As political science valedictorian Matt Easton took the podium Friday at the Brigham Young University commencement ceremony, he congratulated his classmates on their victories — congrats to those who earned a difficult and rigorous degree, who raised children while studying, who stood in the face of adversity to make campus better.
But he also celebrated his own personal victories: surviving a hit-and-run by a deer that required hernia surgery, learning how and whom to cherish after his mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and announcing publicly, for the first time during graduation, that he is “proud to be a gay son of God.”
Like Enos in the Book of Mormon, Easton said, he too battled and fought in prayer with his maker countless times while a BYU student.
“It was in these quiet moments of pain and confusion that I felt another triumph, that of coming to terms, not with who I thought I should be, but who the Lord has made me,” the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences graduate said. “As such, I stand before my family, friends and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God.”
The audience cheered and applauded Easton, who said coming out to his entire college “is a phenomenal feeling, and it is a victory for me in and of itself.”
Easton shared several clips of his speech on Twitter, saying he had told his closest friends and family members he was gay but felt it was important to share it publicly for himself and the LGBTQ+ community at BYU.
Recently, the school’s Honor Code Office has been criticized for investigating and punishing students, particularly LGBTQ ones, who reportedly violated the strict code of conduct. The university is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which earlier this month reversed a policy deeming same-sex married couples “apostates” and generally barring their children from baby blessings and baptisms.
Twitter users praised Easton for his bravery.
“Wow! What a courageous, powerful and inspiring speech. I’m equally inspired-and surprised-by the crowd’s response to your coming out,” @jamesdkey tweeted. “You’re giving hope & courage to so many other young people & helping to change hearts of all who are still bigoted. Thank you!”
Easton said he was grateful for all the support, especially from his family, friends, and the professors and faculty in the BYU Department of Political Science. He also said he feels lucky that the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences allowed him to share his “authentic and vulnerable self” with so many people.
“While I don’t speak for everyone—my own experience is all I can vouch for—I hope that people know that we ARE here at BYU, and we’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” he tweeted.