by Lisa Proulx
PORTSMOUTH – John T. Broderick, Jr., the former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, will share his family’s story of mental illness and how he survived a beating at the hands of his grown son when he addresses Great Bay Community College graduates and their families May 13 at commencement exercises in Portsmouth.
Due to the size of this year’s graduating class, the College will be holding two ceremonies, both taking place on Saturday, May 13th. The morning ceremony will begin at 10:00 a.m. and the afternoon ceremony will begin at 2:00 p.m. Justice Broderick will be speaking at both events being held at the Student Success Center gymnasium at GBCC’s Portsmouth campus. Over 300 students will receive associate degree and certificates this year. The largest number of graduates to date will be participating in the commencement ceremonies. The courses of study with the largest number of graduates include nursing, liberal arts, business and veterinary technology.
Broderick, who served as chief justice from 2004 to 2010 and later as Dean of the University of New Hampshire Law School, will recount the night in 2002 when Christian Broderick, then 30 and suffering from depression and anxiety, nearly beat his father to death with a guitar as he slept.
The retired chief justice has used the tragic and deeply private episode to raise awareness of mental illness, traveling the state to tell his family’s story in hopes of helping others. “The journey of my family is not important other than to my family, but it’s important now because of growing awareness of mental illness and because of my own mistakes. If I had grown up a different time, I would have spotted it sooner and could have helped my son. The story is tragic because I didn’t know. The culture has to change for that discussion to begin.”
Broderick’s mental health-awareness campaign is part of the discussion. He called his mental illness advocacy work “the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I want to share what I have learned over my lifetime. Some of it has to do with work, some of it has to do with life in general, from dealing with other people to dealing with adversity and success,” Broderick said.
“One of the things I have learned is that life is not a zero-sum game. You have to give more than you take. It’s important they understand that.”
His family’s private story became public when his son beat him as he slept at the family condominium in Manchester. Broderick suffered severe injuries, undergoing six hours of surgery to repair broken bones in his face and spending a month in the hospital. His son served about three years in state prison.
One of the first things Broderick tells people is that his son is doing well, and that he and Christian have a good relationship. Broderick performed his son’s wedding ceremony while he was still in prison, where he received the help he needed through proper diagnosis and medication.
His son suffered from mental illness from about the age of 13, Broderick said. He and his wife, Patricia, missed the signs, which weren’t obvious then and might not be obvious to many people now. That’s why Broderick talks about it.
“We didn’t know it, we didn’t see it,” he said. “It’s important to understand that half of all mental illness arrives by age 18, and two-thirds arrive by age 23. More people die by suicide than in car accidents. That’s a lot of lives taken. We have to do a better job talking about it. I don’t want other parents sitting on the sidelines.”
Broderick, co-chairman of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in New Hampshire, is mindful that audiences at graduation talks are engaged for 12 minutes or so. He’s prepared a lively speech that he promises will be informative and interesting – and positive. “I’m going to tell my story, but it’s not about me,” he said.
He is especially pleased for the opportunity to speak to students at Great Bay. Broderick is a big fan of the Community College System of New Hampshire, and wishes it existed when he was a student. “When I was young, you either went to college or you didn’t. The community college system fills a very important space in American higher education, because it connects people to education and jobs, and it makes a four-year education more affordable,” he said.
Great Bay Community College is a comprehensive postsecondary institution offering quality academic and professional and technical education in support of workforce development and lifelong learning. Great Bay Community College is part of the Community College System of New Hampshire, a public system of higher education consisting of seven colleges in Berlin, Claremont, Laconia, Concord, Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth. The colleges offer Associate degrees and career training in technical, professional and general fields, including transfer pathways to baccalaureate degrees. The college’s second campus, the Advanced Technology & Academic Center is open in Rochester offering academic courses and a degree program in Advanced Composites Manufacturing. For more information on Great Bay Community College, visit www.greatbay.edu.