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Emerging from Childhood Tragedy

Matt Burton ’21 walks with the working class.

Photograph by Diana Levine

Student Snapshot

Provenance: Salisbury, Massachusetts. Learning BA in English, Salem State University. Pre-Law: Public high school teacher. At BC Law: Compassionate Release and Parole Clinic, Ninth Circuit Appellate Clinic, and “pensive worrying.” Law Career Goal: Trial attorney doing criminal law or plaintiff’s work. Wish It Never Existed: Private health insurance. Favorite SCOTUS Justice: Chief Justice Earl Warren. Favorite Pastime: Reading novels or listening to 1980s-era Bob Dylan. Worst At: “I am sometimes bad at sincerity. I like to joke.” Favorite Snack: Almonds. Guilty Pleasure: “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers.

Burton ran as a Democratic candidate for the Massachusetts House of Representatives during his 2L year, ultimately suspending his months-long campaign in the spring of 2020.

I lost my father when I was fourteen years old and lost my mother to multiple sclerosis a short time after that. I overcame it through tremendous luck. I was able to find mentors who took a real interest in my success, which is more than half the battle. My father had a major influence on my life. He worked full-time as a butcher and then came home and cared for my mother, who was left bedridden as a result of her multiple sclerosis. His dedication and sense of duty to our family possessed the kind of moral clarity I hope to move through my life with.

School teachers are no longer simply masters of content. Working as an English teacher at a public high school before coming to law school, I learned early on about the sheer mass of structural issues in society affecting my students’ everyday lives and felt it was important to see what more I could do.

Law School has been unique at the very least. To key-in specifically on my interests, I’ve become increasingly concerned with identifying and unravelling the legal mechanisms in place which make it so difficult for working people to get ahead. The only good time-management advice I have is to find good friends who believe in you and will help with whatever crazy ideas you have. To this I owe everything to fellow 3Ls Cherylann Pasha and Brett Gannon, who helped every step of the way.

I ran for state office last year in order to move the local Democratic Party towards a program that would help the working class and promote accountability and transparency in the State House. I suspended my campaign after forming a coalition of working folks in the district, which I believed would hold the local party accountable throughout the race.

I hope I will continue to be an advocate for those in society who are without. It’s foolish to think any of us will die in a just society, but important to look back knowing we did everything we could to make this a better world.