'I found my voice in things I'm passionate about'

by Tracy Kalytiak  |   

Back in high school, Xavier Mason kept to himself. He played videogames, didn't get involved in school activities, didn't push himself to achieve.

Xavier Mason will deliver the student speech at the 2015 Spring Commencement, on May 3 at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)

Xavier Mason will deliver the student speech at the 2015 Spring Commencement, May 3 at the Alaska Airlines Center. (Photo by Philip Hall/UAA)

"I was quiet and introverted," he said. "I didn't have a lot of friends. I really kept to myself."

Four years later, Mason is preparing for a spotlight role: delivering the student speaker address for his graduating class at the 2015 Spring Commencement, May 3 at the Alaska Airlines Center.

"Here at UAA, I'm definitely more driven," he said. "I'm a lot more confident in who I am. I found my voice in things I'm passionate about."

Discovering worlds of possibility

In the years between his high school and college graduations, the senior marketing and management student traveled the world. He studied in Prague, learning about different philosophies of leadership, and traveled aboard a ship through the University of Virginia's Semester at Sea program, studying the effects of globalization. Along the way, Mason discovered social entrepreneurship and honed his public-speaking skills.

"I really enjoy public speaking," he said. "I'm better at it than interpersonal communication. In public speaking, I can plan what I'm going to say, and practice. It's easier for me and I'm less nervous."

Mason also co-founded the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity; served as NAACP Youth Council president, as a board member for an Anchorage religious nonprofit, Chessed Alaska, and on the membership committee of the Alaska World Affairs Council; became a UAA College of Business & Public Policy Leadership Fellow; was selected as a Truman Finalist, and found inspiration in books-his favorites, so far, have been Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," Niccoló Machiavelli's "The Prince," and biographies of Frederick Douglass, Walt Disney and C.S. Lewis.

What advice does Mason give to students who someday want to go to college and grow into leaders?

"In high school, I graduated, but I didn't apply myself," he said. "I didn't achieve my potential in high school. Turn off the TV, no more videogames. I think I could've been so much further ahead if I read more, did my homework. All that time I spent playing videogames and there was nothing to show for it."

Venturing into ventures

Mason didn't initially envision finishing college. He wanted to launch and run businesses, be his own boss. He started in business at the age of 14, shoveling snow for $10 per driveway with the goal of raising money for a trip to Cancun, Mexico. "That was pretty decent money," he laughed. "We had a system, we were really fast. But we were young. We didn't raise money. We fell short by a few thousand. The takeaway is that I'd try harder next time, be more creative in my approach. Buy a snowplow!"

At school, Mason hated the cafeteria food so he and a friend launched another short-term venture: selling pizzas, burgers and sodas. The takeaway from that? Find a partner with similar financial goals-his partner wanted to spend the money they made while Mason wanted to invest the earnings back into the venture.

After entering college and learning through his travels about the importance of social entrepreneurship, Mason launched HandMade, an organization that provides a way for homeless people to market their handiwork; CurrentEnergy, a social enterprise aimed at developing power-generation strategies in Africa, and VisualAid, a nonprofit inspirational children's magazine circulated in eight countries and 20 orphanages and nongovernmental organizations in Africa.

"HandMade and CurrentEnergy are on hold," he said, "so I can focus more on VisualAid, creating a better product."

Seizing every opportunity

Mason vividly remembers his first days at UAA.

"It was so intimidating," he said. "It was so big and I didn't know anyone. The first week, I had a campus map in my pocket because I didn't know the names of the buildings. I'd go to a class and sit inside for five minutes before realizing I was in the wrong class. I remember walking from Rasmuson Hall to the library and I couldn't find the skybridge to cross [UAA Drive]. I was so lost all the time. Now, I help people find their way."

He says the best ways to get acclimated are to seize scholarship opportunities because having that money makes it possible to more fully immerse yourself in student activities and campus life, instead of having to constantly work to raise money for tuition and fees.

"There are leadership fellows, fraternities and sororities, student government, so much to get involved with," he said. "You can make friends, learn skills. By getting involved, you get better in your grades. There's so much to benefit from and it's free. And the scholarships-some scholarships, like the UAA Seawolf Leadership Scholarship, few people apply for it but it's $1,500 in tuition waivers. There are great opportunities out there to get involved, to make school fun."

Mason says it's important to find balance, however, and focus on academics first.

"There's so much out there, so don't spread yourself too thin," he said. "Get help-no man's an island. My advice? Just persevere. Try your hardest not just to pass the class but to take your academic weak spot and make that your strength."

Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement

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