Watch the Channel 9News story featuring Matt in his classroom at Denver East High School
On a February afternoon Colorado State University alumnus Matt Murphy ’06 is walking through the streets of Boston reveling in excitement over his debate student’s performances in the Harvard National Speech and Debate Tournament. The Denver East High School teacher couldn’t be happier as he explains that 12 of his students placed in the national competition. As the head coach of the Denver East Forensics Team (DEFT), he trains speech and debate students in a wide variety of communication styles from humorous interpretation to original oratory. Having lead 200 students to numerous regional and national competitions, Matt was awarded the December 2011 9Teachers Who Care award from Channel 9News.
“I don’t deal with praise very well, but winning the 9Teachers Who Care award was beautiful, and it made me feel appreciated,” says Matt. “Out of 3,000 schools, our program has gone from 230th in the National Forensics League Tournament to 46th in the nation. These experiences have been really positive and unreal.”
It wasn’t long ago that Matt, who started at Denver East High School as a student teacher, was fresh out of college and tasked with leading the Speech and Debate team based on his degrees in English and theater from CSU.
“It was kind of by accident that I got involved with the Forensics team,” says Matt. “The school said ‘oh, well, your theatre background will be great for the speech part, and your English background would be great for the debate part,’ and it turned out to be one of the hardest things in my life. I was 23 years old and wildly insecure, a first year teacher exemplified.”
That is when Matt decided to emulate one of his favorite professors at CSU, Emeritus Professor of Theatre Morris Burns.
“I would channel Morris Burns on a consistent basis because I loved his empathy and compassion. The man was a total inspiration and continues to be. I would try to do the things he did because I thought that if it worked for me, it must work for my students,” says Matt.
As a senior in high school, Matt was not sure if college was the right fit for him and, unfortunately, he wasn’t given much encouragement.
“In high school there were certain expectations and assumptions that I couldn’t handle a four year institute,” says Matt. “When I got to college, I really didn’t think that I could be successful, but the theater department was a game changer. It was the theater department that really saved me.”
At first Matt turned his back on the theater program, an experience he says shaped how he approaches teaching today.
“I went back to my high school teacher and said that I wasn’t going to be involved in theater at CSU because I had doubts about the program. I’ll never forget that she said ‘if you don’t know that it’s good, then go in there and find out if it’s good, and if it’s not, then it’s your responsibility to make it better.’ The program turned out to be life changing, thoughtful, beautiful, and creative,” says Matt. “Some of the most wonderful individuals that I met came from there. It shows you how you can screw up reality by basing assumptions. That experience plays into how I communicate, direct and teach.”
Matt went on to perform in To Kill a Mockingbird, Waiting for Godot and Every Good Boy Deserves Favor.
“CSU Theatre gives all kids a chance to participate. There is no snobbery, no hierarchy, and it wasn’t elitist. It was small and intimate; I was encouraged to do whatever I had the imagination to do,” says Matt. “I’m Puerto Rican, darker than the ‘average Joe,’ and I was never defined by my color in the theater program. You had people like Morris Burns or Eric Prince who saw your talent and intellect before they saw anything else.”
In addition to his experience in the theater program, Matt also credits Associate Professor of English Education Pamela Coke for keeping tabs on him and his progress at CSU. Even now he has a current connection to the University and the College of Liberal Arts; DEFT’s senior assistant coach Grant Wylie ‘04, a CSU political science and Denver East High School graduate, left the law field to coach the speech and debate students.
Throughout his academic career and into his teaching career, Matt credits CSU for expanding his horizons and getting him to a place where he wants to help other communities.
“The theater program stroked my intellectual curiosity and it made it O.K. to be smart and passionate,” says Matt. “What CSU did was make me realize how the rest of the world is not Fort Collins, how I could leave the University and take the great community that is Fort Collins to different places.”