When graduating musical arts major Alex Fruin takes the stage on May 10 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, he will deliver a commencement speech that is inspired in part by the memory of his late older brother.
Nathaniel Fruin, a volunteer firefighter who collapsed and died unexpectedly in 2013 while on duty in Mattawan, meant everything to the Roosevelt honors student who, as 2019 Student Commencement Speaker, will ask his fellow graduates to "believe in our ability to bring about change."
"My brother was a model for what it means to be compassionate and hardworking, and he certainly has inspired me in what I do today," said Fruin, who will be the first in his family to graduate from college with an undergraduate degree.
"Death changes the way you look at the world," he added. "It has made me desire to have a life that has meaning in serving others and in creating a world that is more equitable for all," which will be one of his messages to fellow graduates as Roosevelt's Student Commencement speaker.
Growing up on a vineyard in Mattawan, Mich., where his parents still live today, the younger Fruin loved singing in choir and participating in band in high school, but never put much stock in the idea of going to college. "It just wasn't a priority for me," he said.
However, Fruin's older brother, who wanted the best for Alex, wouldn't let go of the possibility of his younger brother going to college. In fact, he took the time to drive the high school sophomore to Chicago twice a month for private voice lessons at Roosevelt University with voice faculty member Mark Crayton.
"My brother was my biggest supporter and ultimately one of the reasons I came to Roosevelt University," said Fruin of his older sibling who went into full cardiac arrest, collapsed and died in 2013 at age 22 while responding to a house fire in Mattawan.
"I was just devastated. I stopped doing everything for about six months. Going to Chicago for voice lessons after his death seemed inappropriate, and it wasn't until my senior year in high school that I thought about taking voice lessons again," recalled Fruin.
A 2014 graduate of Mattawan High School where his first voice teacher, David Hook, encouraged him to explore the opportunity of college with a degree in music. Fruin has become a distinguished college student since arriving at Roosevelt full-time beginning in the fall of 2015.
A recent trainee with the Obama Foundation Community Leadership Corps in Chicago, the Roosevelt student has been a recipient of the Theodore Presser Undergraduate Scholarship. He also received the Make Music Chicago’s James Weging Memorial Internship and the Yamaha Fellowship to attend the Eastman School of Music's Leadership Academy.
Earlier this year, he was the sole student winner of Roosevelt's inaugural Presidential Social Justice Award for an honors project about classical American arts organizations that he argues will need to plan strategically and embrace principles of diversity, equity and inclusion if they are to survive and flourish in the communities they serve.
His aim after graduation is to become a leader of a performing arts organization where he can help implement the type of strategic planning and adherence to social-justice principles that he outlined in his award-winning thesis.
"Alex's 'firsts' are numerous," said Roosevelt Assistant Professor of Music History Thomas Kernan, one of Fruin's advisors on the project. "It is difficult to identify another student who has taken more thorough advantage of every opportunity that Roosevelt provided him."
Above all, Fruin said he wants his student colleagues to view graduation as "a beginning, not an ending. We owe it to our future to believe in our ability to bring about change in our own backyard."