Every voice counts

by Catalina Myers, UAA Office of University Advancement  |   

Alex Jorgensen, political science major and one of UAA's two commencement speakers for spring 2020. (Photo by James Evans/University of Alaska Anchorage)

 It was about 1:30 a.m. on a Sunday in late March and Alex Jorgensen, UAA political science senior, legislative intern and one of spring’s commencement speakers, was perched on the edge of his couch watching the final budget votes tallied in for the legislative session. It was a cliffhanger whether or not the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) vote would pass — a bill that renewed important legislation, specifically the Alaska Performance Scholarship. Despite being exhausted after a three-week-long sprint to close the 67-day in-person legislative session, Jorgensen was happy he’d made the effort to stay awake to see the session through.

“That [bill] passed by one vote,” said Jorgensen. “Everyone had voted except for one person who was in the house minority and the speaker of the house said to her, ‘You need to vote.’ She decided to break from her party and vote yes. So because of that, people will get the scholarships they rightfully earned and important government services. their scholarships and a whole host of other things. It was incredible to witness that moment in history.”

The vote is indicative of Jorgensen’s five-year collegiate career at UAA — being involved and seeing things through — even when it gets dicey. But Jorgensen is resilient and is not afraid to roll his sleeves up and get to work when things get tough. He believes in education and UAA, and if you were to take a look at Jorgensen’s highlight reel of his five-year collegiate career, you would see that he has been a huge advocate of the university and its students. From serving as a resident assistant for three years; providing sex education to his classmates as a peer health educator; working as a Community Engaged Student Assistant — better known as a CESA — in the Center for Community Engagement and Learning; and topping off, serving nearly three years as a senator and speaker of the assembly for the Union of Students at the University of Alaska Anchorage (USUAA), Jorgensen has been on the front lines of advocating for his peers and fighting for their “right to an education.”

Last summer when the governor proposed an unprecedented $136 million cut to the University of Alaska (UA) budget, Jorgensen sprang into action mobilizing more than 3,000 students, faculty, staff and the community to protest the cuts at the Override the Vetoes rally at the Alaska Airlines Center. Jorgensen’s efforts resulted in 2,500 people at the rally taking action in sending text messages, emails and phone calls to their elected officials governor’s office voicing their concern and support for the university. 

Jorgensen says he feels if there’s any word that best describes his graduating class or one that defines his university experience — it’s perseverance. 

“When I wrote my original speech it was about one thing, the uniqueness of the current graduating class,” he said. “We’ve experienced, in what I think, to be a lot of hardship as a collective unit of people.”

During his tenure over the past five years, Jorgensen said he’s watched what he feels like has been an attack on Alaska’s education system and the university struggling year-after-year with budget cuts. He said he’s frustrated because he feels like it sends the wrong message to youth in the state, “that they are not valuable or important to the future of Alaska,” but is hopeful that at some point the tide will turn and that even though he’s graduating and about to move on in his life soon, he will continue to advocate for the university. 

“We’ve had all these messages and things that have worked against us, but yet, we worked through that and we overcame what I think to be pretty significant barriers,” Jorgensen said. He’s proud of the graduating class of 2020, despite the odds stacked against them and that they've persevered through continued budget issues and now a global pandemic. He admits it’s a bizarre time to be graduating from college, a phase in life where most 20-somethings are trying to get their foot in the door professionally and establish themselves as adults, but he’s confident he and his classmates will continue to be resilient. “I think that’s an incredible accomplishment, that we’ve overcome this systemic pressure against us in our journey to graduate. I think that’s only been made more important, now that we’re graduating during a pandemic.”

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