In less than two weeks, I’ll be graduating with my bachelor’s degree. This is something my older brother, Ben, could never do, so part of me is doing it for him.

Ben died a little over two years ago. He took his own life after a long, hard battle with many of the same illnesses I deal with: depression, anxiety and possibly bi-polar. This event fractured my life, the lives of our family members and the lives of his close friends.

My mom and I have discussed our similar feelings since it happened: we led one life before Ben died, and a completely different life after. I’ll never be able to forget how my heart felt in the weeks after he passed. My insides seemed to be freezing and thawing repeatedly—leaving me with a punctured, limp mess of a heart to process what I was going through.

Ben struggled with his faith in the years before he died. It seemed so insane to me that he would want to leave the Church. He was attending BYU-Idaho when he began to question the Church, and now that I’ve been here a while, I think I understand why it started here.

I’m gay. The social climate on campus has made it nearly impossible and downright painful for me to feel like I belong at times. I’ve heard in church and in class that people like me don’t have a place with God, that I’m just like a pedophile, and that I, along with the entire LBGTQA+ community, will burn. This kind of thing doesn’t really make me eager to stick around.

I stuck around to earn my degree, though, and because I know it isn’t all bad. Without the support from friends, family and faculty I’ve received, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I know I’m not the only one who has experienced these things, and I know gay people aren’t the only ones who get hurt by thoughtless words in today’s culture.

Ben was sensitive to this kind of thing, more than I probably realized. He was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was a nurse for quite a while, and spent time caring for patients who couldn’t take care of themselves.

He was definitely also a punk with a smart mouth, just so you know. We were two of a kind, and I can only pray to bring as much light into the world as he did.

In the end, I think what made things hardest for him was that people couldn’t see how much he was struggling. He was alone, withdrawn too deeply into himself, and didn’t know where to turn. Of course, having dealt with similar feelings, I wish I could go back and point out all the signs to myself. Maybe I could have helped.

I didn’t, though. Not enough. So, I’d like to dedicate my degree to Ben and every other person who couldn’t make it this far. I’d like to dedicate my career to him, and hopefully this dedication will shine through in the people that I help in the future.

In the spirit of Christmas, charity, giving, light, etc., please remember to look out for those who are silently struggling. Remember to be sensitive to things that may be difficult to understand. Speak up for the people who can’t speak up for themselves. Give them your time and love. We need you.