Name: Joshua Lafazan
School: Nassau Community College (2012-2014)/Cornell University (2014-2016)
Major: Industrial and Labor Relations
Achievement: Youngest elected official in New York state (Syosset Central School District Board of Education)
It would be safe to say that Josh Lafazan is a staple in the Syosset community. Throughout our interview, he was greeted four or five times by other Syosset residents who wanted to say hi to him, catch up, and congratulate him on his acceptance to Cornell University. While this might be a bother for some people, he was more than happy to talk to every person who approached him. During our conversation, he called himself a “public servant” to the community, as he is on the Syosset Central School District Board of Education (BOE) – and the youngest ever to be elected to an official position in New York. And, as if that wasn’t enough of an indication of how he is dedicated to the community, he is a volunteer firefighter on the side.
Josh was an active member of Syosset High School’s student government organization. Even if it was just at the school level, he had a passion for improving the community. After being in the district for so long, he saw changes that would improve the quality of district for both the students and the parents of all Syosset schools. It was through conversations with residents that he found that the “only way to make change was to be on the Board of Education, since Dr. Hankin (the superintendent at the time) and the rest of the administration was not interested in gathering input from the community.” Change, he found, could only come from within. In his senior year of high school, he decided to run for Syosset’s BOE. Josh’s platform included a line-by-line budget review, an increased use of green energy to help save costs, and consultations with community members with specific expertise. In the future, he also wants to implement a basic computer-coding program for elementary school students and to put more of an emphasis on conversational teaching in foreign language education, in order to prepare them to prosper in the 21st century.
After a long campaign period, Josh was elected to the board with a majority of the ballots cast. The change he planned was able to take place. Before he took office, trustees voted on contracts they received the day of the meetings. Now, they all get the contacts 30 days in advance. Additionally, there used to be very limited public discussion during the meetings, but now there is a common trend of public discourse and input from the community. As Josh says, “Rather than shutting out the community, [Syosset] is now inclusive of its residents and putting emphasis on transparency and openness.” He also believes that he himself has “changed.” He has garnered a lot more insight as to how the district runs in addition to figuring out how to be a mouthpiece for the district’s taxpayers and students.
In order to serve on the school board, Josh has spent the last two years at Nassau Community College (NCC). While going to community college is the nontraditional route for most students in Syosset, Josh says that going to NCC was incredibly beneficial. “It enabled me to meet students from all different walks of life, whether it be age, community, or socioeconomic status. The diversity at NCC allowed me to grow as a person and make friends that I will have for life.” Josh has plans to eventually run for higher office, so in addition to making friends, NCC allowed him to gain a larger constituency base. It was vital for him to learn what issues are important in communities all across Long Island so he can better serve them in the future.
Speaking of the future, Josh is headed to Cornell University in the fall to major in Industrial and Labor Relations. When asked what he was most looking forward to, he said, “Living in a dorm,” with a laugh. “I’ve heard positive reviews from my friends about their college experiences and I’m looking forward to facing this next chapter in my life.” On the other hand, he said he is most nervous about the frigid Ithaca weather, considering he “[lives] in a t-shirt and shorts.”
It seems astonishing how much Josh has accomplished in such a short amount of time. He admits, however, that his success did not come without a few bumps along the way. He was frequently told that nobody would take him seriously on the school board or even vote for an 18-year-old. His personal favorite is, “’This is shaping up to be the worst life plan ever.’” What set Josh apart from others who might have wanted to take the same path was that he wasn’t afraid to be different – and that is advice he offers up to younger students with similar aspirations. He told me, “When people take a different path in life, others try to tell them not to or warn them it’s impossible… I would advise all young people to never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Only you get to decide what are the limits of your energy, will, and desire to succeed.” At the end of the day, his inner confidence overpowered the negativity of others.
It will be exciting to see what comes next from Josh. There is no doubt in my mind that we will be seeing amazing things from him in a very short while.