Overcoming Challenges and Finding a Voice: Meet Gordon Alley-Young

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cape Breton University (CBU), we reflect on the remarkable journey that has shaped the University and the spirit of perseverance and resilience. The story of CBU is one of individuals like Gordon Alley-Young, who defied the odds to create his own path toward success.

Being a first-generation university student, Gordon recalls the initial challenges he faced when arriving at the University College of Cape Breton (UCCB – now CBU). “During some class discussions, I felt like an alien,” he says. “It seemed everyone knew more about the arts and literature than me.” Despite these initial feelings, Gordon managed to draw strength from within and continue pushing forward towards his goals.

Gordon initially enrolled as an English major as he found solace in expressing himself through writing throughout high school. During his first public speaking class, he felt an intense fear as they went around the room introducing themselves. “On the day of my first speech, I thought I would be the first person to die of stage fright,” he recalls. “But once I started talking, I felt a weight lift, and it changed my life.”

Despite earning a C- on that first speech, Gordon approached the professor after class to express what her class meant to him. “It taught me that I had a voice that people would listen to and that I could use that voice to advocate for the things I cared about,” Gordon shares. This experience led Gordon to change his major to Communication with a minor in English.

When Gordon finished his first year, he had been through a challenging period in his life and felt uncertain about completing his degree. However, with the support of his professors and classmates, he persevered.

After graduating from UCCB with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 1997, Gordon continued his educational journey, earning two Master’s degrees and a PhD in Communication. He had a long career as a professor at Kingsborough Community College – City University of New York and eventually became the Dean of Faculty, a role he continues to hold today.

Reflecting on his UCCB education, Gordon emphasizes its transformative impact. “I have come across a lot of people who cite Ivy League credentials, but I’ve never felt less than standing beside them with the foundation that my UCCB education gave me,” he says. “UCCB gave me more than just a degree, it taught me the value of having a supportive community; it made me proud of where I came from and set me up for success in the subsequent chapters of my life.”

Despite currently residing in Coney Island, New York, Gordon is still a Cape Bretoner at heart who takes every opportunity he can to visit family and friends back home. He is impressed by the growth and expansion of facilities, yet he feels the essence of CBU remains unchanged. “When I close my eyes in the cafeteria, it still sounds exactly the same,” he says. “The excitement, the energy, the sounds of spirited games and the low murmur of classes in session.”

Gordon believes being part of CBU shapes one’s life, as it did his. He sees CBU’s transformative impact on the community when he makes his trips home, from buses running more frequently to the busy stores and folks from all over the world making Cape Breton their home. “I’m proud when I come home and see the Island not just surviving, but thriving,” he says.

Gordon often takes the time to catch up on all the latest CBU news, which recently has focused heavily on sharing continued updates for the Cape Breton Medical Campus. “I know the day will come when CBU will have its own graduating MDs, PhDs, EdDs and more,” Gordon says. Despite the big and bright outlook for the future, both near and far, Gordon knows it is the current students who are writing the story of the University’s future, and beyond. “They will no doubt take us in directions I can’t even begin to fathom,” he says. “And I can only imagine what the future holds.”

To stay up to date on the 50th celebration, visit cbu.ca/50.