Matthew Therrien was an aspiring English major at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, with a dream of becoming an English professor. He also was a gifted poet, greatly loved son and treasured friend at the time of his tragic death in a car accident on April 6, 2014. His warmth, humor and generosity is still sorely missed.
In his memory, Stephen and Gloria Gainsley, good friends of the Therrien family, have launched the Matthew Somchai Therrien Award with a $5,000 gift. This annual writing award recognizes outstanding students majoring in English at UH Hilo.
“Our fondness and admiration for the Therrien family began in our college days in the 70’s at UH Mānoa,” say the Gainsleys in a statement. “Their annual family newsletter—full of photos and hilarious, sometimes serious, articles, written by each member of the family—kept us in touch over the years. This family activity may have been the genesis for Matt’s creative writing enthusiasm.”
They add, “By initiating the Matthew Somchai Therrien Award, we wish to honor both Matt’s talent and love of writing, as well as the loving family who inspired him.”
Matthew Somchai Therrien grew up in Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin before following his heart and serving in AmeriCorps in Seattle, where he worked with students facing multiple challenges. His passion for mentoring youth and helping them overcome personal and cultural barriers grew.
When he joined his family and moved to Hawaiʻi Island, he continued his community work by serving on the regional board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hawaiʻi Island and worked at the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Island.
While at UH Hilo, Matthew’s talent as a writer was well-recognized. In 2012, he received the Droste Award for outstanding writing from UH Hilo for a portfolio of original poems.
“Matthew Therrien was an extraordinarily gifted, multi-faceted, delightful student, who inspired not only his fellow students, but also his teachers to continue to think, write and learn,” says Kirsten Mollegaard, associate professor and chair of the UH Hilo English department. “The UH Hilo English department is grateful to the Gainsleys for their generous gift, which will be used to commemorate Matthew Therrien’s legacy by promoting excellence in writing among our English majors.”
Therrien’s father, Mark Therrien, says, “Matthew loved English. He loved to read and he loved to write, poetry and prose. And he loved to analyze everything he read. Writing was a way for him to express his passion for social justice. Matthew believed that dialogue was the only way to end racism, to acknowledge its existence, to not be afraid to talk about it or write about it. Matthew was not afraid. Heartfelt thanks to the kind faculty and staff of UH Hilo who gave Matthew and us so much more than a diploma.”