When he delivered his speech during Convocation last summer, Alex Bush wore his lucky blue suit.
He had worn it on job interviews, to his first meeting with the Student Government Association and his first speech when he was running for SGA President last spring. He even wore his suit pants to his first date with his girlfriend, Caroline Schwarz.
And they’re still dating.
So, on that Sunday morning in August, he took a few deep breaths and stepped up to the podium in front of Roberts Hall and delivered a speech to the incoming freshman class.
His speech worked. Professors congratulated him. Parents, too. His own parents as well. As for his Uncle Steve, he had tears in his eyes. His nephew had grown up.
Bush was no longer what he calls “High School Alex.” He was “College Alex.” High Point University had transformed him into a campus leader who now has been awarded one of the highest leadership awards any student can receive.
Bush, a senior political science major from Aspen, Colorado, has received one of two Extraordinary Leader awards for the month of October.
Three years ago, he never would’ve dreamed receiving something like that at High Point University.
Back then, he wondered if he could even make it in college.
Bush’s Journey of Discovery
During his speech, Bush opened a window into who he used to be.
Three years ago, he was a B student dealing with his own mental health struggles when he came to HPU.
“I traveled 1,781.7 miles to a school no one in my small hometown in Colorado had ever heard of,” he told the crowd, “and I was coming out of one of the hardest times in my life. Long story short, I felt like a nobody about to start school nearly 30 hours from home.”
Before coming to HPU, Bush could barely get out of bed. He dealt with severe anxiety and depression during his junior year in high school. It took two years, and with the help of his parents, he overcame his mental health challenges.
But when he graduated from Aspen High, he felt he wasn’t ready for college. He took a gap year to figure himself out.
He worked as a ski rental technician and took a sailing course in the Florida Keys. He got his wilderness first responder certification, led campers on backpacking trips into the Colorado wilderness and completed a 35-day trek through 11 countries in Europe.
He also moved to Denver where he interned for five months with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, now a Democratic presidential candidate.
“Just call me Michael,” Bennet told Bush.
During his college search, he visited 13 universities. That included HPU. He found the university through one of his high school counselors, and he liked the small size and the liberal arts curricula. But he also liked what he felt.
“It was a gut feeling,” he says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, but I felt like High Point was the place I could figure that out.”
The Fate of a Chance Conversation
When he arrived at HPU, Bush pushed himself to get involved. He became a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, got involved with the Model United Nations and worked as peer tutor in four subjects – math, Spanish, American politics and social ethics.
He made the Dean’s List every semester, joined the HPU’s Honor’s Scholar Program and was inducted into three honor societies. And because of his interest in pursuing a career in law and wanting to give back to the HPU community, he became a Student Justice.
He felt himself changing. The life skills HPU teaches took hold. Bush became a better communicator, more empathetic and understanding, and he learned how to better manage his time.
By his junior year, Bush took his college career to another level. It was prompted by a chance conversation with then-SGA President Lyndsey Clos right before class.
“What’s up?” Bush asked Clos.
“My treasurer is resigning, and I need to find a new one,” said Clos, sounding despondent. “Want to be treasurer?”
He said he would. Bush was a minor in finance and economics, and he also was the treasurer for Alpha Lambda Delta, the freshman honor society. But he knew it was a leap of faith. He saw himself as an introvert. Yet, he told himself, ‘Why not?”
He became the SGA Treasurer, oversaw the accounts for 120 clubs and worked with a $600,000 budget. He got more involved in volunteering in the city of High Point, and he felt he was making a real difference both with himself and HPU.
A year later, he took another leap of faith. He wanted to run for SGA President.
“I didn’t know if I could run it better than anyone else, but I felt that I could do the most good for the school and the student body,” he says. “And it would be for a place that had given me so much. I felt I needed to give something back.”
Bush’s Leap of Faith
He recruited more than a dozen people to help with his campaign, and over the four days he could advocate for himself, Bush talked to nearly two dozen clubs.
His team started a social media campaign. They also passed out 1,000 Dum Dums with “Vote Alex” on a label attached to a stick and distributed hundreds of fliers that read, “Get Off Your Tush and Vote For Bush.”
Meanwhile, Bush wore his lucky blue suit several times.
On an early Thursday morning, while doing homework at the Slane Student Center when no one was around, he got an email. He found out he won.
He sent a text to Clos. Then, he let his parents know. He never told them he was running. He didn’t want to say anything if he lost.
“I wanted this to be something that I could show myself that I could do it,” he says. “I never like bringing bad news to them.”
HPU: A Place To Blossom
His win got him onstage during Convocation. The SGA president always delivers the speech to incoming freshmen, and Bush worked on it for weeks.
He put notes on his phone while on a two-week, father-son trip through Europe. He worked on at least six drafts before he found something he liked. He made it more personable and practiced it in front of his mirror and on his laptop using FaceTime.
By the time he walked to the podium, he was ready.
He talked about what his family taught him. Know thyself, he said. His paternal grandmother, Marian Bush, told her sons that all the time. Bush also talked about changing his major and minor five times. He talked about the importance of transformation and how it happened to him.
“The lessons learned by trying and trying and trying again are more valuable than any single fact you might learn,” he told the freshmen. “And ultimately, I believe it is why we are here.”
Dr. Mark Setzler, one of Bush’s political science professors, sat a few rows back. He felt like a proud father.
“You always see students break through at different times,” Setzler says. “You could see this happening with Alex up there. You saw how he had developed, and I had such immense pride. It was like, ‘Hey, we helped him get there.’”
“High Point has played a huge role in this,” he says. “High Point has become my home, and I’ve traveled a long way. It’s like that metaphor of being thrown into the deep end of the pool. You have to figure it out for yourself, and there’s no better place to do that than High Point. If you want to succeed, High Point has the resources to get you there.”
After his speech, the congratulations came.
“You made me feel better about sending my kid off to college,” a parent told him.
“I’m a Beta, and you did your whole fraternity proud,” another parent said.
Then, up came Uncle Steve. With tears in his eyes.
“A piece of your grandmother was in that speech,” he told his nephew.
It was. Know thyself. Bush does.