Her Saturdays started at 6 a.m. when she would move from room to room, collecting laundry, cleaning the house, and helping with the cooking. She was 8 years old.
“Growing up, I knew life shouldn’t be like this, but I was taught never to complain,” said Saint Leo student Alexandra Joseph, who graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in political science. “There was a lot of guilt growing up. Home was very stressful. I always felt like I was the outsider intervening in someone else’s life. There was no room for complaints. It was very weird, but I was driven to move forward and move ahead.”
Joseph moved from Haiti to Florida when she was 3, following her mother’s death when she was an infant. As her years in Miami droned on while she was living with an aunt and her family, she never complained. She was lucky, they told her, that she had a place to stay.
Even when she suffered physical abuse, and later sexual abuse inflicted by a family member, Joseph stayed silent. And she remained silent when she was forced to give half of her small paycheck to her family, while still purchasing her own belongings and necessities.
Joseph saved $3,000 for a car while working multiple jobs. But her family took that money, and she never purchased the car.
She faced many struggles with her family life and stayed silent until the day she built up the courage to speak to her school’s social worker and her counselor after her family refused to sign loan forms so that she could attend college. Those two helped her change her life. “The counselor told me college was my only way out,” Joseph said.
It hurt, she said. “You work so hard and think you are finally going to get something, then they show you they are not looking out for you.”
Her family kicked her out of the house when she was an 11th-grader because she attended homecoming, Joseph said, and she was forced to leave behind her passport, birth certificate, and green card (permanent U.S. residence card)—documents she still is struggling to replace.
She turned her hurt into strength. “I was able to graduate from high school despite the struggles,” she said. And, this year, she graduated from Saint Leo and is studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Saint Leo University finally gave her a place to let go of the demons and focus on her bright future, she said.
“Law school was always the goal,” Joseph said. “To be told I wasn’t going to college, I was shell-shocked.”
After moving out of the family house, she saw an advertisement for Saint Leo University. “I finally had to check it out,” Joseph said. “It seemed like a ‘God thing.’ I applied, and I got in, and I didn’t look back. It was the best decision I ever made.”
“I just love that I took that leap of faith and the best things are still to come. Saint Leo was the giant change in my life. People paid attention to me. A lot of people advocated for me. If I was having a bad day, people noticed and would ask how I was doing. So I began to practice advocating for myself.”
She spent many sleepless nights at Saint Jude Chapel on campus. “I suffered from insomnia, but if I was going to be up, I wanted to be in a place that gives off energy, that is community and passion,” Joseph said. And that was the campus chapel.
She found the church to be a place to shed her problems and, “I could remember what I had overcome.”
Joseph won the 2020 Scholarship America Dream Award during her sophomore year that paid for her junior- and senior-year tuition. She also became a resident assistant in 2020, which enabled her to continue living year-round in the university residence hall with less financial burden.
During the Spring Semester, she completed an internship with a private defense attorney in Miami. “I am overwhelmed, but I know exactly what I want to be,” Joseph said. “No matter which field of law I decide on, I know I will give the best representation, no matter what it is.”
Even while pursuing her degree, Joseph has made an impact in and outside of the Saint Leo University community. She is one of the co-authors of the book Women Breathe Again, which shares testimonial of women overcoming obstacles; chair of the multicultural and diversity committee of Campus Activities Board (CAB); and a LEAD Scholar, a program for those who wish to develop strong leadership skills. She also created and hosted a program, The Dream Room, for WLSL-FM, 92.5, the university’s radio station. Her goal was to create a safe place in which students could listen to peers discuss issues and events that affect them.
Saint Leo proved to be a perfect fit, Joseph said, offering her support and opportunities. “The first two years were hard because it is expensive. But it helped shape me as a person. Now, I get to advocate for others.”