(AP) Bret Alexander is the picture of success: He recently began his first year as a graduate student at Weber State University studying higher education leadership and leads the school as student body president.
He’s also the school’s first openly gay student elected to the position. But the ambitious, buoyant student traveled a difficult path to where he stands now, the Standard-Examiner reports.
Growing up, he struggled with depression and homelessness. Alexander’s father moved out when he was three, leaving his then 19-year-old mother to take care of him alone. His family was very transient; they lived in a motel, a trailer and a duplex.
“Eighth grade hit, and this is kind of where I was really depressed, I was kind of done with life,” Alexander said, “because … nobody told me to brush my teeth ever. My quality of life was just really not where I wanted it to be.”
When Alexander turned 16, he decided to move out.
“This is really the pivot for me in my life,” Alexander said. “So I … found belonging in school. That’s where I put my best efforts and where I really found my safe place … that’s where I felt like I belonged and was able to connect with other people that didn’t really know my background story or the trauma I’ve experienced in my household and are just there because they genuinely like me as a person. And to me that irreplaceable and just made me feel completely loved.”
He moved in with an older cousin and became actively involved in student council and choir at Ogden High School. His best friend convinced him to apply to Weber State.
At the university, Alexander balanced a full course load with two to three jobs and served in the school’s Student Association. He also became involved in suicide prevention advocacy after someone he was dating died by suicide shortly before his sophomore year.
Alexander’s family and friends said his kindness and commitment to school, leadership and friends have driven his success.
Jennifer Knibbe, Alexander’s cousin, said he encouraged her to pursue her bachelor’s degree 10 years after leaving school.
“He definitely was always willing to [help with applying to Weber] – ‘Hey, do you want me to do this? Do you want me to help fill out that?’” Knibbe said. “He kind of lights that fire in you that you can do stuff … He’s always that happy person that … can see the light in everything even if you’re having a bad day … just always following up, following up, following up.”