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 Joshua Lafazan, Nassau County, New York’s Legislator for District 18th. In November of 2017, at the age of 26, Lafazan became Nassau County’s youngest-ever legislator upon his election to the Nassau County Legislature. Joshua graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a Master’s Degree in Education Policy and Management in May 2017, and from the Cornell University ILR School with a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial and Labor Relations in May 2016.

Previously, in May 2012, at the age of 18, Joshua became one of the youngest elected officials in the history of New York State when he was elected to the Syosset School Board of Education. Joshua was elected with 82% of the vote one month before he graduated from Syosset High School, and was re-elected by his constituents in 2015. During his time on the school board, Joshua successfully fought for an unprecedented increase in transparency and openness of all school district functions.

Joshua’s dedication to community service began before he ran for the school board. In 2011, Josh became the Founder & CEO of Safe Ride Syosset, a community outreach program dedicated to ensuring that no Syosset teenager gets behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, or is the passenger in a car with a drunk driver. Joshua and his volunteers safely drove home over 350 students in 2012, and there was not a single teenage drinking and driving accident in Syosset on the nights Safe Ride was operating.

Joshua has made fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic his top legislative priority. Since 2013, Joshua has served on both the Board of Directors of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD), in addition to the Nassau County Heroin Prevention Task Force, where he was appointed by the office of Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

In 2012, Joshua was named to the Long Island Press’ Power List of the 50 Most Influential People on Long Island. In 2014, he received the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences Educators’ Voice Award for School Board Member of the Year. In 2016, Joshua was named a recipient of the New York State School Boards Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

Joshua is also the author of “Political Gladiators: How Millennials Can Navigate the 21st Century Political Minefield and WIN!”

We caught up with Joshua to find out what leadership means to him and what advice he would give to future leaders.

Why did you choose this career path?

I like to joke that my career in government started in 2001, when I was elected to the 1st Grade Student Council at Walt Whitman Elementary School! All throughout my time as a student, I fell in love with the idea that I could be a representative for my peers, and could use my voice to lift up the voices of others. So I stayed involved in student government, and was elected Senior Class President at Syosset High School. In May of 2012, I was elected at 18 to my school board during my senior year of high school, and flash forward to 2017 where I was elected Nassau County Legislator. I’m so excited to have just finished my 6th month of service in my new job!

Who inspired you to get involved?

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Tom was the first 18 year old to hold public office in New York, when he was elected to the Mineola School Board in 1972. I met with Tom when I was considering running for the Syosset School Board at 18, and he gave me the confidence that I could run and win. Tom remains one of my closest mentors to this day.

How do you define a leader?

To me, a leader is somebody who has courage. And in this context, I take courage to mean one thing- having the intestinal and mental fortitude to speak your mind and move forward with your ideas, even when they be unpopular. This is the mantra of leadership that I aim to follow in my career as a public servant..

What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?

There are two projects; one I have finished, and one I am working on. The completed project was my book, titled “Political Gladiators,” which teaches young people how to run for office, and gives them the tools to succeed on Election Day. The second project is my internship program in the Nassau County Legislature, where we have 40 amazing young people working with us this summer. This internship is important, because we aim to cultivate Long Island’s next generation of public servants.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?

Don’t let ANYONE tell you that you are too young to do something. Young people have limitless energy, limitless potential, and will change our world.