Motivational speaker uses his struggles to inspire others

Marc Elliot poses for the cover of his 2012 book, “What Makes You Tic?” Since his first presentation as a sophomore in high school about his experience with Tourette’s, Elliot has delivered hundreds of speeches across the country.

BY REBECCA HANDLER Sophomore, Lafayette High School

“Live and let live” is the motto of inspirational speaker, Marc Elliot, 26.

Born with a rare intestinal condition called Hirschsprung’s disease, Elliot was lucky to survive his first six months. He grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, where he spent much of his young life in hospitals. At nine, Elliot was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a condition that caused him to tic uncontrollably. Often, his tics seemed to arrive at the worst of moments.

“For the most part, I think I caused a lot of confusion for people,” Elliot said. “They couldn’t understand why someone would be doing that in public.”

After being kicked off a Greyhound bus for inappropriate behavior, Elliot decided to start educating people by speaking about his condition. He delivered his first presentation as a sophomore at Clayton High School, speaking locally. 

“When I first started it was because I really wanted to educate people about Tourette’s and how we can become more understanding of people that don’t appear to be so normal,” Elliot said.

After graduating from Washington University with a degree in biology and plans to become a surgeon, Elliot discovered his love for public speaking and chose motivational speaking as his career. Today, Elliot has largely learned to control his  Tourette’s symptoms, and his speeches encourage tolerance and acceptance of others. He has visited and spoken before nearly 500 schools in his 4 years of formal presentations. A typical audience includes high school and college students. Indiana University freshman Andie Meschkow still recalls his message.

“The main lesson I came away with was to be accepting of all people,” Meschkow said. “I understood Tourette’s a lot more afterward.”

Like Meschkow, Sara Krachmalnick, a sophomore at University of Missouri – Columbia, walked away from Elliot’s presentation with a deeper sense of acceptance. Krachmalnick has seen Elliot speak more than once.

“Everybody has a story, and you don’t know everybody’s story, Krachmalnick said. “You have to be accepting and not judge other people without knowing what they’re going through.”

After Elliot’s speech, Krachmalnick formed a new outlook on life.

“I started looking at people differently, like if somebody was acting grumpy or rude, I started thinking about what they might’ve been going through that day, instead of just putting a label on them and judging them,” Krachmalnick said.

With his self-published book “What Makes You Tic?” in 2011, Elliot began spreading that message not just through the spoken word, but the written word as well. The book focuses on his experiences and what he has learned as a result.

“We very quickly make assumptions about people’s behavior and then we assume we know what’s going on, when in reality, we don’t know what’s really going on and my book is a small reminder of that,” Elliot said.

As a child and teen, Elliot received support from the Jewish community. Growing up at Congregation Shaare Emeth, Elliot appreciated the congregation’s understanding and encouragement.

“The temple was really understanding,” Elliot said. “They would let me make announcements at services and taught the idea of tzedakah. I think that belief was a part of my childhood and I truly try to think about ‘how can we help other people?’ That definitely has played a huge part of my life.”

Through his speeches and recent book, Elliot carries on that message. Today, he continues to educate students on his most important lesson.

“The main message is really understanding that we know so little about each other’s lives,” Elliot said. “Everyone is struggling and we don’t see that.”