Giving Thanks

Bryden Giving ’16 reflects on the path to healing—for himself and others.
Posted on January 23rd, 2019 by

Bryden Giving '16 and his mother, Michelle, appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on January 14.

Gustavus Adolphus College alumnus Bryden Giving ’16 has a lot going on these days. He just completed his master’s degree in occupational therapy at St. Catherine University. Next month, he’ll begin his career as a pediatric occupational therapist at Partners in Excellence, an autism therapy center with locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. And last week, he and his mother were flown to Los Angeles for a taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

The path to Ellen began six years ago, when Giving came out as gay to his mother, Michelle. As a high-school senior in Big Lake, Minn., he had struggled with how to talk about his sexual orientation. In the small town nestled halfway between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, Giving didn’t have any gay friends or role models to ask for advice. When he told Michelle, Giving hoped for unconditional acceptance, maybe even excitement that he was comfortable with his identity and confident enough to live outside the closet. But his mother was quiet. Giving’s words seemed to thicken and hang in the air between them.

The new occupational therapist begins his career next month.

She loved him, she said, and wanted to make sure that he knew that. She just needed some time to process things.

“Looking back, I understand the dynamics of her hesitation,” Giving says. “She wasn’t ashamed of me, she was scared for me. She worried about the barriers that I might face while living my life as a gay man.”

When Giving moved into Norelius Hall at Gustavus a few months later, he was nervous about how people would react. What he found was acceptance. “People were so kind and open-minded. It’s incredible how inclusive and authentic everyone is,” recalls Giving. “I quickly learned that at Gustavus you can be whoever you want to.”

Giving threw himself into life at Gustavus, majoring in psychological science, joining the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, serving as a peer assistant, and studying child development in Denmark for a semester.

Back in Big Lake, Michelle wasn’t sure how to tell her old-fashioned father that his grandson was gay. Ellen, it turns out, helped with the process.

Giving had written a letter to the show’s producers, explaining how the show had helped them become closer as a family. To his surprise, they offered to fly them out for a taping. Giving assumed they’d sit in the audience. If they got lucky, they might even get to meet DeGeneres when she mingled with the crowd between segments. To his surprise, she read his email and invited them to the stage, where Giving and Michelle told her about his experience coming out—and how the family’s love of Ellen created an atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion.

The story exploded on social media, garnering over a million views in the first 24 hours after being shared on Ellen’s Facebook page. Messages poured in. “I’ve heard from so many parents who thanked us for sharing our story,” Giving said.

Giving and his mother react when Ellen DeGeneres begins to read his email.

Giving is thankful for the experience, and for the unique opportunity to reflect as he begins his career. “My job as an occupational therapist is to spread unconditional love, warmth, and compassion to my patients and their families,” he says. “Gustavus taught me to be an active listener, to engage in a respectful way regardless of the problem, and to always think about the person first.”

Down the road, Giving plans to earn a doctorate in public health with a focus on equity and social justice so he can affect more people with his work. “I want to take my people-oriented practice and use it to focus on systems,” he explains.

Today, Giving and his mother are closer than ever, and he credits the Gustavus community for helping him grow in confidence and understand that he can make a difference in the world.

No matter what he does or where he goes, Giving says, he’ll find time to watch Ellen—and to give thanks for all the growth that’s happened along his journey.

“I’ve been given so much,” he says. “Now I want to make the world better for everyone.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


One Comment

  1. J. Patrick Hart '63 says:

    Wow! Gustavus provided me with four years of the most secure, caring and uplifting environment of my life and continues to be a nurturing, loving place now 59 years later. Thanks to all for making the world a better place.