An All-State swimmer and salutatorian from Belton (Texas) High who came out to his family, friends and classmates during his graduation speech last week is being lauded as "the strongest high school kid in the country."
Mitch Anderson had never told anyone in his life he was gay until breaking the news to hundreds of fellow students and their families -- including his own parents -- at a packed Bell County Expo auditorium, he told reporters afterwards.
"Once I got up there and started talking, I felt completely fine," Anderson explained to KTEM News Radio. "I've received so much support and kindness. Knowing that (people) found the speech inspirational has been really amazing."
The University of Texas-bound senior teamed with Austin Couillard, Ben York and Joey Martin to capture All-State honors in the 400-meter freestyle relay this past winter. The foursome set a school record with a second-place time of 3:12.71 in the Class 5A regional finals in February, earning Belton High's first ever All-State swimming recognition.
Of course, Anderson's reported 112.2 GPA and perfect PSAT score as a junior easily earned him Academic All-American honors in the sport as well.
"I started swimming in the second grade," Anderson told The Belton Journal last year. "It's always been a big part of my life and what I do."
However, the teenager's lasting impact on the Belton community will forever be tied to his graduation speech, which can be read in its entirety here. Anderson submitted a different version without the bombshell for administration approval, the reports said.
I myself am guilty of self-doubt, relying on others to give my life definition. But that time has passed, and I feel the moment has arrived for me to be publically true to my personal identity. So now, I can say, I’m gay. It is both a significant portion of who I am and an inconsequential aspect. It’s as natural and effortless to me as breathing. I couldn’t change myself even if I wanted, and believe me, I have.
I have been bullied a lot. I’ve been called unspeakable things and relegated to a place of lower class. I have been made to feel worthless, unneeded, a blight on the world. People have mocked me, said that I was virtually subhuman. So, for a while, I was in a very dark place. I had no concept of self-worth, and frequently pondered suicide. I became so dejected, that many times I thought of killing myself not just because I saw no point to life, but because I had been convinced that doing so would actually make the world better. And so, for many years, I continued the cyclical, destructive thought patterns. This happened both before and after I thought about my sexuality. And after I had realized I was gay, I hated myself. I wished and prayed endlessly that I could just go on with life normally, that I could be like everyone else. Being different felt like a curse, an unfair sentence to the life of an outcast.
There were moments when I believed I was next to nothing. But I learned that what others think of you is not nearly as meaningful as what you think of yourself. You cannot owe the quality of your existence to other people. You must evaluate your life and give it purpose. You must recognize that you are an expression of the divine, a being made perfect through celebration of your perceived imperfections.
In addition to Madonna, Anderson quoted "Star Trek" actor Zachary Quinto, referenced "Harry Potter" and expressed his desire to meet Lady Gaga and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Openly gay Olympic gold medal swimmer Bruce Hayes apparently didn't make the cut.
Regardless, Anderson -- an elite swimmer in a state full of talented prep athletes -- joins the NBA's Jason Collins, who recently became the first openly gay male athlete in a major pro sport, in helping pave the way for acceptance in the world of sports and beyond.
- Mitch Anderson