Archive for November, 2008

I would like to take this time to thank Cuesta College staff and faculty especially Toni Soomer, Matthew Green and Peppe Rose for all the support they have shown over the past few weeks.

I have been trying to sit down and put my thoughts together for days now…the only one thing that has been coming back to me is, Matt was my friend. Not writing this was my way of not defining my friend’s passing, that putting it down in black and white would make it real to me and then my friend would be gone, but I guess he will never leave me…he is now a part of me and part of who I am.

Eight years ago when I first started teaching here at Cuesta, I made a presentation to the CalWORKs staff about a class I was teaching. After the meeting, this very tall young man dressed in a suit came up to me and said, “Hey, I’m Matt Aydelott, we need to talk. I’m the CalWORKs Job Developer and I have an idea for a class”. Well, for the next year and a half we ran into each other at meetings and the opening day ceremony…he would always say, “I’ll call you and we’ll have a drink”… finally one day we met crossing campus and I nailed him down to a day and time. If you have never had to nail Matt down to a time or place to meet…a year and a half was about right in Matt time.

From that first meeting – which he was late to – til our last meeting the Friday before his death – which he was late to – Matt and I became colleagues and friends. We had a staff meeting at a bar in town once a week or so… my wife called it networking…it was a standing joke with everyone that knows me that my boss and I would go to Blue once a week and discuss work. Yes, I would introduce Matt as my boss and every time I did it he would roll his eyes at me and tell people, “No, I am not his boss” and then he would go into several minutes of explaining what he did at Cuesta College, which he hated doing because he had to talk about himself and the program. He was more comfortable talking about music and his favorite band…for those of you who did not have the pleasure of hearing him go on and on about U2, well, there are those of us here today that had that experience and would be glad to share that with you, I am sure.

No, Matt was not my boss, he was my friend. And I will miss drinking with my friend…one of the most interesting, irreverent, funny, cool guys I have known.

Yes, Matt will always be my friend.

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Toni Sommer, Dean of Workforce and Economic Development at Cuesta College, shared Matt’s self-evaluation of his Faculty position as the instructor of Introduction to Workplace Readiness, Fall 2005. The following content is the actual text from Matt’s self-evaluation.

  1. Professional growth in the classroom is important to me both as an instructor and the coordinator of the Introduction to Workplace Readiness Program. We have developed a number of new strategies and methods this semester, included but not limited to: classroom materials and activities, creative instructional techniques, additional guest speakers, a new text (California Career Planning Guide), and an overall effort to raise the level of our course curriculum. We have begun to use a variety of newer, more sophisticated career assessment tools, we are continually developing pre- and post-class academic assessments for our students, and we are implementing more web-based activities as available. Our student population can be a difficult group to engage, so a primary concern is developing innovative ways to teach our material. To this end, we continue to update the curriculum with interesting, creative activities.

    In my classroom, I am using the new text, I have scheduled unique guest speakers, and I have integrated a number of new career assessment tools. Unfortunately, San Luis Obispo High School does not have enough computer access to allow us a true web-based curriculum, but I have been able to translate many web activities into classroom and homework assignments.

  2. I feel that organization and preparedness are both strengths that relate directly to my job performance; the first piece of advice I received upon taking this position was to always be overly prepared for every class. In each class session, we certainly have more than enough to do. I also feel able to establish a good rapport with my students, and relatively adept at teaching our specific curriculum in an engaging manner. I want my students to think critically about the material; I feel that I am successful in this endeavor.

  3. Foremost, I’m concerned with continuing to grow the curriculum. I want each instructor – myself included – to keep raising the academic bar for the program. Again, new materials, activities and assignments are ongoing goals, and creative ideas for engaging our population is the basis for our staff meetings. I also feel that I’m just learning the craft of teaching, while I do feel comfortable (and engaging) in the classroom, much of my personal professional development relates to strategies for better ways to teach this class to our students.

  4. I have researched a great amount of published and web-based material to improve our curriculum, and we continue to implement the best of what we find. Our resources have increased exponentially every semester, and we plan to continue the trend. I’ve also (as noted earlier) spent time researching teaching strategies and techniques in an effort to improve my instructional aptitude.

  5. Introduction to Workplace Readiness itself provides a great service to outside community, and I handle most of the community outreach related to the program. I recruit the students, I am the liaison for the high schools and school districts partnered with the College for these classes, and I work with a variety of community agencies to facilitate our continued success. I am also the primary public relations liaison for our program. (This may be an answer for the evaluation of my “other job,” but I think it applies here.)

  6. Believe it or not, I feel that I have a great relationship with my colleagues. All of the instructors and classroom assistants in the program are outstanding, dedicated educators and my experience teaching has given me a newfound respect for their hard work and talent. I feel lucky to be part of a great team.

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There are so many things I want to say and there are even more things I wish I could have said to Matt before he left us.

First and foremost, I want to say thank you. Thank you so much for everything. Thank you for your help, support, encouragement, advice, input and your crazy antics that left us all bewildered.

Thank you for sharing your time, your effort, your passion. Thank you for doing things you might not have even realized you had done. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. Thank you for listening. Thank you for helping us do the things we never imagined we were capable of, thank you for watching us accomplish those things with a smile on your face to let us know we totally owned it.

Another thing I would like to say is that we are going to miss you so much and I’m sad you had to leave us this way.

You had such an impact on so many people’s lives, and I hope you knew that you were an inspiration to me and probably many others, to go out there and do something, be something, be someone, be heard. You were always the one to throw a little joke after one of my presentations to let me know it went as well as I had hoped it would, and make me feel like I could do it again in a heartbeat.

