It was my first year at college. I was somewhat settling into the idea of being an individual with my own ideas and wants. I had been on campus for more than a month. The fall was here, October was approaching and my birthday was on the horizon…there was electricity in the air that was almost palpable.

The excitement of my birthday, of my first months away from home, of settling into myself all came to a standstill when on October 7th news broke of Matthew Shepard. Matthew was a young man who was attacked and tortured near Laramie, Wyoming because of his sexual identity.

Matthew was pronounced dead at 12:53am on October 12, 1998; he was 21—it was my 18th birthday.

Often times I like to think that I engage in the social justice work with which I engage because of Matthew; because of some connection I feel I have with him. Sometimes I wonder where he would be today if he were still alive. I often wonder if I would be engaged with the social justice work with which I engage if Matthew were still alive. More often than not I wonder if I am doing enough; if I am living my life in a way that truly emphasizes the loss of life that has inspired so many changes—I don’t know.

Be inspired; be inspired by something; be inspired by something to act, be inspired by something to act for good. Do something good; don’t cause harm; don’t alienate; find ways to be inclusive; find ways to let people know they belong and that we all welcome and want them here—let people know they are loved.

The best birthday gift I could ever ask for is that all of my friends and family do something nice for someone, to let someone know they are wanted and loved.

Happy Birthday to me.Matthew Shepard