In the 1960’s, Alamogordo High School ranked in the top 10 in the nation and attracted teachers from around the nation. According to US News and World Report School rankings the school now ranks #40 in New Mexico High Schools and 6754 in national rankings. In school districts around the nation with problems, youth are stepping into leadership roles within school boards, with fresh ideas and insights and making a difference in challenging the status quo and making change.
Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” That is the mantra of Anthony X. Vigil the 19-year-old elected school board president of Mesa Vista Consolidated School District in New Mexico. This quote seems to be a similar mantra for several other young people from a diverse spectrum of cultures who are grabbing ahold of American Democracy, and not only participating, but seeking elected office and winning at the level of school board.
There are those in life that complain about the political system and the world around us, and then there are those that do something about it. Age does not determine one’s ability to have a positive impact and to make a difference in the world. One’s ability to go after a goal, and get it done, is what determines success, no matter age or experience.
Anthony X. Vigil was a graduate of Mesa Vista High School in 2019, he was elected to the Mesa Vista Consolidated Schools’ Board of Education on November 5, 2019. Anthony ran for the school board to give the students, who are his contemporaries, a voice. He knows that since students are directly impacted by district shortfalls, they may be able to offer valuable outside-the-box solutions. At age 19 he would be one of the youngest elected school board leaders in the nation, and one of the youngest in the nation at age 19 to be named as the school board president.
Anthony X. Vigil appears to be one of several young student activists, turned candidate being elected as representatives of their school system. There is a trend toward student activism and entering politics at a young age. The school board appears to be an excellent entry point for these young citizens to enter the profession of politics.
A trend toward diversity and youth…
In 2020 the nation’s second largest school system in the US, the Los Angeles Consolidated School system, elected its youngest school board president ever at age 32. Kelly Gonez became the youngest-ever female president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. Gonez, 32, was also the first of the millennial generation and one of only four women of color and one of three Latinas to lead the board that sets policy for the nation’s second-largest school district, which serves a student population that is currently 80% Latino or Black, according to LAUSD officials. Kelly Gonez, 32, is the only parent on the school board with young children, and she grew up in an immigrant family in the district she now represents, encompassing much of the East San Fernando Valley.
But the trend is showing an interest of those even younger getting involved and making a difference…
Meet Bushra Amiwala, she is the youngest elected Muslim officeholder in the United States. Amiwala’s age and status as the youngest elected Muslim official and the only one wearing a hijab in the state of Illinois have brought her fame not normally associated with being elected to a school board. Among the diverse membership of the Skokie School District Board of Education, Bushra Amiwala stands out. She is also a former student in the school district and is featured in a Hulu documentary, “Our America: Women Forward,” which began streaming this March 2021. She is up for re-election to the school board in April 2023 but openly admits she is keeping her eye on other potential offices.
Out of the ashes of the Rhode Island state takeover of the Providence Public School system, comes a fresh voice. The city’s youngest school board member ever. Meet 20-year-old Ty’Relle Stephens, one of the newest, and the youngest ever Providence School Board member, sworn it at City Hall Wednesday. Stephens started his freshman year at the Juanita Sanchez Education Complex on Thurbers Avenue in South Providence in 2015, getting the lay of the land. Stephens says the voices of the students who have gone through the failed school system are invaluable to fixing what is broken. His plate is full working full-time at Kent Hospital in patient access, and now Providence School Board member, but he is up to the challenge. When asked if he would like to advance in the profession of politics. He leaves that answer to his supporters that believe he has a strong future ahead of him.
Mussab Ali, 23, became the youngest trustee to ever to named Board of Education President following a 5-2 vote during the board’s reorganization meeting for Jersey City, New Jersey’s Board of Education, earlier this year. He is the youngest trustee and is its new president for 2021. Ali, a law student at Harvard University, won his first year-long term on the school board in 2017 and was later re-elected to three-year term. He is the youngest person ever elected to the nine-member Jersey City school board and the youngest elected official ever in Jersey City. In 2018, Ali was accepted into a prestigious master’s degree program at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The board’s counsel approved Ali’s request to continue serving on the board while studying in China. Ali, a 2015 graduate of McNair Academic, was one of 147 people chosen for the Schwarzman Scholars program at Tsinghua University. He studied biology and economics at Rutgers University-Newark.
