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Archive for the ‘Memorial Addresses’ Category

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.

No……

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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My name is Par Ridder and I’m a friend of Matt’s from San Luis Obispo but now live in Matt’s hometown of Minneapolis.

Matt could always make me laugh. There was more to Matt than a great sense of humor but I wanted to share a few stories about Matt that make me smile.

I met Matt about 8 years ago at a mid-state fair dinner. The group was made up of all farmers and ranchers and my wife spotted Matt and his friend Lynn, that didn’t seem to be either, so we set out to sit with them. The dinner was a series of long speeches where no act was too trivial to be recognized. I thought to myself this is going to be a long evening. I looked over and Matt said “Good God this is never going to end!” It wasn’t a long evening, Matt made us laugh all the way through and after that we became friends.

Matt and I would go to the mid-state fair every year to see the big concert of the fair. One year John Cougar came to the fair. Matt said he didn’t see any scenario where he would go to a John Cougar concert. I reminded him that John Cougar, like U2, was an 80s band whose best days were behind them but… “Stop right there,” He said, “Don’t ever bad mouth the greatest band in history.” He had his passions and U2 was one of them.

Another was his dog Lucy. He spoiled that dog to such an extent that I don’t think Lucy realizes she’s a dog. I say that because he brought Lucy over to our house one day and I put Lucy in the back with our dog and Lucy kept scratching at the door and looking at Matt like there has been some sort of terrible mistake. “Why am I in the back yard with this dog?” I told him his dog was over-humanized but he disagreed. “That is not it,” he said. He said he doesn’t make a big deal about it but his dog is just cooler than every other dog. I must say that never occurred to me.

Matt would always ask me for advice but never took it. I would ask him why he didn’t take my advice and he would always have a smart aleck reason. He could be sarcastic about a lot of people. However there were some people in his life that walked on water. One of those was his mother. She was his hero.

He told me she was “just a housewife” in Minneapolis and then one day she started walking then running around the block, then the lake, then the town. He was enormously proud of how she evolved from “just” his Mother to a tri-athlete, marathoner and then CEO. Matt was not built to brag but the closest he ever came was talking about his mother. “She went to Wellesley” he would always tell me.

Matt could always make us laugh. He had a wonderful sense of humor. But he also was a good person and I’m grateful to have been his friend.

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Matt was my big brother. But he was so much more than that to me. He was my best friend, my idol, my hero. We talked and emailed every day, and even though we lived halfway across the country from one another, we saw each other five, six, seven times a year – sometimes more. And that was my brother’s doing – he’d fly out to Chicago on a moment’s notice – when there was a good show in town, for a party, or, more often than not, for no reason at all. And I looked forward to those trips like nothing else, and he never disappointed. We’d have more fun than most people ever allow themselves to have. He was the king of having a good time.

Now, Matt was five years older than me, and because of that our relationship had a bit of a rocky start. Apparently when I was born he was pretty upset that I didn’t pop out a fully-formed five-year-old ready to play with him. As we grew up together, Matt began to appreciate his role in our relationship, forcing me to do his bidding, usually with a good punch in the shoulder for kicks. But of course he was a good big brother. Pop music plays an embarrassingly important role in my life, and I have Matt to thank for that. I was listening to AC/DC when I was 6. And because of Matt I was a true fan. We’re talking Bon Scott-era AC/DC here. But the life-changing moment came in 1984, when I was 9. On a Saturday morning, I was sleeping in (I’ve never been a morning person), and a song, played loudly on my brother’s stereo, passing through our shared wall, seeped into my dreams, honestly providing a soundtrack to a Scooby-Doo cartoon in my mind. I woke up, ran into Matt’s room, where he proudly told me we were listening to “Pretty Persuasion”, a song off of his new R.E.M. record, Reckoning. From that moment on, I was a different person, thanks to my big brother.

Our relationship changed from a sibling bond to a true friendship after I went away to College. Matt drove out to upstate New York from Minneapolis to bring me home at the end of my freshman year. We partied for a couple of days, and then we made the trek to the Midwest, via Canada. As road trips tend to do, it gave us a chance to get to know each other as near-adults, and we discovered that we had a ton in common, and that we actually really, really liked one another.

After I graduated, we took another road trip – through the South with my dear cousins Emily and Jenny. That was an epic trip – one for the books. Little Rock, Graceland, Tupelo, Natches, Memphis. Matt and I laughed so hard at everything – Elvis, our cousins, ourselves. We all bonded quite a bit on that trip. And again Matt and I realized how much we liked each other, how well we got along. It was really then that we realized we were each other’s best friends.

