#LiveLikeAlex: 9 Years Later, A Reflection from a United College Staff Member & Donor

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

by Rubin Kataki, Advancement & Alumni Relations Officer

Alex Foto at United College (formerly St. Paul's)

9 years ago on August 7th, 2014, the hearts of so many in our community and around the world broke.  

9 years ago, we remember and honour the legacy of a renowned United College and University of Waterloo student, student-athlete, student lifeguard, residence don, youth ambassador, and global change-maker: Alex Foto. 

Below is a testimony of a United College Staff Member and Donor of the Alex Foto Memorial Fund in memory of 9 years since she passed. 


There are moments in one’s life where you reflect on how something, some event, or someone shaped who you are today.  

My time living at United College in 2013-2014 changed my life and shaped who I am today.  

The friends I met gave me the room to be myself as a racialized student part of the 2SLGBTQ2IA+ community. I loved the people I lived with at United College. On the very first day of class, I went on a run with my friends, Megan and Alex, who lived on my floor, Dungeon and Oasis. As the term progressed, I used to go lane swimming at the Physical Activities Complex and Alex would watch over me as a student lifeguard. We used to walk back home together after I finished lane swimming and Alex was done with her shift. Alex and I would reflect on our passions, school, family, friends and our lives. On August 7, 2014, Alex passed away in a bike accident.

people apple bobbing

This brought shock waves across my friend group, the United College community, the UWaterloo and Athletics community, and people across Ontario, Canada, and the world.  

Alex Foto was gifted, talented, and well-known. She was an International Development student who lived on United College’s historic Environment Living Learning Community floor, an incoming Residence Don, a member of the Waterloo Warriors cheerleading and aquatics teams, and a youth ambassador with World Vision. Alex was not only an incredible friend, but she was also a student-athlete, a role model, and a humanitarian. My friends and I try to “Live Like Alex” - dedicating our time, talent, and treasure to make the world a better place. 

My first donation to the University of Waterloo was to the Alex Foto Memorial Award. The Alex Foto Fund is a $1,000.00 annual award that supports fourth-year International Development students that care deeply, like Alex did, about humanitarian and poverty issues. In 2019, while I was the manager of the UWaterloo Annual Giving Calling Program, I found out one of the student supervisors I was managing, Hannah Tellier, was a 2019 recipient of the Alex Foto Fund. I thought how proud Alex would have been if she had the opportunity to meet Hannah, a kind, hard-working and incredible student.   

As a donor, staff member, volunteer and alumnus, I learned so much from giving.  

alex foto in cheer leading uniform

We have a social and moral responsibility as United College and University of Waterloo faculty and staff, that if we are in a position to do so, to give back to support a student who needs just one opportunity to receive an education, and just one opportunity to succeed professionally and personally. 

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, having an education at any university, especially the University of Waterloo, impacts our ability to move through the world and even at times, secure employment. Education is a right, not a privilege; however, financial accessibility to education is a real barrier for so many, including myself when I was a student.  

I urge our faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends of the University of Waterloo and United College to find your passion and align this passion to a fund at United College.  

It isn’t about the dollar amount.  

It is about the tangibles from the gift, being able to hear or read the stories of the students, see their faces, being able to sit on the bench on campus that was purchased in memory of someone, to see the reaction of the individuals you are supporting and to feel their impact.  

memorial bench for alex foto

A tree and bench were created in memory of Alex Foto due to donor support. It is located on the same path Alex and I used to walk on to get from the PAC to United College. I sit on that same bench as a staff member during lunch. I see students together, laughing, smiling and walking with their backpacks. I close my eyes and look to the sky imagining how proud Alex would be. It is hard not to shed tears thinking about Alex, but I know her legacy lives on in the very UWaterloo students that live at United College. 

Giving to UWaterloo makes you feel good. It provides me a sense of fulfillment, togetherness as a community, and makes me feel happy. As a United College staff member, it is a meaningful way to connect with students outside of my day-to-day work. It helps to reflect on my younger, 1st-year self. How happy I was to receive a scholarship. How happy I was to swim at the PAC. How happy I was to study in the Health Expansion Building. I imagine if all those things were stripped away from me or a friend, what our student experience would be like.  

You can be the difference.  

As we celebrate the legacy of Alex Foto in 2023, please consider honouring Alex Foto by making a donation here to her fund, United College’s Alex Foto Memorial Fund. 

As staff, faculty, alumni, parents and friends of the University of Waterloo, we need to ensure that future generations have the space to succeed academically and professionally.  

Thank you, Alex, for carving a path and reminding future generations that making a difference can be mandatory.



Rubin Kataki Thank you card

Please contact Rubin Kataki, Advancement & Alumni Relations Officer – United College at rubin.kataki@uwaterloo.ca or by phone: (519) 885 – 1460 x 25207 if you would like to share your special story of Alex Foto.