OUTstanding Speaker Series welcomes poet Jill McDonough
Byline photo of Josephine Ross, Staff Writer • November 3, 2023
JOSEPHINE ROSS/CYPRESS STAFF
A poet, a prison teacher and the third OUTstanding Speaker Series presenter, Jill McDonough shared her poetry and stories to a crowd of students in the MLK room on Wednesday, Nov. 1 during T and X-block.
Lively students filled every chair in the MLK room when Jill McDonough, a queer poet, came to talk about her work and life in the LGBTQ+ community on Wednesday, Nov. 1 during T and X-block. McDonough was invited to speak at the OUTstanding Speaker Series, a monthly event where a queer person comes to talk to students.
During the event, McDonough shared some of her poems. One of these poems, called “Dear Gaybashers,” was about how she handles oppression: by laughing it off. She said she doesn’t get treated as poorly as some other members of the LGBTQ+ community, so she tries to help others.
“The most important part for me is to use my privilege instead of focusing on ways that I don’t have enough,” McDonough said.
During the event, McDonough discussed her career. She taught incarcerated college students through Boston University’s Prison Education Program for 13 years and now teaches at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She also teaches people who were recently released from prison and volunteers at a juvenile facility. She said she loves working with her students and that it is amazing to see how people feel once they get out of prison.
“[Getting out of jail] changes everything. It’s really great to be alive, and it’s really great to be free,” McDonough said. “If you are not thinking about that constantly, you’re missing out on how great it is.”
Sophomore Noah Krewinghaus helped set up this month’s speaker event. They said McDonough’s engaging presence ignited enthusiasm for poetry and self-expression among students.
“[This event] is really important because Jill is out and queer in a way that a lot of people struggle with in high school,” Krewinghaus said.
Freshman Arya Kheder has attended every OUTstanding Speaker Series event this year. They said these events are important because they focus on how people integrate their queerness into their lives rather than solely focusing on the challenges they face because of their queerness.
“[The speakers’ presentations] can be about writing, can be about photography, can be about queer people doing things like anyone else and being less alienated,” Kheder said.
Terry Jewell, one of the coordinators of the OUTstanding Speaker Series, said the series was created for her daughter who passed away.
“She was transgender, and we were trying to figure out where we were going to have people donate in her memory,” Jewell said. “We heard staff here at BHS wanted to do this speaker series, so we jumped on board and said, ‘That’s it.’ All of the donations are paying for [the series] for the whole year.”
Jewell said she thinks these events are important for everyone who attends, no matter how they identify.
“[The series is designed for all students] to hear successful people talk about their lives and work to show that queer people are also successful,” Jewell said. “We also really want [the speakers] to inspire the queer students here at BHS to help them know that yes, they can be successful too and their identity is part of their success.”