By: Jessica Stelzer – University of Kansas ’08, Journalism
Most recently in University of Dayton news was the death of a third-year law student, Matthew Corning. I attended a large Midwestern university with an award-winning journalism program, so I recognize that the duty of the media, including the student paper, is to report the news in its fullest truth, with integrity and honesty, no matter how gruesome the details. When information eventually surfaced that drugs, notably heroin, likely played a role in Matthew’s death, it was almost as if the whispers and rumors could be heard here at home from hundreds of miles away.
Comments began to show up on articles about how law school can push students into drug use. I, for one, was forced to quiet my own thoughts surrounding Matthew’s death. Immediately, I remembered that the speculations and assumptions can almost always be worse than the truth itself. Except for Matthew (and God, depending on your belief system) none of us will ever know the true story about those last hours of his magnificent life. I recognize it’s difficult not knowing every detail, we are curious humans after all. But this is another part of death that we must not try to understand, but rather accept.
Instead of sitting around the study table in the library tonight discussing “what you heard,” I’d like for you to reflect on the person we knew Matthew to be. Rather than hanging out in your dorm room trying to figure out how a third-year law student could possibly be involved with drugs, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, or possibly, your friend. I understand that much of the news reported here should be fact and not the opinion of one rambling, grieving and confused friend of a deceased University of Dayton student. However, I firmly believe that what I’m about to say would be echoed tenfold by the 200 plus people in the church at Matthew’s memorial service. No one would argue with me that Matthew Thomas Corning was a truly remarkable human being. It is simply indisputable. It is fact.
For starters, he was funny. Like the goofy, make-you-stop-crying-when-your-boyfriend-broke-up-with-you kind of funny. His laughter was deep, like it came from the depths of his belly on a mission to make you start laughing too. Matthew was naturally intelligent, or bright, or smart, or whatever you want to call it. He knew how to read people, knew how to talk to people. Even when we were kids, he could talk to adults with ease, like they didn’t frighten him. Fear didn’t exist with Matthew – he was constantly taking risks, pushing himself to be a better student, athlete, and one day, a great lawyer. His desire to always be the best at whatever he was doing was something that always amazed me. Matthew never settled for mediocrity.
His family was his first priority. In the latest edition of the Flyer News, you’ll see a picture of Matthew’s face alongside an article about his death. What you don’t see cropped out of that photo are his two older sisters, his brother-in-law, and his two cousins who he looked out for after their own father passed away. If there was an award for World’s Best Son or America’s Greatest Little Brother, he would win by a landslide. He truly loved his family with every fiber of his being. While some of us feel that we just got “stuck” with our siblings or just “put up” with our parents, Matthew looked forward to and savored every moment with Tom, Kim, Julia and Colleen. Every person I spoke to today simply said, “I just want to be there for his family.” Matthew would have liked to hear that. He would have liked to know that we will be there for his family when he’s no longer there to be their rock.
He was also our group’s rock, our glue. He was our star basketball player, later inducted into our high school’s hall of fame. We all looked up to him, we knew he was something special. Even in his most flawed moments, we still loved him. He was the leader, but never led blindly. He was fiercely loyal, sometimes to a fault. All of our parents told us today, “We’ve never seen a group of more close-knit kids before.” I believe Matthew was the reason for that. He liked knowing that outside of his home, there was another family where he belonged.
He was a friend to all though, not just the few of us who were lucky enough to hang out with him on the weekends and after school dances. Today I noticed more than a few people at the memorial service who I never even knew Matthew was friends with, but he obviously touched their lives in such a way that they felt compelled to pay their respects and give him one last good-bye. He was a Christian, a student of life, and the best friend any of us ever had. He was my morning ride to school when my parents took my car away. He was my stand-in brother when my own passed away when we were in 6th grade. He was the co-recipient for our high school’s “Worst Driver” award in the yearbook. He was my fellow Dave Matthews Band fan and concert goer. He was the best photo bomber I’ve ever seen, even before it became trendy. He was the greatest male friend I’ve had to this day. He was truly someone to be admired.
He was our Matthew, our Mattie, our Corndog. Maybe you were lucky enough to know him. If you weren’t, ask around. You might just find someone who did and they’ll likely tell you they were better off for it.
Hold each other close tonight Dayton, because life is fleeting. You don’t need to run off to Thailand tomorrow or go skydiving to appreciate all this world has to offer. Simply appreciate the friends you have, old and new, near and far. If you had asked me if I ever thought I would lose Matthew Corning before we got too old to remember each other’s names, I would have laughed in your face. I will forever miss him, but I cherish his memories, the sound of his laughter, the way he lit up every room he walked into, the way he stormed the basketball court like every game was the last one of his life. You probably have a friend like this too. Heck, you’re probably this person to someone else. So, Dayton, I urge you to love one another and never let go of this love. You just never know.