As Brett Banfe was moving into his dorm last fall, a student volunteer asked if he needed any help. Instead of answering, Banfe began punching words into his pager. Seeing the volunteer's perplexity, Banfe's mother, Sharon, spoke up. "I'm sorry," she said, "our son has taken a vow of silence."
Now, seven months later, Banfe, 19, a freshman at New Jersey's William Paterson University, is on track to stay silent for a year, a goal he set last Sept. 1. Why would an otherwise normal teenager keep mum for 12 whole months? Banfe, of course, isn't saying. But in an e-mail interview he suggested it had to do with promoting self-discipline in himself and others—he's already inspired his mother to quit smoking. "It's mainly about commitment," he wrote, "and besides, no one else except monks has tried this."
With the silence has come an unexpected celebrity; Banfe has been interviewed—with the help of his family—by both Oprah
and Howard Stern, and Congress has given him a commendation for "inspiring others to meet their goals."
One of five children of Gerald, a soil and mulch distributor, and Sharon, a homemaker, of Haddon-field, N.J., Banfe finds not talking no barrier to school work. "We get some really heated e-mail discussions going," he writes, "especially in my philosophy class."
And his social life hasn't suffered. He has a girlfriend, he writes, who "just can't wait until I can talk."