The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Alexandria Ayala, Palm Beach County School Board Member for district 2, which includes West Palm Beach, Greenacres, Palm Springs, Cloud Lake, Lake Worth, Lake Clarke Shores, and Haverhill.
Alexandria is the first Hispanic woman elected to the Palm Beach County School Board and currently the youngest member.
Alexandria has a decade of experience in community advocacy, government, and legislative affairs. She currently serves Palm Beach County as a Legislative Aide on our County Commission. In this capacity, Alexandria works to address community concerns, form successful partnerships, and support policy initiatives. She also served as a Legislative Aide in Tallahassee where she worked on constituent issues and supported efforts to craft policy that impacted Palm Beach County’s families, businesses and schools.
We caught up with Alexandria to find out what leadership means to her and what advice she would give to future leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
I very happily ended up in politics and public service after I went to college thinking I’d become a nurse and quickly realized I didn’t quite have that skill set!. I was in my 2nd year at University of Central Florida during the 2012 presidential election when I was seeking a major change. That election particularly interested me because 2008 had already been such an important, pivotal moment in history and 2012 felt like a moment where we’d either continue progress or change course completely. At the time, the University of Central Florida’s College Democrats were super active on campus by registering voters, hosting rallies with guests such as President Bill Clinton and Governor/Congressman Charlie Crist, bussing students to the polls. That service and activism spoke to me. I always wanted to help people and this way my way to do that. Best decision I made yet and I truly love what I do.
Who inspired you to get involved?
My biggest inspiration to get involved has definitely been my parents, my culture, really everything I’ve experienced to get me to where I am today. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, in a family environment where I was always positively encouraged to be an active participant in life by pursuing my dreams and passions and believe that nothing could stand in my way if I worked hard. Moving to Florida at age 7, my family made sure I held onto that ambition and never lost sight of my goals. All through life, I’ve been the one who is in multiple activities at once, always preferring to be super busy and working towards something, jumping at the opportunity to learn something new. I’m eternally grateful for that positive influence. Also, President Obama is a constant inspiration for me and the initial reason I got into this career.
How do you define a leader?
To me, the definition of a leader has always been someone who primarily leads through example with humility, someone who listens more than they speak, and someone who is inspired with a vision who works with others to realize that vision because they understand the power of collaboration. A leader also acknowledges that no work is beneath them. In order to be a good leader, you must first be a good follower.
What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?
One of my biggest passions is exploring how to better engage youth leaders. As Vice President of the Florida Young Democrats and also of my local Palm Beach Chapter, a big focus for me is encouraging youth voting participation. For the past year, the Palm Beach County Young Democrats have been executing a program called Stamp the Vote which aims to sign registered voters up for Vote By Mail which then increases their probability of turnout. On the School Board, my focus is ensuring every child has an opportunity to succeed, that policies work to close the student achievement gap, and that decisions are made transparently so parents, teachers and the community all have a voice in the decision-making process.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
Find your passion, find your people and take the plunge! Seek out opportunities to be involved with what sets your soul on fire. Seek mentorship from those you admire. It excites me immensely to see the level of engagement from young people in these current times, just look at the social movements taking place because of our generation. It’s incredibly inspiring to those around us and we can and will be the change we wish to see in the world!.