When I married Deb, Matt was my best man. Many of you were there to see his toast – really quite possibly the best toast ever given. Ever. Matt was an incredible speaker – a skill he learned here at Cuesta – and when he took the microphone he dramatically ripped up the speech he had written and did it off-the-cuff. And he let it all out, saying the nicest things anyone could ever say about anybody. It was so touching, so moving, and it’s a memory that will last with me forever.

Like all of you here, I’ve been thinking about Matt constantly these last two weeks. I feel fortunate that I got to have a great weekend with him in Chicago just a few weeks back, another in Maine just before that, and an unforgettable one in Vegas just before that. Over those three weekends, Matt was such a joy to be around, as he always was. He was so smart, so compassionate, and so, so funny. He was easy to talk to, to laugh with – to laugh at – and everywhere we went together, he made things so easy for me. He could engage anyone in a meaningful conversation, and he’d always keep an eye on me, drawing me into his good times. He was so great, yet so modest; he enriched my life beyond words every moment we spent together.

Matt, my best friend, I’m going to miss you so, so much. To quote the Boss, and I truly mean this, “When they made you brother, they broke the mold.”

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I have spent these last few weeks trying to make sense of what happened to my cousin Matt. In fact – like so many of us here in this room – I have hardly thought about anything else. It is inconceivable that someone I loved so much, for so much of my life, could be gone in an instant. In the days after he died, I thought about that moment: the moment that marked the boundary between a time when Matt was still with us, here, in the present, and when, in a fraction of a second, he crossed over into the past. I thought about where I was and what I was doing at that moment, and was shocked to discover that it had been an ordinary stretch of time, like any other. I felt outraged that there had been no sign, no cataclysmic event, to indicate that the world had changed in such a profound and violent way: a clap of thunder would have been appropriate, or, even better, an earthquake; a shifting of the foundations, the ground under my feet, that had once felt stable and secure. I thought, Anything can happen now; anything is possible, now that this impossible thing has happened.

And yet, as difficult as it has been to confront this instantaneous and irrevocable loss, the greater challenge – the real puzzle in all of this, for me – is how to reconcile the Matt I knew with the person who, before dawn on a late summer morning, made a choice that he couldn’t take back. This is the mystery that has preoccupied me every minute since that day, and has left me searching through the details of his life for an explanation; because nothing I knew about him could possibly offer one.

The Matt I knew could see the humor in any situation. In fact, he was the funniest person I have ever known. He could turn the most uncomfortable or painful moment around by calling attention to the awkwardness and absurdity of it through his dry, irreverent wit. If he were here today, he would find a way to laugh. He would use his exceptional talents as a public speaker to say something hilarious and uplifting to us all, and leave us with a reassuring message of hope. Then, afterwards, he would join us at the bar for a beer. Matt knew how to enjoy himself, and took obvious pleasure in the time he spent with the people he cared about. To me, he was the unique and indescribable combination of family member and friend, and every minute I spent with him was cause for celebration.

Although Matt was well-known for his humor, his wit sometimes served to conceal the depth of his feeling and the intensity of his intellect, which revealed themselves in glimpses, through the music he loved, in particular his preference for haunting, melancholy ballads; and the writers he admired and who influenced his own writing, such as Richard Ford, whose work is complex, challenging, and infused with longing. Matt was deeply and selflessly committed to helping others, and this was reflected in both his politics and his professional life. He was an outspoken and unapologetic liberal who believed in offering assistance to those in need, and he held to this belief in principle and in practice. He was passionate about developing educational and career opportunities for the young people of San Luis Obispo county, and although he accomplished a great deal on their behalf, he never spoke about his work in terms of his own achievements; his reward came from observing the success of those he advised and taught. He was motivated, above all, by kindness, compassion, and empathy for those around him.

Perhaps most importantly, the Matt I knew would have taken the advice he would have given to anyone in this room: to reach out, to share the burden, to seek help from those of us who were so willing to provide it. He would have known how much he meant to his family, his friends, and his community, and how much we all loved him. He would have known how much I loved him.

What sense, then, can I make of what happened to Matt? How can I put these facts together – the fact of who he was, and the fact of the choice he made? The answer, simply, is that he was in pain; for whatever reason, he was in more pain than any of us realized. And pain has a way of taking over; of taking possession of every thought; of making your choices for you; of drowning out the truth so that you can’t see the other parts of your life: your talents, your worth, and the people who love you unconditionally and would do anything to help you. Pain has its own voice, and it lies.

Matt’s pain is over now; but the person he was is still with us, in those of us who loved him. He will continue to inspire us, to remind us of the humor and absurdity of life, of how to give selflessly, how to enjoy ourselves, how to laugh, and how to appreciate the people we love. These are the qualities I admired most in the Matt I knew; and my memory of the person he was is true, and unalterable, and needs no explanation. This memory will always be with me, even if he can’t be.

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