While playing hockey four years ago, Matt Brown went from being a competitive athlete to using a wheelchair. That spinal cord injury notwithstanding, Brown is now in his second year at Stonehill and very engaged in all aspects of campus life. Recently, he gave the keynote address at Stonehill’s Annual Conference on Diversity and Inclusion and the message he delivered to his fellow students was powerful and uplifting.
“Remember, if you need help, lean on those around you and you can overcome anything. Don't let the negative win and stay positive. Keep your eyes on the prize and work hard and you will get there.” Those words by Brown helped kick off the conference held this past Friday.
The conference gave members of the Stonehill community a chance to come together for an afternoon of open discussion about ways to shape a more inclusive community. Among the line-up of events was a screening of senior Erin Kearney’s “Identidad,” which features Stonehill students and staff talking about their Latino identities.
Session topics included Leveraging Diversity in your Career Search, Diversity and the First Year Experience, Intersections of Race and Gender: A Dialogue with the women and men of RISE and MOSAIC, Non-Catholic at a Catholic School: The Student Experience and others.
Director of Intercultural Affairs Liza Talusan says the conference has grown by leaps and bounds over the last five years.
“Five years ago, at our first Conference on Diversity and Inclusion, only seven people attended. This year, we had over 160 participants of faculty, staff, students, and guests at the event. The overwhelming support signals to me that our community has embraced both individual and collective responsibility for shaping a more inclusive Stonehill,” she notes.
“What makes the conference unique is that it is ‘for Stonehill, by Stonehill.’ All of our facilitators and panelists are Stonehill community members, and this helps to really focus the conversations, work and attention on what we need to do here at the College,” Talusan adds.
In his keynote address, Brown told his harrowing story of devastation, determination and triumph these last three years of his life. It all began back on January 23 of 2010 when Brown was making just his third appearance on the Norwood High School varsity hockey team.
“During the second period, I was going for the puck near my goal. As I looked down to see the puck between my legs, I was bumped from behind and went headfirst into the boards. I don't remember much after hitting the boards, but I remember seeing my parent’s legs. The bottom of my mom's pants were wet, which let me know she had been on the ice for a long time. I remember thinking this is really bad,” remembered Brown.
After spending 21 days in Children’s Hospital’s intensive care unit, Brown moved away to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia to begin rehab. It was a difficult decision to leave his support system of family and friends behind, but he “quickly made the decision to look forward, not back and give rehab everything I had.”
Brown went on to thank those that have helped him at Stonehill since he arrived here in the fall of 2012. “When I was accepted here the first thing that the College did was to put together a ‘Matt Team’, which was made up of leaders from all of the different areas that would help me in my transition to college. They asked questions, listened to what my needs would be, what challenges I would face and made sure my time here goes smoothly. I have not looked back,” said Brown.
For Brown, one of his greatest wishes is to just be a normal college student. Though he has accepted the fact things, at least for the foreseeable future, will be different for him, he has never lost sight of his goal of one day stepping out of his wheelchair.
“I'll never stop working towards beating this, towards walking again. Towards getting out of this chair because what is the alternative? Giving up and being satisfied with living in this chair? Not a chance. That is NOT an option.”