Brigham Young University student Matt Easton gave a speech to remember at his college's graduation ceremony when he announced publicly for the first time that he is gay.
In his speech Friday, Easton, the Valedictorian for the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at BYU, described that he was celebrating "a few of my own personal victories" during his time at the university.
The 24-year-old political science major included funny memories like getting hit by a deer while walking to class his freshman year and more serious moments like finding out his mother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer -- and how it led him to realize "how to cherish and who to cherish."
He then described moments where he struggled with his own identity before announcing to the crowd, “I stand before my family, friends and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God.”
Easton shared excerpts from his speech on Twitter, thanking those who supported him and adding, "I feel so so lucky to have had a chance to share some of my story with so many people."
Easton told "Good Morning America" that he had been thinking about the message he would deliver in his speech for weeks before the event.
"Over the course of my time at BYU, I’ve slowly come to terms with my sexuality," he said. "I started addressing it and saying 'okay this is a part of me, how am I going to deal with this – what do I want my identity to be?' So when I was writing my speech about the hallmarks of my time at BYU, I could think of nothing more fitting than my experience coming to terms with who I am."
After researching other convocation and commencement speeches, he said, "the ones that really inspired me the most and stuck with me in my mind were people who shared their authentic selves."
"They didn’t focus on their accolades or on the amazing things that they did but on the person that they were becoming," he added. "And I thought -- that’s exactly what I want to do. That’s what I want to share."
He revealed that during his time at the school, he didn't focus on some factors of his life as much as others.
"BYU has a very strict honor code, a lot of rules about homosexuality and being gay, so during my time at BYU my focus was almost entirely on my studies," he shared. "I’m like, 'I want to do well in school, I want to focus on my career and when the time is right, I’ll work on other aspects of myself.'"
He felt his speech was an opportunity for him to "focus on being more authentic."
"I thought I have this platform, I have this opportunity, and for me, this is what I want to do -- I want to finish my time and start this new chapter being as true to myself as I could," he said.
Easton also realized the impact his speech could have on young Mormon men and women struggling with their sexuality.
"I felt like given this platform, I could really use my voice for good. I thought 'Could I just be another valedictorian speech? Or something that will impact and make real change?'" he said.
"I hope that LGBTQ Mormons and queer students and people who feel like they’re alone and afraid, just as I felt alone and afraid, could hear my speech and could feel a little more seen and a little more loved and a little more valued because they are," he added.
He was initially skeptical on whether or not the school's administration would allow the speech but received a message of encouragement from the administrator who reviewed his speech, telling him it was great and to "go for it."
"That’s when it started to get real, where I was like, is this really the right time for me?" he said. "I wanted to make sure that I was doing it not for other people, not to appease something or make some big political statement, but for myself and knowing it was the next step in my story and in my progression as who I want to be."
The school's honor code has come under a microscope in recent months after students protested its strict policies on everything from premarital sex to no alcohol consumption. In the school's code, homosexuality is also addressed. The following excerpt is included in the code:
"One's stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings."
Easton says he has always felt supported by his friends, educators and peers at BYU -- but acknowledged that is not the case for all.
"I know that mine might be a little bit of an anomaly and I recognize that," he shared on his experience at the school. "I can really only speak to my own experience. I will say that it hasn’t been without fears."
"It is a little scary to think that this code is maybe working against me, or I hear stories about other gay students who were unfairly targeted or manipulated using the honor code, so of course it’s very fearful for me," he added. "I wish that I could feel safer there during my time as a student and I hope that future students will be able to feel more safe."
However, he believes the university is moving in the right direction, as they opened an inclusion office this year with two full time staffers focused on helping LGBTQ students.
"I hope that my narrative and the narrative of so many other gay Mormon people working to make these changes, that they will help incite some positive discussion on campus and in my community more generally," he said.
He's received a tremendous outpouring of support since delivering the speech, describing the response as overwhelming "in the best way possible."
"So many people have reached out to me -- people that I had no idea were allies or would feel this way. People that I don’t even know," he said. "I’m just so overwhelmed by the amount of support that people have given me and this entire network that I never knew even existed, so I’ve been really grateful for that."