Nampa valedictorian overcomes the odds

Alex Tracy wasn’t about to let a family crisis ruin his dream of graduating from Nampa High School … at the top of his class.

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Nampa High senior Alex Tracy displays medals he earned during this year’s Science Olympiad.

Ever since elementary school, Alex has dreamed of being a Nampa Bulldog. His brother went to school there and all the children he grew up with in daycare went there, along with numerous family friends over the school’s 100-plus-year history.

Alex soon followed in their footsteps, developing an interest in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math.

Trough his freshman and sophomore years, Alex earned straight A’s and began participating in sports and extracurricular activities, including Team S, the afterschool STEM club.

But as Alex was flourishing in school, his family’s financial situation was deteriorating. About a year and a half ago, the hardship deepened and his family was evicted from their home, he said. They responded by placing all of their family possessions in storage and relocating to a Nampa motel. For about three months the family struggled to try to put the pieces back together while Alex and his younger brother continued to attend school.

The arrangement proved difficult, and things grew worse. Alex’s mom and dad divorced, with Alex’s father packing up and leaving.

“It became too much,” Alex said.

Now they were homeless, and Alex was worried about his family and his ability to continue attending Nampa High. His mother and brother moved in with his grandparents in Boise, but if Alex left the district, he would not be able to continue to attend the school he loved.

That’s when Alex’s luck changed, and the parents of his best friend from high school opened their doors to take him in. The arrangement allowed Alex to live with the family in Nampa on weekdays, continue attending Nampa High and then travel to Boise on weekends to be with his grandparents, mother and brother.

“I wouldn’t say it’s different, it’s just not what people expect from it,” Alex said.

“There is goodness in the world, and a lot of people who talk about Nampa don’t think of it as a nice community that is pleasant,” he continued. “But it’s quite the opposite (of the stereotype). There are people who are willing to support everyone, and spending a year with his family has meant a lot to me.”

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Alex Tracy prepares for a varsity tennis match Thursday at Nampa High School. Photo by Andrew Reed/Idaho Ed News.

If the trauma affected Alex, he doesn’t let on. He continued to earn straight A’s while shouldering a courseload that includes AP chemistry, college physics, AP calculus, advanced speech and debate and a capstone course in engineering, drafting and design.

He runs varsity cross country and plays varsity tennis, where he prefers doubles competition.

He is active in the National Honor Society, FIRST Robotics, Skills USA, Science Olympiad and the U.S. Army-sponsored Ten80 National STEM League’s remote control car student challenge – earning a trip to the event’s national competition this month in Houston.

“It’s just another challenge, I guess it’s another obstacle,” Alex said. “All obstacles are meant to be overcome.”

During graduation ceremonies May 20, Alex will serve as one of Nampa’s four valedictorians, earning the chance to address this year’s graduating class.

Dual credit chemistry teacher Chris Anderson has known Alex since he was a freshman, and describes him as an ideal student. Alex is more mature than many college students, asks informed questions, and hates to be stumped by a concept or problem.

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Alex Tracy takes notes during his college physics class on Thursday. Photo by Andrew Reed/ Idaho Ed News.

Achieving so much despite facing hardships only underscores Alex’s determination in Anderson’s eyes.

“He’s had more obstacles than a lot of students have, and he has not hid the obstacles from many people,” Anderson said.

Alex’s academic career won’t end when he dons a cap and gown at the end of this month. Following a lengthy application process that involved securing recommendations from members of Congress, Alex was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy, where he will continue his education next year.

The academy pays all tuition, room, board and medical costs for all students, who in exchange agree to five years of active duty service upon graduation. (Alex also was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but opted to become a midshipman.)

There, he hopes to serve his country honorably and apply his love of math and chemistry with the Navy.

“You can always change your future,” Alex said. “It’s in your hands. You always have that option to move forward and move on from your experiences and to make something out of it and make something better for your future.”

Idaho Education News multimedia journalist Andrew Reed produced and edited the video segment of this report. 

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