The first-year seminar is titled “Timeless Questions, Difficult Times: Making Meaning of Uncertainty,” and you might have to search the darkest corners of the planet to find a guest speaker more qualified to hold forth on that topic than the Rev. Walter Everett C’56, T’60.
A retired Methodist minister, Everett is something of an authority on timeless questions and difficult times, and he’s spent years trying to make meaning of uncertainty. He’s come to Bucknell, where he sits at the head of a small classroom crammed with 15 students and two instructors, to weave his extraordinary tale one more time, a retelling that will leave some of those in his young audience questioning their very core. For he’s also come with some questions of his own.
“How many of you are in favor of the death penalty?” Everett begins.
“How many of you are opposed?”
“How many are not sure?”
All the rest.
The article then goes on to tell the story of the 1987 murder of Walt's son, Scott Everett.
Any death of a young person creates unspeakable trauma for the family, Everett tells the Bucknell students. A violent death, he says, “increases the trauma exponentially.”
And so it was that for the next 11 months Everett saw his life spiral downward, seemingly out of his control. He felt despair, rage, depression. His marriage, already on shaky ground, cracked under the strain. Everett prayed to God, beseeching him to show him a way out of the darkness. But Everett discerned no response. He attended a support group meeting with other family members of murder victims—the only people, he figured, who could possibly understand the anguish that consumed him. One night he heard a woman in the group say that anyone who committed murder “should be taken out and shot immediately.” Then he learned that the woman’s son had been killed 14 years earlier. He wondered if that’s what his life would be like for the next 14 years.
“I was ignoring mail. I was not paying attention to people,” Everett tells the students. “My thoughts were elsewhere.”
Eleven months and two weeks after the murder of his son, Everett sat in a courtroom in Bridgeport for Carlucci’s sentencing. Everett had never before set eyes on his son’s killer, who arrived at the courthouse three hours late, having indulged in one last cocaine binge before prison. The judge asked Everett if he wished to make a statement. Everett rose and spoke for 10 minutes, though he doesn’t remember a word of what he said. Then the judge asked Carlucci if he would like to speak. Carlucci stood. Everett tells the Bucknell students that he remembers every word Carlucci uttered.
“I’m sorry I killed Scott Everett. I wish I could bring him back. Obviously, I can’t. These must sound like empty words to the Everetts. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry.”
And from the end of the article:
The bell rings. A half-dozen students approach Everett, thank him for coming, shake his hand. Some, on their way out, reach for the anti-death penalty brochures that Everett brought with him. Everett leaves the building with instructor Deirdre O’Connor, who says the students will discuss the issues that he raised at a later class. Not until then could Everett know whether the timeless questions he’s posed really struck a chord with the students, whether he’d helped them to make meaning of uncertainty.
A few days later a neuroscience major from Bexley, Ohio, named Bridget O’Donnell wrote about Everett’s appearance in her course journal. O’Donnell grew up in a politically conservative home. Both her parents supported capital punishment. As a member of her high school political club, she took part in debates about the death penalty, arguing strongly in favor. Just two years earlier, as a high school junior, she’d written a research paper defending her position. “Today, however,” she wrote in the journal, “I questioned myself.”
O’Donnell says she left the class wondering whether her support for the death penalty was something she really believed in—“or something I learned to believe in.” And although she has a hard time articulating her change of heart, she is certain that a change has taken place. “I am not pro-death penalty anymore,” she says.
In Walt Everett’s long journey, another small step.