Candlelight Vigil for Matthew Shepard

Oct. 11, 1998 – I would like to first introduce you to the members of my family who are joined here tonight:

My wife, Lisa; our sons—Logan and Taylor; and our daughter, Ali. My mother is in the crowd as is our friend, Mr. Bert Lewis.

We came together as a family because, like you, we share concern for the future of Matthew Shepard. Our thoughts, like yours, are with his mom and his dad, his brother, and all of Matt’s close friends.

I have never met Matt. But he could be my son. He could be a friend of our children. And like our children, I’m sure Matt’s parents taught him what all of us teach ours—truth, hope, love, and acceptance—not lies, despair, hate, or bias. From what we have learned of Matt in the last few days, he has lived his life the way all of us should live ours.

We are saddened—heartsick—to believe that anyone could act against him with such unimaginable violence, motivated by irrational personal prejudice and hate. All of us, I would imagine, are haunted by the thought of a terribly battered young man with his future probably erased.

This has been an emotional weekend at the end of an emotional week for our University and for our community. Homecoming at the University of Wyoming provides us with an opportunity every year to celebrate the accomplishments of our alumni, to welcome them back to our campus, to renew old friendships, and to renew our commitment to the values of a great University—education, free expression, equality, diversity.

So what is usually an emotional event has become more so, because the violence wreaked upon our friend, Matt, is so antithetical to the values of this community, not only in the words we use every day but in the way we live our lives. Nothing could match the sorrow and revulsion we feel for the attack upon Matt. It is almost as sad, however, to see individuals and groups around the country react to this event by stereotyping an entire community if not an entire state.

This weekend has tested our endurance and our sense of community. And we should be proud of how we have responded: Instead of being torn apart by fear, we have been brought together in unity and in purpose. Instead of hiding in our homes, we have taken to the streets to join a parade of celebration for the life of Matthew Shepard. Instead of pointing fingers, we have joined hands.

We must continue—as we have in the past—to speak out against hatred, bigotry, and violence.

We must continue—as we have in the past—to make sure that the University leads the way in this community and in this state as a place where students can come together to learn and to develop to their full potential without fear of discrimination or prejudice.

And we must continue to keep Matt Shepard first in our minds and our hearts. There are plenty of people out there who would exploit this tragedy for their own purposes to drive a wedge between us, to attempt to make us wallow in guilt as a community for the acts of individuals. Let us keep our focus on Matt and his family. He is also, in a very real sense, our son, our brother, our friend, a member of our family. Let us close our circle around him.

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