Commencement 2023: Matthew Bayliss

A white male college student poses for a portrait in a studio

Future educator channels learning experiences to advocate for students with learning disabilities

By David Miller

“Experience is the best teacher.”

For Matthew Bayliss, this proverb rings true in multiple ways. The Stillman College senior interdisciplinary studies major aspires to be a K-12 teacher and has spent the last three months substitute teaching in Tuscaloosa. He also completed two consecutive semesters of field studies at Southview Elementary and Oakdale Elementary Schools.

a white male college student plays clarinet in a church
Bayliss played clarinet in both the Blue Pride Marching Bond and Blue Pride Concert Band.

As it would for any teaching candidate, these classroom experiences provide a wealth of perspective and practice that buoy the knowledge gained in Stillman’s School of Education.

But for Bayliss, his experiences as a learner are equally as foundational to how he prepares for his career. Bayliss, who has autism, says his background creates a heightened awareness of students’ disabilities.

“Every child has a level of disability that will affect their performance in a regular class,” Bayliss says. “Some are autistic, some may have a behavioral issue, or some may have a specific learning disability. I try to use my experience as a special education student to try to incorporate that into elementary ed resource rooms.”

Bayliss will earn his degree Saturday at Stillman’s commencement exercise before pursuing a career in special education. He said he draws motivation from the experiences he and former classmates had in both inclusion and self-contained classroom settings in Fultondale and Hueytown to fuel his advocacy for special education students.

“As a teacher, when you’re in those classes, you have to find a way to connect with those special needs students,” he said. “They all need a voice. For instance, using technology in general ed classrooms to create the best possible learning opportunities.”

Added supports for unique learners is critical for schools to achieve the best outcomes, regardless of level. Bayliss knows this first-hand at Stillman College, where he received tutoring in the Arts ‘n Autism Learning Independence for Education and Employment Program (LIFEE), which is housed in Knox Hall on Stillman’s campus. Bayliss initially connected with LIFEE as a volunteer while serving on Stillman’s Campus Activities Board (CAB). He said he was struggling in a “basic Christian beliefs” class on campus and eventually sought tutoring at LIFEE.

“I ended up pulling my grade to B,” Bayliss said. “I’ve bonded with the students and staff in LIFEE ever since.”

Laquandra Ivy, College LIFEE coordinator, said Bayliss will be the first College LIFEE student to earn a college degree.

“Watching Matthew grow academically has been such a sight to see,” Ivy said. “He doesn’t know it, but he motivates all our other students who are enrolled with our program to get their degree. I’m super excited to see where he lands next, and I wish him the best of luck with his next adventure. His LIFEE family is so proud of him.”

As Bayliss prepares for commencement Saturday, he said he’s spent “every day of the last two weeks” reflecting on his time at Stillman. Bayliss played clarinet for the Blue Pride Marching Tigers and served in both CAB and the Stillman Student Government Association.

He said he’ll leave Stillman with “no regrets,” though he would have liked to be involved in more activities, such as a joining a Divine 9 fraternity.

“I have friendships, bonds, and memories that will last a lifetime,” Bayliss said. “Being an RA, being in band for two years, everything we’ve had going on the last two years post-COVID … we all made it.”