Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. As you may know, Matthew was a college student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming when he was killed in a hate crime for being gay. His murder brought national attention to hate crime legislation at both the state and national levels, and eventually led to the passing of the Matthew Shepard Act in 2009. Matthew’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, also began The Matthew Shepard Foundation (https://www.matthewshepard.org.) The foundation’s mission is to “empower individuals to embrace human dignity and diversity through outreach, advocacy and resource programs. We strive to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance.”
As part of my Monday Memo to the faculty last week, I shared an article entitled The Book of Matthew from Teaching Tolerance (https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2018/the-book-of-matthew). The piece outlines the lasting legacy that Matthew’s death had on our culture and society and suggests ways that schools can honor him and share his story. At our morning meeting today, I spoke to the Middle School students about Matthew and his lasting legacy.
I have a distinct memory of Matthew’s death, which occurred when I was in high school. However, it was not until college that I really had a full understanding of the effect his death had on our society. The Laramie Project, a play by Moises Kauffman and member of the Tectonic Theater Project that explores Matthew’s story and the reaction to his death, was the focus of my capstone projects as a double major in English and Theater during my undergraduate work. During that time, I was immersed in Matthew’s life and his death, and it has had a profound effect on me ever since. It has shaped who I am today as an educator, an administrator, and a father.
We highlight our core values of respect, honesty, kindness, and responsibility in all that we do at Brimmer, and I feel that the nation’s reaction to Matthew’s death in 1998 was one key element to the shift to emphasizing character education in schools. In a year where Brimmer’s theme is on empathy and ethical thinking, talking about Matthew is especially important and poignant. I hope today you will take a moment to talk with your student about Matthew so that his memory will live on, and so that we can prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.