Finding her niche: Alexandria McLearen, UAA’s fall commencement speaker

With the end of college comes a new beginning and opportunities to learn. This is what commencement speaker Alexandria McLearen’s speech is all about: failure and how to learn from your mistakes.

McLearen’s journey at UAA started four and a half years ago.

“I have really enjoyed my time here at UAA. It doesn’t feel like I am graduating, it’s kind of crazy,” McLearen said.

Majoring in natural sciences with a minor in Alaska Native studies and psychology, McLearen has come a long way from where she started.

“I didn’t really get involved until around my sophomore year of college, and honestly I wish I got involved earlier,” McLearen said. “The only reason I got involved was because I always checked my email and I got an email from 2015-2016 [USUAA] President Jonathon Taylor. It is hard if you are not looking, those opportunities don’t just fall in your lap, well, unless you check your email.”

Throughout her time at UAA, McLearen said her most challenging moment was when she was chair of the Green Fee Board.

“I learned that my input was not only valid, but it was necessary. The reason I was a representative was not by chance, but because I worked for it, so I should give my input. That was my biggest challenge, knowing when to put my voice in and when to step back,” McLearen said.

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It is through her leadership roles and her involvement on campus that McLearen was chosen to be the commencement speaker.

Alexandria McLearen will speak on Dec. 17 on behalf of the fall class of 2017.
Alexandria McLearen will speak on Dec. 17 on behalf of the fall class of 2017. Photo credit: Young Kim

“It is always hard to choose a speaker, we usually get really good applications,” Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Bruce Schultz, said. “However, Alex [McLearen] was chosen not only because of her roles in the UAA community, but also because the way she presented her speech was really interesting. When I look for a speech, I look for one that is going to resonate with a broad audience.”

Only three to seven students apply for the commencement speaker every semester.

“It is a challenge every year. I think a lot of students just want to focus on their school work and graduating,” Schultz said.

Past speeches have been on a variety of topics including Dr. Seuss, the importance of social justice, and the hardships of graduating college when coming from an immigrant family.

“Their stories are different, but what tends to be common throughout all the stories is that it’s a personal experience and it’s a personal perspective. Folks tend to speak very positively about their time at UAA,” Schultz said.

Maria Williams, Alaska Native studies professor, taught McLearen in her Alaska Native Perspectives class and Alaska Native Music class.

“She was always very active in the Alaska Native Studies program,” Williams said. “She always brought a sort of energy that just lit up the room. She is very kind, engaged, she’s a team player and she cares about the greater community. She has a real dedication to make the world a better place.”

Lyndea Kelleher, a friend of McLearen’s, shared a lot of time with her in USUAA government, starting back in the fall semester of 2015.

“We have worked on things like student fee resolutions, Green Fee Board initiatives such as the hydration stations. Recently, she did an initiative for insulating solar panels and we did research to testify for the Board of Regents,” Kelleher said.

Kelleher described McLearen as being a strong leader in USUAA.

“She has really great drive and motivation and she is one of those people that always has a vision. She likes to make things better, and I think those help her make her a successful person,” Kelleher said.

McLearen’s commencement speech is about failure, and how to make the most of those experiences.

“We all experience it, so you just have to know how to get back up and keep going,” McLearen said.

McLearen wants to leave an impact on her fellow students and wants this speech to really resonate with everyone. She wanted to reach out to those that aren’t really considered at commencements.

“I really hope to reach out not only to my classmates, but also those little girls and boys in the audience. Those were the sorts of people I was keeping in mind with my speech,” McLearen said.

The biggest piece of advice McLearen has for students new to UAA is for them to branch out of their comfort zones and find what they enjoy.

“Find your niche. Something to know is that UAA is full of amazing people. It may seem scary at first to try and get involved with stuff, but if you just get out there you will see how much fun it can be and how big of a difference you can make,” McLearen said.

McLearen will speak at the fall 2017 commencement ceremony on Dec. 17 at the Alaska Airlines Center