But when he was just a child, his life almost took a different turn.
At the age of 4, Ianni was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder, which is on the autism spectrum. At the age of 5, doctors told his parents he might not even graduate from high school. He would never attend college, let alone step foot on a college campus. He would be in a group home. He would never be an athlete.
When Ianni started high school, his parents finally told him the doctors’ grim diagnosis, and it was then that he decided he wouldn’t let the limitations of his condition define him.
“When I was told this story it became my motivation from here on out to prove those people and any other doubters I had in my life wrong,” Ianni said to more than 100 student journalists attending the MIPA summer workshop at a press conference on July 30. “I worked very hard on the court, off the court, in my social life and especially worked hard in the classroom because I wasn’t the greatest student in the world. I worked hard for every single grade I got.”
He also spent time learning skills that most students take for granted.
“My teachers really helped me a lot throughout my life,” Ianni said. “My speech teachers helped me even more because they helped me understand sarcasm and not to take things as literally as others were.”
After completing high school and receiving a full ride scholarship to Grand Valley State University, Ianni decided that Michigan State was where he really belonged.
“I walked on [at Michigan State University] for two years,” Ianni said. “Coach (Tom) Izzo awarded me a full ride scholarship my senior year. Everything aside – friendships, championships, scholarships – my proudest moment that I will always be proud of is when I walked across that stage at the Breslin Center and got my diploma. I did something people said I had 0 percent [chance] of doing; they said it was impossible.”
Ianni is now a motivational speaker for the Autism Alliance of Michigan where he is an advocate for anti-bullying. In less than a year he’s traveled the country and spoken to over 92,000 students, families and businesses. In his presentation, he talks about his life story and the hardships he went through with bullying.
“Every school I have gone to, their principal has called me a week after and told me that their troublemakers have not been in their office lately,” he said. “They haven’t heard a peep out of them and things have gotten a lot better. Sixty-five percent of kids who are on the autism spectrum are the number one target for bullies and I want to bring that percentage all the way down to zero.”
Ianni said he hopes his message will push kids not to give up on anything or anybody and to live out their dreams no matter what obstacles stand in their way.
“I tell kids to reach for the stars, because they’re not far to reach,” he said. “I’ve reached for the stars many, many times in my life and I’m not even close to being done touching them all yet. I’m just getting started.”