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Op-ed: The Graduation Speech That Wasn't

Op-ed: The Graduation Speech That Wasn't


Actor Dominic Sheahan-Stahl may have been let down by administrators who decided he couldn't give a graduation speech at his high school alma mater because he is gay, but the students have stepped up.

Last fall, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the 2012 graduation at Sacred Heart Academy in Mount Pleasant, Mich. For me, and for my family, this was a huge honor. My brother, William, will be the latest of three generations, including me, to graduate from the school. I was proud to have grown up Catholic, and to have been educated at a Catholic school that instills virtues and values in me. And I was especially proud to talk about my faith and my life with these graduates.

I worked on my speech. I was going to talk about fear. Fear holds us back. Fear limits our options. Fear stands in the way of having us be all that God created us to be. And for us to live as full, authentic people, we need to overcome fear. I wanted to end by reminding the youth that, just like 1 John says, perfect love casts out fear.

But then, last month, I was disinvited. The reason: I'm gay.

The longer story is that I posted my engagement photos of me and my lovely partner on Facebook. My family was told that I was uninvited because of the Facebook postings that proclaimed our love and our intention to commit ourselves to one another.

I'm a man in love. Ironically, it is because of my love that I'm not allowed to speak. The very fear that I wanted to encourage the students to face and overcome was exactly what prevented me from speaking.

Being uninvited stung. I'm not going to deny that. The shock was powerful. I posted some thoughts on YouTube that same night. If you listen to it, you can probably hear some of the shock and hurt in my voice.

But after the initial shock, something amazing happened: the students rallied around me. They acted and reacted out of love. They cast away the fear coming from the school administration and from the Bishop of our diocese about having a gay man in love speaking to the graduating class. They took to Facebook, YouTube and in order to make their voices heard, and it worked.

The principal of Sacred Heart has already acknowledged that he overreacted out of fear and has apologized to me and to the school. I still suspect that he is afraid, and I hope that these students can help him to overcome his fear going forward.

The students have organized an opportunity for me to speak to them. On Sunday, they will attend mass in the morning and then come to Central Michigan University to hear me speak, before heading back to the school for their graduation. We are calling the event "Live Through Love" because we know that this situation has been trying for everyone involved, but we want love to rule our hearts. Even if it's not at the graduation ceremony, I still get to deliver my speech.

Oddly enough, even with all that's happened, my speech hasn't changed much. It is still about fear and how fear keeps us from achieving our dreams. However, even though the words haven't changed, the context around the speech has given my words special meaning.

Fear has ruled this situation with Sacred Heart. It has driven most of the actions and reactions from those in charge of the graduation. But the senior class, Mount Pleasant community and organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have let love -- not fear -- rule. They have already stood up for their faith and for their belief that love casts out fear.

I am spending every day of my life living through love. I thought it was I who was to inspire the graduates with my speech. I guess I was wrong. The graduates from Sacred Heart have inspired me so much with their courage and their actions. I want to thank them for showing me, and the world, that no one is outside the Love of God.

DOMINIC SHEAHAN-STAHL was supposed to give his speech on Sunday. Instead, "Graduation for All: Live Through Love," will take place at 1 p.m. in Warriner Hall at Central Michigan University.

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Dominic Sheahan-Stahl