Alex Schmitt ’14 came to Transylvania University as a first-year student never having served in a leadership position and with extracurricular activities limited pretty much to soccer.
“I would just do what I needed to do and get out,” he says.
Four years later, he stood on the steps of Old Morrison, Transylvania's iconic administration building, giving the student address at commencement.
So what changed for the athlete from Ft. Mitchell, Ky., who started his college career with a self-described “one-track mind?”
“Transylvania doesn’t let you get away with that—thankfully.”
It started, as it does for many college students, with free food.
Schmitt wasn’t particularly interested in joining a fraternity, but he knew there would be food during rush week events, so he decided to participate just for fun and bow out when the process ended.
The men in Delta Sigma Phi, however, made such an impression on him that he decided to join. As a sophomore, the fraternity’s engineered leadership director stepped down, and the president called Schmitt to see if he would take the role. All of a sudden, he was in his first leadership position.
“I was reluctant because I didn’t see myself as a leader at the time, but I stepped into it and really enjoyed it. I really started to analyze myself as a leader and look for what I could give back in that capacity.”
As part of his duties in the fraternity, he had to complete a number of community service hours, a requirement that at first felt like another item on his checklist, but one that eventually ignited a passion for service that stuck with him for the rest of his college career. In particular, working with Eagle’s Edge, an after-school tutoring program that serves mostly students from low-income families, made a huge impression on him.
“It was eye-opening and very rewarding,” he says. “I would teach them science, and we would play music, play soccer, all things I’m passionate about. That was really the turning point for me, when I realized I can have fun with my passions and help others.”
A new-found passion for justice along with his love of science led him to the field of bioethics, and he was accepted to the Yale Bioethics Summer Institute, which he called “indescribable.” He had been going back and forth between studying biology and education, and that experience showed him that practicing medicine was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Still, he knew he would make every effort possible to incorporate teaching and mentoring into his career.
Alex Schmitt and Spanish professor Jeremy Paden
He got the opportunity to do just that as an August term scholar, working with Spanish professor Jeremy Paden's class of first-year students. He also presented a two-day ethics workshop in Virginia with Emily Shepp ’13, philosophy professor Jack Furlong, and biology professor Kathleen Jagger.
“I’d heard about the classic Transylvania collaboration between faculty and students,” he says. “They talked about it in admissions. I read about it on the website. But then it happened right in front of me—and I was a part of it. This truly was collaboration embodied.”
Four years after arriving on campus, the student with the “one-track mind” stood on the stage at commencement and talked to his classmates about what the experience meant to him.
“While these four years have certainly had their ups and downs, they have undoubtedly been the most formative of my life, and I suspect yours, so it is with a heavy heart that I must leave a place so deeply rooted in my identity," Schmitt told his classmates. "Transylvania has been a fuel station for our dreams. It has been a privilege to be here.”