And back to New Mexico, where we began this article, we have the youngest school board president in the state and quite possibly the US, Anthony X. Vigil, age 19. At age 19 he is making an impact on his district in leading it based upon his high school experience. We reached out to Mr. Vigil and asked him about how he got his start in the political process in New Mexico and he responded, “I attended board meetings since I was in middle school and since then I knew I wanted to become a part of the board. Shortly after my first board meeting, I acknowledged my passion to make a real change in society. I always had a strong support system and am compelled to create more opportunities for the generation to follow. The year I graduated was an election year and I didn’t want to waste any time on creating a better tomorrow.”
We mentioned a few of the other young leaders referenced above and asked if he felt participation and leadership by younger adults was becoming a trend and what was the catalyst for that trend? We also asked if he considered himself liberal or conservative in his political leanings. His response, “I believe there is a combination of factors leading to the up-tick in the younger generation running for elected positions. I think more and more people are realizing that age is not a barrier and young people offer outside-the-box solutions to world-wide challenges. I am thrilled to see younger people becoming involved in the democratic process. Whereas I am more liberal, I firmly believe educational growth should be a bipartisan consensus. After all, education yields innovation across all industries.”
We would happen to agree with Mr. Vigil wholeheartedly. He is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at the University of New Mexico. Additionally, Mr. Vigil is an intern with the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Engineering Services Division. Before joining the National Labs, he served as an intern Medical Assistant at Las Clinicas del Norte, a non-profit health center which serves the local community. In high school, he led several student organizations and was a runner for the 2015 and 2016 cross country state championship teams. In 2019, he was part of the state championship medley relay team for track and field.
Under his leadership as the president of the board of education he is championing those issues that are important to the students and partnering with leaders in the state to make that happen. As a former track and field and cross-country athlete he knows that a well-maintained track is critical to a team’s success. As such he and the board have partnered to get capital funds from the state of New Mexico to assist in getting much needed track maintenance done at his former high school. In partnership with New Mexico State Senator Leo Jaramillo, $75,000 in capital outlay funds were secured for a new track and field.
The money comes from Capital Outlay funds. School Board President Anthony Vigil says the track needs repaving, and the field needs new grass. “We will be redoing the track and making those repairs so that way it can be used to host track meets,” Vigil said. Vigil says they hope to have the work completed by the next track season.
Anthony X. Vigil, age 19 of New Mexico; Ty’Relle Stephens, age 20 of Rhode Island; Bushra Amiwala, age 22 of Illinois; Mussab Ali, 23 of New Jersey; Kelly Gonez, age 32 of California each represent true diversity and action. Each is of a diverse generation of young, aggressive and determined individuals that respect the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, team activities and active participation in the system of civics. Each represents a diverse collection of ideas from a broad section of our country representing school districts large and small. Through their actions and their rise into political power they demonstrate as a truth, Mark Twain’s quote, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
Getting started they have done indeed! We will be watching each of these youthful young adults as their careers move forward over the decades ahead. Inspired we are, in their youthful approach to stepping up, acting and owning the future by offering solutions by their personal actions today.
As we conclude, we wonder, are there any inspired youthful leaders in Southern New Mexico, and more directly in Ortero County or in Alamogordo, ready to take on the challenge and the example set by these youthful leaders? Alamogordo, who is the next generation of leaders ready to step forward today?
Follow Executive Coach and Author, Chris Edwards via the Alamogordo Town News, 2nd Life Media or his Podcast, 2nd Life Media Presents. Published books by Author Chris Edwards include Coach Bob Sepulveda: The Early Days, 2 Hours Unplugged Unplug and Reconnect, 90 Days to a Glass Half Full Lifestyle, and has published essays on criminal justice reform Removing Barriers to State Occupational Licenses to Enhance Entrepreneurial Job Growth: Out of Prison, Out of Work.
Research for the story above sourced from:
KRQE NEWS, ABC 7 News Los Angeles, Los Angele’s Unified School System, The Hudson County View, www, NJ.com, Baca, Stacey (2021-03-09). “Skokie’s Bushra Amiwala is the youngest Muslim elected official in US”. ABC7 Chicago, Wikipedia, Providence Schools, Mesa Vista Consolidated Schools, Alamogordo Public Schools, US New & World Report