PROVO, Utah (KTVU, AP) - Brigham Young University valedictorian Matt Easton has a long list of accomplishments next to his name, and during a speech before his graduating class last week, he marked what he called yet another triumph, as he stood before a packed audience at his Mormon university and came out as gay.
"I stand before my family, my friends and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God," he announced, words that were met with applause and cheers.
The accomplished student graduated with a 4.0 grade point average with a degree in political science. As valedictorian, he was chosen to deliver remarks on Friday during the commencement ceremony for BYU's College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.
In a very personal account, the 24-year-old opened up about his struggles, and he spoke about the inner turmoil he experienced before getting to this place.
"...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 to be," Easton said. "I am not broken," he added, saying that he's loved by God.
Easton said it's only been in the last four years that he's come to terms with his own sexuality.
The valedictorian said it would have been unfathomable when he first began his college journey that would have found himself standing before a crowd, sharing this part of who he is.
"Four years ago it would be been impossible for me to image that I would come out to my entire college," Easton said. "It is a phenomenal feeling and it is a victory for me in it of itself."
The graduating senior also challenged others who may be dealing with their own struggles, to realize their own inner strength, and he credited the education he and his classmates received at Brigham Young for preparing them to take on adversity.
"Perhaps there are those of you here today who are uncertain about how to deal with the unique challenges that you face," Easton said. "I hope that my story can serve as a reminder that BYU has given us the foundation to fix the difficult problems, both secular and spiritual."
The university told KTVU that the speech was approved by the dean's office before Easton delivered it.
Brigham Young University is a private college owned by the Mormon church, which has doctrinal opposition to same-sex marriage and intimacy, though the church has gradually moved toward a more compassionate position on homosexuality.
In 2016, the church said homosexuality itself is not a sin, and LGBTQ members have a valued place. This month, the church reversed policies banning baptisms for children of gay parents that advocates said were particularly demeaning and hurtful.
Easton is a Utah native and lifelong member of the Mormon church.
He said he's received much support from those at BYU but noted there's still a long way to go, like allowing an official club to support LGTBQ students. BYU didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment.
Easton said until he delivered his speech, only a few people knew he is gay.
Since making his sexuality public, he's received widespread expressions of support from people everywhere, including notable figures like actress Kristin Chenoweth and the husband of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
In a tweet, Chenoweth said, "I’m very proud of you. As a straight Christian woman, i stand beside you!! I say to you: YOU ARE LOVED!!!!!"
I’m very proud of you. As a straight Christian woman, i stand beside you!! I say to you: YOU ARE LOVED!!!!! https://t.co/m5rl1zVnxR— Kristin Chenoweth (@KChenoweth) April 28, 2019
Pete Buttigieg's husband, Chasten Buttigieg, expressed his support tweeting, “'I am not broken.'” Bravo, Matthew!"
“I am not broken.” Bravo, Matthew! 💪https://t.co/OTbCz75i3E— Chasten Buttigieg (@Chas10Buttigieg) April 29, 2019
In Easton's closing remarks, he called on his audience to acknowledge and celebrate their own victories and their own stories, with a reminder: "Your place in the world is invaluable." He added words of inspiration saying, "No matter our trials, no matter our triumphs, we are here today to be a better version our ourselves... may we continue on our path to victory."
The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Oakland, Calif.