By Celine Klosterman
CLINTON — In the end, it was an ordinary commencement ceremony.
And that’s just how Keaton Fuller wanted it.
The Matthew Shepard Scholarship and a Christian Achievement Award that he received were just two of a couple dozen honors for which Prince of Peace Catholic School seniors were recognized May 20. Twenty-two students received diplomas during the two-hour ceremony at Prince of Peace Catholic Church.
Fuller, who is gay, received some of the most sustained applause of the afternoon as Lee Morrison announced the recipient of the Gold 2012 Matthew Shepard Scholarship.
“I am honored to recognize a young man who has conducted himself with dignity and respect for others during his 13 years at Prince of Peace,” read Morrison, superintendent of schools for the Davenport Diocese. “He initially became introverted and depressed when contemplating coming out, but gradually shared his story with friends and classmates. He continued to be the same friend they had known and cared for, and was embraced by the Prince of Peace community.”
Wearing a blue gown and a gold stole that signified his membership in the National Honor Society, Fuller shook hands with Morrison and Mike Simonson, a representative of The Eychaner Foundation that awarded the scholarship. Simonson then handed the graduate a bronze eagle statue bearing Fuller’s name.
Fuller later returned to the front of the church to receive a medallion signifying his Prince of Peace Christian Achievement Award. Faculty choose a student for this honor based on demonstration of Christian values in daily life, showing interest in and concern for others, taking pride in the school and displaying respect for God, self and others.
Among other students receiving honors from Prince of Peace were valedictorian Destinee Irish and salutatorians Emily Gardner and Allyson Naeve. Naeve also earned the Principal’s Leadership Award for combining concentration on her studies with positive leadership in the school and community.
Before the ceremony, Fuller said he’d feared controversy over presentation of his $40,000 scholarship would overwhelm his classmates’ accomplishments.
Initially, the diocese said an Eychaner representative could not present the scholarship during the commencement ceremony in the church. Rich Eychaner, who established the foundation that promotes tolerance and anti-bullying policies, told The Catholic Messenger that the foundation supports equality in marriage for any two people committed to monogamy. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman only. Diocesan policy doesn’t allow a person or organization that promotes views contrary to Church teachings to present at a diocesan institution.
National media attention followed the diocese’s announcement.
On May 11, the diocese and foundation announced they’d reached an agreement: Morrison would read a script prepared by the foundation and approved by Bishop Martin Amos. Simonson, a member of the scholarship committee, would present an eagle statue to Fuller.
The scholarship is named for Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student beaten and murdered in 1998 because he was gay. It is awarded to Iowa high school seniors who are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Selection is based on academic aptitude, academic achievement, financial need and community service, especially that which promotes tolerance and diversity.
Fuller plans to major in cinema at the University of Iowa.