Remembering Matt Oliver

by Christian Ousnamer

As many of you know, April 1, William Jewell College alum Matthew Oliver made the decision to take his own life. I would like to share some things about Matt so that perhaps those that did not have the immediate pleasure of knowing him can perhaps observe a reflection of the person he was, and learn from his choice to commit suicide.

While attending Jewell, Matt was an incredibly engaged member of our community. He studied history and political science, was an officer in the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity and was one of five students to found the William Jewell College Republicans. It was in this capacity as a founder of the College Republicans that I first met Matt and engaged with him. As is unfortunately typical in the politics of today, he and I did not always agree. In fact, for the most part, he and I rarely agreed. I feel this is important to mention because this speaks to the kind of man that Matt chose to be.

Despite the differences in thought and opinion that we held, Matt always listened. He always left himself open to receiving, engaging and struggling with ideas that were not always in line with his own. His ability to articulate an idea, to manifest something that previously only existed in the mind, and shape it into a tangible thing that we could engage with was one of the markers of his ability as a scholar, a thinker and a doer. Matt knew the importance of words and always chose to be a steward of thinking and reflecting before speaking. It was a quality that myself –  and so many of those that interacted with Matt – appreciated. He always tried to be a good man, and by all accounts, he was successful.

When I first heard the news of what happened with Matt, I called my mom.  It was because of that that I felt it was important to reach out to Matt’s mom, Michelle. She was gracious enough to tell me about Matt as a son. Michelle told me that despite the pain that came from his decision, she knew, and everyone around him knew, that his decision was not made with the intention to cause anyone pain. If you looked at Matt, you would not be able to know anything was wrong. He was attending law school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, had been accepted to work for the Johnson County Kansas Prosecutor’s Office and was deeply in love with his wonderful girlfriend.

This only speaks to something that we all struggle to understand about depression: so very often, the things that people are struggling with are not visible. We can’t always see it on their faces, and we can’t always see it in their position in life. We can’t hear it in their voice or feel it in their touch. Even though we might not be able to perceive it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, and that it isn’t hard and difficult. Sometimes it is the people we see as the strongest whose hurt is deepest. They believe that they can carry their burdens in their hearts and they’re strong enough to make it through.

In Matt’s case, we can guess and rationalize and try to find a reason. It won’t fill the space he left. We can only do our best to remember that we are not, in fact, alone. We do not have to bear our burdens in silence. It is okay to be vulnerable, and that speaking up when you’re not okay is actually the strongest thing to do.

We don’t always do the best when it comes to mental health awareness. Let’s do better. For Matt, and for all of the people who lost their own battles with depression. Reach out to a friend. Have a buddy. Be a buddy. Find the things that fulfil you. Above all, remember that your life has value.

The Department of Political Science created a scholarship, the Matthew Oliver-Pi Sigma Alpha Senior Scholar Award, in honor of Matt. Gifts may be made via this link and designated to the “Matthew Oliver-Pi Sigma Alpha Senior Scholar Award.”

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