Political science valedictorian Matt Easton delivered a commencement ceremony speech that won't soon be forgotten, taking the opportunity to come out publicly as gay for the first time in the middle of his remarks, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Easton's speech at the highly religious school was in most ways typical of a graduation ceremony, highlighting the accomplishments of his classmates and speaking to some of his own personal ups and downs during his college experience.
He then, for the first time publicly, announced to all in attendance that he was gay.
"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," Easton said during his speech. "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 crowd in attendance at the traditionally conservative university was wildly receptive to Easton's remarks, clapping and cheering in response to his unexpected revelation.
Easton would later describe the experience as "a phenomenal feeling" and "a victory for me in and of itself."
The new graduate says that he had shared with close family and friends the fact that he was gay, but that he wanted to acknowledge that fact publicly both for himself and for the benefit of the broader LGBTQ+ community at the university. After the speech, Easton shared several clips of his speech on social media, at which point he received a groundswell of positive responses."Wow! What a courageous, powerful and inspiring speech. I'm equally inspired -- and surprised -- by the crowd's response to your coming out," one Twitter user tweeted. "You're giving hope & courage to so many other young people & helping to change hearts of all who are still bigoted. Thank you!"
The commencement speech bombshell came as the administration at BYU continues to face scrutiny for its treatment of LGBTQ students.
Recently, the school's Honor Code Office has been criticized for investigating and punishing students, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community, for violations of the school's notoriously strict code of conduct. BYU is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which, just this month, reversed a longstanding policy defining same-sex couples who are married as apostates and preventing their children from baby blessings and baptisms.
In a series of tweets after the speech, Easton expressed optimism about the future of LGBTQ+ students at the university, stating "we're not going anywhere anytime soon."