Marquis Alexander ‘13: The First Black Corps Commander
Marquis Alexander ‘13 took an unconventional path to get to Texas A&M University and left a resounding impact that still inspires Aggies.
Kira Schwarz ‘22
Marquis Alexander made Texas A&M University history at 20 years old in 2012 when he became the first Black and second veteran commander of the Corps of Cadets. The young Marine’s roundabout journey to one of the most highly esteemed positions at Texas A&M is a testament to his ability to overcome challenges while applying what he learned in the Marines and as an Aggie.
Alexander grew up in the inner city of southeast Houston and later moved to the nearby suburbs of Alief. He said the contrast between his inner-city childhood and his suburban adolescence had a huge impact on his passions and interests.
“I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and religions. It gave me a great world-view, which kind of started my love of studying people and cultures. That’s why I was an international studies major,” Alexander said. “Then I moved back to the inner city after seventh grade, and in high school I learned it was a predominantly minority area. That’s where I learned the disparity between people and different environments, and so that sent me on my journey for international studies.”
Alexander had his heart set on Texas A&M since high school when his teacher paid for him and three other students to attend the Junior Cadet Accessions Program (JCAP). This allowed him to spend a weekend experiencing life as an Aggie from both the student perspective and the cadet perspective. He said he couldn’t help feeling like Aggieland was already home.
“So after that, I was just like, ‘I’m going to make it. I’m going to A&M. That’s what I want, and hopefully I get in. If not, I’ll reapply next year,’” Alexander said.
Things didn’t go according to plan for Alexander when he didn’t hear back after initially applying. That’s when he said the Marine Corps found him and began a time in his life that influenced his later years in the Corps of Cadets.
“You have to be a multitasker [in the Marines]. My job was in administration, but you need all kinds of skills because you’re not just going to learn your job. The philosophy is that one guy could be taken out at any time, and that spot still needs to be filled.”
Although Alexander felt he had a purpose during his active duty with the Marines, he still felt that his academic journey wasn’t over yet. The call to Aggieland still rang in his ears.
“That was what I wanted to do, and that was where I wanted to do it, so I was going to do anything I needed to do to get to it,” Alexander said. “I took a roundabout way, but I made it there.”
Alexander describes his initial experience as an official Corps of Cadets member as out of the ordinary. His service as a Marine made the process of choosing a company more interesting. Delta Company was the obvious choice, as it was made up entirely of former veterans and would have mostly exempted him from standard freshman Corps antics.
“I already did it in the Marine Corps. I don’t need some college student yelling at me,” he explained.
To help make his decision on which company to join, Alexander reached out to his Marine Corps supervisor who also happened to be a former member of the Mascot Company in the Corps of Cadets. Lieutenant Williford challenged Alexander to stick it out and do his time “in the trenches” of a traditional company. A talk at a pizza social with Assistant Commandant Jake Betty and Corps Commander Brent Lanier solidified his decision to join Company H-1.
“I didn’t even know if I wanted to be Corps Commander,” Alexander confessed “That was never my intention. But following that conversation with [Lanier] sent me on a path.”
By Alexander’s junior year, his friends implored him to consider pursuing the position of corps commander. It was a natural progression after he entered the Corps as a sergeant major.
“I thought I wanted to show that you could do as much as you want to do,” Alexander said. “I was in the Marine Corps and the Corps of Cadets at the same time. And I was an international studies major. But I also wanted to show that no matter where I came from, I did it, and other people can do it too. This isn’t a lost dream.”
During his time pursuing the position, Alexander was surprised to learn that the Corps had not yet had a Black commander. His perspective changed as he considered what this would mean to not just him, but to others.
“It was pressure,” he explained. “It just kind of felt like everything I did was underneath a microscope.”
After becoming commander, Alexander felt like his race was the main focus of his achievement, but he learned he could use his platform to reach people from different backgrounds.
“I’m Black. I’ve been Black a long time. I know that.” Alexander said. “So how can I change the narrative? What is positive out of this? And really, the positivity in it was all the letters from the minority kids, who said, ‘I didn’t know that was a dream for me, that I can have that dream. I know that you did it, so I can do it.’”
Alexander’s outreach made a huge impact on students applying to the Corps, the effects of which he would see in the following year’s applications.
“The next year, we had a huge jump in minority participation in the Corps. I was like, ‘I get to do that.’ Then we had the first female two years later. I was ecstatic,” Alexander shared. “I don’t think people realize that representation is really important because in order to be something, you have to see someone in it that’s like you. If you see one type of person, you think, ‘Oh, okay. Well, that’s what you have to be to be that,’ but that’s not true at all. You know, A&M has moved a lot in its diversity and inclusion, and I think that’s for the better.”
Alexander said serving as commander of the Corps connected him to people inspired by the “first” he set at Texas A&M. One admirer of Alexander’s story was a woman who commented on an article written about his achievement.
“I reached out to her and simply said, ‘Thank you.’ In return, she made a giant watercolor painting of me. It was me at one of the games and I was praying. It was beautiful.” Alexander recalled. “She said, ‘I caught a special moment and I just had to capture it for you. I was so proud of you.’”
Alexander also shared a touching experience he had with a young boy who attended every Midnight Yell in a homemade Corps uniform. Alexander was inspired by the boy’s enthusiasm for the Corps, and gave him a pair of four diamonds.
“He wore that thing everywhere,” Alexander shared. “You see kids like that and you’re like, ‘Okay. This is worth it.’”
From meeting the President of the United States to escorting the Supreme Allied Commander of Forces in Europe to Midnight Yell as commander of the Corps, Alexander built an Aggie experience unlike any before and inspired others to follow his example.
“If you work hard and put your nose to the grindstone, anything impossible becomes possible.” Alexander said.