MICHAEL TUSO ’11 was the first in his family to go to college. Although it was the last thing on his mind, he was also the first openly gay student body president at UNCG.
“I never thought about it,” he says. “I was thinking, ‘Let’s get to work, let’s roll up our sleeves.’ That was the kind of naivete I had.”
After he was elected, newspapers like Qnotes Carolinas, which publishes LGBTQ+ news and stories, started calling. Tuso didn’t mind the coverage. Most family and friends, including his mother, knew who he was already.
That doesn’t mean it was easy.
“In high school I didn’t know anyone who was out – guy or girl – so it was really tough emotionally,” says Tuso. “But I think that made me double-down on my love of learning.”
When he arrived at UNCG, he never hid his identity. “You know, I can’t lie,” he says. “That was my mindset.”
The publicity also garnered him words of encouragement. After winning the election for student body president, the owners of Replacements, Ltd., reached out to offer congratulations. Tuso remembers, “I was like, ‘Oh, there are people like business owners in the community to look up to.’”
As president of the Student Government Association, he sat on almost 30 committees, advocated for student interests, and presented a University Ring to former Chancellor Linda Brady at her installation in 2009.
He also tried out potential career paths. He interned for Kay Hagan in the U.S. Senate, studied abroad in Peru, and worked on local political campaigns.
Finally, a chance Facebook post nudged him in the direction of the startup business world. After seeing the post from an acquaintance, another former student body president, Tuso began working in business. He’s been there ever since. “It’s crazy how small changes impact your whole life,” he says.
Tuso’s journey began with UNCG’s open and inviting culture. “It’s a university of opportunity and social mobility,” he explains. “I think because of that environment, someone like me with a nontraditional background does well there.”
By Mercer Bufter ’11 MA