attached to a hat which can be used to hit the touch screen to play different lines. Is that the way it works?

Hogan: Yes.

Miller: Luke, what did it mean to you to become one of your high school’s valedictorians?

Laurenson: It’s been a dream of mine since my sister did it. It has brought me so much joy. I also feel more confident.

Miller: Jane, what about you? What was it like for you to watch your son give his speech?

Hogan: Incredibly moving. Just to watch in awe this resolve that he has. He said five years earlier “I’m gonna be a valedictorian like Julia.” And I did everything to talk him out of it, because I saw how hard it was on Julia. And he said “no mom, I’m gonna do it.” And I said, “Luke, you have cerebral palsy, you have dysarthria, you can just get B’s and I’ll be really happy!” And he said “no, I’m gonna do this mom.” He again showed me for the umpteenth time that he’s capable of much more than I imagine he’s capable of.

Miller: Has that been a role that you have had to navigate over the years? It seems like as a mom, obviously you want your children to excel, but you also want to take care of them. I’m just curious how you have managed that as a parent.

Hogan: Well truthfully, Julia, my daughter, has helped a lot with that. She shows me how to push Luke much better than I’m capable of it.

Miller: You mean because she’s not the mom figure, it’s easier for her to push?

Hogan: Exactly she’s the older sister so she expects the most out of Luke out of everybody. And then when he was at OSF, that really raised the bar. Luke never knew, he had never been doing something that he was so passionate about. And so OSF raised the bar on him. And he had to go to school full time, he was working six days a week, he was doing shows. And he navigated it all beautifully. And I don’t know that I would have ever pushed him that much. But he pushed himself and showed so beautifully that he was capable of so much more.

Miller: Luke, what do you think that people who don’t have disabilities, or maybe I should say people who don’t yet have disabilities, most misunderstand about life with disabilities?

Laurenson: That we can do a lot more than you think we can have given the chance.

Miller: Jane, what have you learned from Luke?

Hogan: That every day, no matter what the challenges are, that if we can approach it with love and more love and joy, everything goes much better. And that we’re really here to help each other, and to be of service to each other, and all those other things I was taught in school were not nearly as important as that.

Miller: Luke, going forward, what are your goals now?

Laurenson: My first goal is to help my mom get this handicapped accessible travel van because all my dreams require me to travel. I want to do public speaking, acting, and modeling. I would also love to work for Taylor Swift. I want to speak at high schools and share my story, and show the documentary about when I was in Hairspray called “Including Us.” And I hope to help other teenagers.

Miller: Luke and Jane, thanks very much for your time today. I really appreciate it. It was a pleasure talking with you.

Hogan: Thank you.

Laurenson: Thank you.

Miller: That was Luke Hogan Laurenson and Jane Hogan.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook, send an email to, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.