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VUSN Dean’s Diversity Lecture by advocate and nonverbal speaker available to view

Holly Forlenza, Eileen Forlenza

An overflow audience attended the January 14 VUSN Dean’s Diversity Lecture given by Holly and Eileen Forlenza. An estimated 250 students, faculty, staff and interested community members heard Holly, a nonverbal motivational speaker, and her mother Eileen, an advocate for family involvement in health care, present “From Try to Triumph: The Journey of a Nonverbal Young Adult.”

The event was taped and is available here. It was also lived streamed

Holly Forlenza is unable to speak and was diagnosed with severe mental retardation, epilepsy and failure to thrive when she was 2 years old. In 2011, when she was 22, she began using an iPad and keyboard to communicate and has since become an advocate for the empowerment of nonverbal people. She advises, presents at conferences, paints, writes songs and blogs. Her book, Just Because I Can’t Talk Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Have Anything to Say tells her story and calls for inclusion, compassion and love of all people.

Eileen Forlenza, a successful motivational speaker on leadership, has been Holly’s advocate from her birth. Her personal experience with parenting and dealing with the health care, education, care coordination and insurance systems give her an authenticity in speaking on the importance of family engagement. Her advocacy and support of policy development on behalf of children with disabilities resulted in an invitation from President Barack Obama to join him at the White House to mark the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Patient- and family-centered care improves patients’ health and the quality of health care,” said Linda D. Norman, DSN, FAAN, VUSN dean and the Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing. “Yet as Holly and Eileen Forlenza can attest, sometimes people with disabilities don’t have a voice in their own care decisions – and sometimes the family’s knowledge and input aren’t utilized. I think the Forlenzas’ personal perspectives will challenge our assumptions and encourage us to consider patient and family care differently.”

The Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Dean’s Diversity Lecture Series was established in 2016. It explores the diversity of backgrounds, cultures, ideas and viewpoints in our world today. It seeks to equip students, faculty, staff and other community members with the knowledge and understanding needed to lead nursing forward in a global society.

For more information on Holly and Eileen Forlenza, go to and