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Alex Sheen delivers the 2016 International Week keynote address complete with a slideshow that featured a photo of him and his father at his Commencement in 2007.

Alex Sheen delivers the 2016 International Week keynote address complete with a slideshow that featured a photo of him and his father at his Commencement in 2007.

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OHIO alum, founder of social movement delivers International Week keynote


Included in Ohio University’s vision is the goal of fostering alumni who become global leaders – who transform the world at least in part because of the transformative experience they had at OHIO. 

The Ohio University community was treated to that vision in action during this year’s International Week keynote address as OHIO welcomed home one of its outstanding graduates whose work has touched the lives of millions worldwide.

Members of the OHIO and local communities packed the Baker University Center Theatre on April 13 to hear from Alex Sheen. A 2007 graduate who earned a bachelor of business administration degree in marketing, Sheen is the founder of “Because I Said I Would,” an international social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept. 

“We were all born with the ability to make and keep a promise, and I believe that this idea can change the world,” said Sheen whose presentation focused on what “Because I Said I Would” means to him, has meant to others and the future of the movement.

Sheen started “Because I Said I Would” in the midst of grieving the loss of his father, Al Sheen, who died on Sept. 4, 2012, after battling small cell lung cancer. Asked to give his father’s eulogy, Sheen said he found himself going back to the same theme – that his father was a man of his word and always kept his promises. 

He titled his father’s eulogy, “Because I Said I Would,” and distributed to those at his father’s funeral the first of what he called “promise cards.” Designed to help people remember the importance of their commitments and goals, “Because I Said I Would” encourages individuals to write a promise on a promise card, then to give that card to the person to whom the promise is being made or another individual tasked with holding onto the card. Once the writer of the promise card fulfills their promise, they earn back their promise card “as a reminder that perhaps I am a person of my word,” Sheen explained. 

Sheen left his father’s funeral with extra promise cards and took to the Internet, offering to send promise cards to anyone in the world at no cost. It was an online posting that would change the course of his entire life.

“It turns out that it doesn’t matter what language you speak…, we all understand the importance of a promise,” Sheen said. 

Requests for promise cards came pouring in. Less than four years later, Sheen has distributed more than 3.15 million promise cards to individuals in 153 countries, and his work has been featured in the nation’s most-prominent news programs and publications. 

“This card,” he said, “would be used in ways I could not fathom.”

Sheen shared with the audience just a few of the thousands of promises he has seen over the years, including:

  • An individual who committed to making life worth living for her sister with Down syndrome and to care for her sister when her parents were no longer able
  • A promise to not text while driving
  • A young person who promised to make friends with the kids who sit alone at lunch
  • A promise to serve one’s country
  • A promise from a father battling stage four cancer of the kidney to write 826 napkin notes to his daughter – one for every school lunch until she graduates from high school

“It’s about doing what you can with what you have,” Sheen explained.

Sheen was working at a successful software company, earning a six-figure salary – everything, he said, that his father, who immigrated to the United States, always wanted for himself and his son. Some days, he said, he would receive thousands of messages from those wanting promise cards and from those sharing their promise cards and the stories behind them. 

The success of the movement, the potential it had to change the world and the desire to help others prompted Sheen to leave his job and to fully commit to this movement he had started. 

“‘Because I Said I Would’ is a social movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept. That’s how I believe this world is made better – when each and every one of us, on our shoulders and our backs, takes the burden of a promise to improve ourselves, our families, our communities, or our cause,” Sheen said. 

In creating “Because I Said I Would,” Sheen began to make promises of his own. 

He promised to raise enough funds to purchase Disneyland tickets for 20 children being served by the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada. He raised enough for 100 tickets.

He promised to walk 254 miles across the state of Ohio in honor of the 10 years three Cleveland women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, spent imprisoned in a home in his hometown and in recognition of their perseverance. He made that journey – 95 percent of it alone – in June 2013. 

The promises Sheen has made and kept have inspired others, including Matthew Cordle, a young man who in the summer of 2013 killed Vincent Canzani while driving drunk in Columbus, Ohio. Cordle made headlines worldwide after reaching out to Sheen who videotaped Cordle’s confession, complete with a promise card to take full responsibility for what he had done. 

Sheen ended his address by sharing with the audience the future of “Because I Said I Would,” noting that in 2016 the initiative will enter a new phase in which local chapters, called “Echoes,” will be formed to act as a force of good in their respective areas. Each Echo will be called upon to help its members create individual paths of self-improvement while helping others and the collective community. 

“You’ve seen the power of a single promise and what one person can do. Now imagine, 50 or 500 coming together to do what they believe is right and staying committed,” Sheen said.

Echo chapters are being formed in communities within the United States, with a goal of spreading the initiative worldwide. As a proud OHIO alumnus, Sheen said he hopes to be able to start an Echo chapter at Ohio University and invited anyone interested in being a part to talk with him after the presentation. A line of students were still waiting to speak with Sheen long after his keynote address ended. 

First-year students Haley Webster, an exercise physiology major, and Lael Harris, a pre-med chemistry major, were both interested in starting an Echo chapter.

“Alex’s presentation was very inspirational,” Webster said. “It reminded me that there’s a reason for everything and made me want to impact the world.”

Emily Hoffman, a sophomore majoring in communication sciences and disorders, and Riman Adel, a transfer student studying health care administration, both attended the event as part of an assignment in their public speaking class. The two said they were leaving the presentation having witnessed the power of a passionate speaker and wanting to make a difference.

“It was so inspiring to see a former student, who may have taken the same classes I have, speak so powerfully,” Adel said. 

“Like Alex, I’m from Cleveland,” Hoffman said. “It was really cool to see somebody, a fellow Bobcat, someone from my hometown, take so much action and have that push of inspiration to actually do something to change the world. I’m taking away from this the importance of keeping promises – big and small – and not making excuses.”

While Sheen’s presentation – one of approximately 160 speeches he gives annually – no doubt inspired the OHIO community, he admitted that his visit to his alma mater inspired him as well.

“This particular visit connected with me on multiple levels,” he said, noting the opportunity he had to have dinner with members of OHIO’s International Student Union – students, he said, who likely share many of the same experiences as his father who immigrated to the U.S. at age 17. 

Sheen noted some of the interactions he had with students after the presentation, including students who had lost loved ones, an international student who said she planned to return to her home country of Ghana to start a charter school, and a student who was raising funds to take his mother on a vacation as a thank-you for all she had done for him.

“Every time I seek out a college, I am reminded of how important commitment is at that point in life,” Sheen said. “I’m really inspired to see students stay engaged in student groups and particularly with charities.”

During his visit to Ohio University, Sheen said he saw a service fraternity raising money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds and awareness for childhood cancer causes.

“I look back to my time at OU and it’s a good time; there’s lots of fun distractions happening all the time. When you see some of these students spending hours raising money and hosting events to help people…, every bit of it, especially at my alma mater, reminds me of how there are good people in this world That even when distraction is at its highest, they still stay focused and committed to what is good. For me, that is inspiring.”

For more information on “Because I Said I Would” and Echo chapters, click here.  

OHIO’s International Week keynote address is sponsored by the Ki-Chul Andrew Jung International Week Endowment Fund, which was created by the family of Jung who died shortly after graduating from Ohio University in 1993.