You were one of those people that had a certain “something” about them, and no one knew what it was, it was just…there.

I loved when you would sit in on our meetings, because it was so comfortable. I didn’t have the feeling I was being scrutinized, watched from behind glass, being graded on everything I did. I knew you were really interested in hearing what we had to say and I felt like you were actually interested in participating and giving us your input and your feedback.

I can’t stress enough what a big impact you had on all of us and I hope you knew what a big role you played in all our lives.

You left us some big shoes to fill and for every presentation I do, every change I make, every person I impact, I will always remember you and I will always cherish the time you spent with us.

I really hope you knew how much you meant to all of us, and I hope you know wherever you are that you will always have a place in our hearts.

You can never be replaced but you will always be remembered.

Note: Julie also told a story about a how she would decorate Matt’s name cards at meetings with pink unicorns and how this escalated until, while at a conference together, Julie got hold of Matt’s conference pass and decorated it more elaborately than any of his other name tags. When Matt found his pass, he put it around his neck, put on a sweatshirt and zipped it up over the pass, undoubtedly while cracking a wry smile. Julie told this story to illustrate what a great sport Matt was, and when she was finished, she gave a small unicorn figurine that she had decorated for Matt to Matt’s mother Karen.

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I think some of you out there are expecting me to say something funny. I know Matt would. He’d have just the thing to say right now to lighten everyone’s mood, right? But, he’ll have to forgive me this time.

Hi, I’m Jamie. Like many of you out there Matt and I became good friends about 10 seconds after we met. I tried my best to make fun of him…..he laughed. He tried his best to make fun of me……I laughed. And that was that. That’s the way it was with him. Instant closeness. You cut right to the heart of things.

Matt came to Chicago several times a year. It was the best. It was an immediate friendship with all of us and we were so lucky to have known him…..to not have wasted a second. And, I know we all feel just as lucky to have witnessed the incredible relationship he had with his brother Nate. It cannot be overstated how special their friendship was and how much it meant to all of us……how much we learned by seeing them together, by hearing their stories, by listening to them talk about music and books, and by watching them be brothers in the best, best sense of the word. Their relationship was a defining one for our group, and certainly a defining one for my own life.

Now……What can I say about Matt? What is true? What would be true to him?

Matt was tall. Matt was charismatic. Matt was handsome and funny and smart. He was the star of the party and larger than life.
But these things were obvious. These things you knew about him right away.
That’s not it.
I asked my wife last week: “What was it about Matt?” What made everyone gravitate to him? What made us mark our calendars weeks ahead of time before he arrived in Chicago?

Matt put you at ease. He came unarmed. He shared himself.
You all know what I mean. Can’t you just see him?
Can’t you just see Matt, in that subtle, easy way that he had, move across the room,
walk right up to you,
clink your glass,
let you into his orbit,
and dim his own light so that you could shine a bit brighter.

Matt opened himself up. And without judgment, he let you in.
He shared the moment with you. Shared the laugh. Shared the song.

There was a truth about Matt that comforted all of us.
And that is why we went to him.
Matt was fragile. And in his company you could be fragile too.

God we will miss him. As a friend. As a big brother. As the star that he was.
But, most importantly, as the one who made us believe that we are good enough just as we are.
And it’s going to be difficult to get through it.

There will be a day, weeks from now maybe, when the saddest parts of us will have doubts.
Was it real?…..we will say.
His smile……was it real?
His laugh……was it real?
His way with words,
His stories………were they real?
You remember, you’d be sitting there talking or listening to music and he’d give you a smile and you would look into his heart and see something at once so beautiful and true, yet so delicate and breakable that it changed your understanding of humanity and it’s capacity forever.
Was that real?

Yes. I assure you it was.
It is.
In fact, it is more real now than it has ever been.

I know it because it goes on.
It endures.
Because I see it in the faces of everyone here today.

We need these memories now more than ever. We cannot doubt them, or be afraid of them. In all of us there are the memories of Matt. Of the person he was….and the person he made us into.

So I beg of you all. I beg of myself.
Do not leave here and be strong.
Do not leave here and be brave or tough.
Do not leave here and close yourself off.


Leave here and disarm yourself.
Leave here and be fragile.
Leave here and share yourself.
Leave here and walk up to someone, let them into your orbit.
Put your arm around them.
Clink glasses with them.
And open yourself up to them, truly and completely, without judgement,
and without regard for the consequences.
And by doing this leave here and share Matt with every single person you know, and every single person you will ever meet, for the remainder of your life.

And everybody, that will be true.
That will be humane.
That will be what he wanted.

Oh yeah. And one other thing.
There may also be some day in the future,
any random day,
when you’ll be getting ready for work or headed off somewhere and you’ll be looking through your closet for something to wear.
You’ll say to yourself “man, everyone is going to be wearing khaki pants and a white shirt……but I don’t really feel like it today.”
You’ll think, “I really feel like wearing this bright pink shirt and these ripped, faded jeans that I loved in High School. What should I do?”
Or, you might think “I know it’s crazy, but I kind of feel like wearing this cowboy hat that I bought at a U2 concert in 1987.”
Or, better yet, you may be headed our way to Chicago. And you might think “you know what, I’m from California, and I don’t care if it’s the middle of winter……and 20 below zero……and 5 feet of snow……I’m wearing my sleeveless t’shirt and flip-flops.”

You know what I say…….Do it. Do it and don’t think twice about it.

See, that was kind of funny. Right?
You knew I wouldn’t let you down Matt.

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