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'Mr. UNLV' Ready for Double Duty on Commencement Stage
When Tre Norman came to UNLV in 2013, he was one wary teenager.
Everyone back home in New Orleans made college seem like a slog. They said it was hard. That it was scary, even. That not everyone would make it out, and that college would make or break you.
It didn’t take him long to work his way into the “make” category by carving out his own niche as a well-known campus personality by the time he was a sophomore. On commencement day, May 13, Norman will be performing his own song, “I’m a Rebel,” while emceeing the event — when he’s not walking the stage himself to collect his own degree.
The path to the Thomas & Mack stage started for Norman when he entered a public speaking contest in a communications class and then on to a campuswide competition. Norman ended up taking second, putting him on the radar of both Lee Business School and the Honors College.
One day during his freshman year, Norman ran into Marta Meana, dean of the Honors College, and started peppering her with questions. She was so impressed with his thoughtfulness that she led him directly to the college's admissions staff herself.
“Once I got plugged in with the Honors College everything changed," Norman said. "It really made me want to get involved. I didn't feel so disconnected from the university because I had something to be connected to. Sophomore year was the year everything changed for me at UNLV.”
Talent shows, Tough Mudder obstacle competitions with the Honors College, speaking at new student orientation — it was all on the table, and it wouldn’t have happened if Norman’s uncle, Victor, didn’t happen to live in Las Vegas.
Norman grew up in New Orleans and went to boarding school in Mississippi. Going to college in the South could have been a fallback plan if he hadn't had family here to stay with while pursuing his education.
“I kind of knew I was coming to UNLV,” Norman said. “I had come out here the summer (in high school). I had to take my ACT test. I took it for the first time here at UNLV in (Beam Hall).”
Norman enrolled expecting to focus strictly on academics, on nailing down a 4.0 GPA. But as his experiences deepened and he was drawn into the rich tapestry UNLV offers, his interests widened.
“The diversity here was unbelievable,” he said. “You don't know what someone is just by looking at them. You might think that person is black, but they might be Ethiopian or Eritrean. Las Vegas is a melting pot of different cultures. UNLV, as a result, is also a melting pot. It makes the student experience way better.”
During his sophomore year, Norman got serious about making music and producing his own tracks. With its New Orleans roots, his family was steeped in music, often breaking out their instruments to jam at gatherings. He’s released two albums to iTunes, and the second, called UNLV, features “I’m a Rebel,” “Mr. UNLV” and paean upper-level classes and diversity, “Hon 440.” It’s the kind of resume that gets you tabbed to do things like perform during graduation, which he did for the first time during fall commencement.
It’s just part of the puzzle for Norman, who envisions a future as a public persona that encompasses television, radio, public speaking and music. Now that he has spoken and performed at UNLV events like commencement, Premier, the Foundation Annual Dinner and Rebels Rise, he plans on spending his time during grad school, where he will pursue a master’s in communication studies at UNLV, preparing for what he hopes will be a multimedia takeover.
“Marketing is cool and I like business, but I want to do more than business stuff. I want to be involved in events and community engagement and things that impact people in a positive manner,” he said. “I want to make a career off of inspiration, ambition. At a core level I want to be a source of inspiration to people, but the business part that comes in, I have to make a living. So how can I make a living off of being that source of inspiration?”
That could be on the radio — Norman got a taste for that when he did the UNLV podcast around the Presidential Debate. It could come on television. He recently taped an episode of the syndicated show The Right Side with Armstrong Williams. It could be with the albums, or on social media, or in all of these places at once.
There’s no blueprint, and no clear milestones for achieving fame. But Norman does feel like he has a degree in it already, just from his time on campus.
“He’s just a natural,” Meana said. “He’s a force-of-nature kind of guy. I didn’t see him grow into this role; it was there when I met him. It’s hard to predict exactly where he will end up. But what’s not hard to predict is he’s going to have a very big impact regardless of the vehicle by which he chooses to motivate and to be a positive force. It could be any number of things because he is an incredibly well-balanced scholar. I know wherever he lands he will bring that positive dynamism and energy that is really a defining feature of him.”
When he walks around campus, Norman said, people know him by name, even if he doesn’t know them. It’s a taste of that fame life, writ small in a university environment. If he goes on to be a public face, it will be at least in part because he got to play at being the face of the student body.
“Sometimes I feel like the poster child,” he said.
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