Class of 2016 Celebrates Commencement

Nick Alm Encourages Class of 2018 to Find Their Truth

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Nick Alm

Nick Alm, '18 BSB, gave the student commencement address to his fellow graduating classmates. He discussed themes of truth, finding your way in the world, and making positives impacts whenever you can. 

Alm graduated with a Management Information Systems major. He was extremely engaged during his time at the University of Minnesota, serving as a Carlson Crew Leader, a Carlson Ambassador, a teaching assistant, a student employee in the UG Program office and the Undergraduate Business Career Center.  Nick also served as the Intern Program Coordinator, Speaker of the Forum and an at-large representative of the Minnesota Student Association where his work largely revolved around sexual assault and college affordability advocacy. Nick has been instrumental in work related to student food insecurity on campus, fair and affordable housing and student mental health services.  He was among the first group of students to participate in an International Experience in Cuba through the Carlson Global Institute. 

Nick co-founded the Carlson School of Management’s first Undergraduate LGBT organization (COMPASS) and was instrumental in the success of the first ever LGBT alumni reunion bringing together four decades of LGBT alumni back to Carlson to share experiences and to network with students.  In his spare time, Nick serves as the Executive Director and co-founder of Mossier Social Action and Innovation Center, a local non-profit organization to assist in the development of LGBT-owned businesses in Kenya, Uganda and the Dominican Republic.

Watch and read Alm's entire speech from commencement below.

It means so much to represent the Class of 2018. You are all people I look up to and respect more than you know. I wouldn't be here without you. Before I dive in, I know we've done it a little bit today but there are a lot of people here today who made serious sacrifices for all of us to be where we are today. The parents, grandparents, mentors, Carlson faculty and staff, people who crossed state and country borders, to be here on this day. So I would love it if we could give them a round of applause.

Today I'm going to share my truth and how the Carlson School brought me closer to it. Part of my truth is that I am a gay, first-generation college student who didn’t come to the University of Minnesota because of rankings or degree offerings, but because of its reputation as a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friendly community. Business school felt like a natural step for the inner high achiever in me. For much of my pre-adult years, I made distractions from my identity by having a 4.0, by being an officer of every student group, and by essentially working towards being a professional type A person.  If people asked me about having a girlfriend I would just say “Do you think I have time for that? I'm really busy.” I thought if I made my  way to the top, if I became a CEO, then I could finally be honest about who I was, because I would be protected by my status and my authority. Money and power after all are the keys to happiness, am I right? They're not. From a young age I was the flamboyant, girly boy, with a high-pitched voice who would let my girlfriends do my makeup on the bus. And I was bullied because of it. I learned from a very young age that being my true self would pose a threat to my emotional and physical safety. Those experiences went on for years. It's kind of like living every day like it's your freshman orientation. You really just want everybody to accept you, you want to fit in, and you’re very cautious about what you share with people and when you share it. Today I still get this deep fear that if I put my real authentic self out for the world, it will be met with the same pain that I received as a child. It’s been hard to unlearn this.

Within my first year of Carlson my mind and body were in complete disagreement about the path we had chosen and for what reasons. It felt like my life was falling apart all around me. If it wasn’t for my parents, as well as Carlson’s advisers and career coaches, I probably would have opted for a different path. It’s important to call out that the support that I had is somewhat unusual. Since I was 17 I could be honest with my parents. Something that too many LGBT youth don’t have. It’s important that I make it clear that my story is in many ways much more advantaged and positive than other LGBT people, especially for transgender folks, LGBT people of color. There were two moments that allowed me to start seeing the bigger picture – the first was when I met my mentor Charlie Rounds. Charlie - a successful business person AND gay AND married. I was 19 years old before I knew anybody who had those qualities. Today I get to work full-time with him on an organization that we started to help LGBT people globally start businesses in the 77 countries where you can still be legally denied employment based on your gender and sexual orientation. The second was when I found myself in a Carlson breakout room with four other LGBT individuals and we all mutually acknowledged that this battle we were fighting was impacting our ability to succeed and thrive in this highly competitive environment. We started a group called Compass. This act of courage turned into another, and another, and then 30 people showed up to our first meeting. Then 6 Fortune 500 companies sponsored us. Then, as Raj mentioned, we organized the Carlson LGBT alumni reunion, the first of its kind. Carlson was the first college at this University to do such an event and we brought back 40 years of LGBT alumni. Brian Gerhardson, a panelist from the class of 1986, who at the time believed he was the only LGBT person in the entire student body, on the day of our reunion committed $6 million dollars to the Carlson School, the fourth largest gift in our history, for the purposes of a scholarship benefiting anyone, LGBT or not, that's interested in improving the lives of the LGBT community. Compass is now a structural part of this University. The Carlson School has put their full weight and support behind us. Any LGBT student or ally who sets foot in our school will know right away, that whatever your story is, whatever your challenges are, you are wanted, you are valued, and you’re going to be the person that you have always wanted to be. It needs to be noted that multiple people who contributed to Compass in significant ways were not able to be public about their involvement because of fear that they will lose emotional and/or financial support from their families.

I need to note that as we built this group we had many conversations with people in and outside of the LGBT community.  We learned that as a woman, it’s an isolating and lonely feeling when you look at Fortune 500 CEOS and you see that less than 5% of them are women. Or that 1 in 3 women between the ages of 18-34 will be sexually harassed at work. And outside of those numbers, I’ve learned that many women fight against an underlying tone within the business community that they have something more to prove before they can be on an equal playing field with men. So I have to ask the parents, siblings, and friends of women: are we ok with that? As human beings? This journey helped us learn from people of color as well. In 2016, economic development nonprofit Greater Minneapolis - St. Paul surveyed 1200 local professionals of color about the metro job market. 22% of respondents said they would likely leave state in the next five years. Those who plan to leave cited a lack of diversity and cultural awareness as a primary factor, and that it influenced their decision even more than our cold weather. Are we ok with that? I ask because we get to decide if this is acceptable or not. We also learned from straight white men, about battling mental illness, about losing loved ones and family members, and from everyone about all kinds of battles we fight in silence. Grades, classes and group projects are really just a small part of our story here.

The Carlson School has made incredible progress towards creating an environment where we can tell our truth in a way the helps foster a more empathetic, compassionate, and intelligent community of critical thinkers. Businesses and organizations that choose to confront the hard truths and create these compassionate communities ultimately do better from a financial standpoint. I encourage you to read the data. Most importantly, creating inclusive communities is simply the right thing to do. Our generation is tasked with solving some of the world’s grand challenges. When people look back in 30 years and say, “wow, business has changed. I now see business as playing a serious role in the betterment of our world.” They're going to mention Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc. But when people ask who did lead that change, they will say The Carlson School. We are going to be the leaders who are willing to extend a hand, build a bridge, and seek a deeper understanding of who we all are and the truth we all carry. This legacy is ours. Speaking your truth is the best thing you can do for yourself, the organization you work for, and ultimately the world that we all share. When we can all find a way to share our truth, we will  be a force for good. Thank you.