Posted on Friday, March 08, 2013
When he first took office at the age of 24, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick sent out a memo to the 450 government employees of the city. The memo contained two simple rules for the workers: Myrick never wanted to hear them say "we've always done it this way" or "other cities do it this way."
In his short time as mayor of the city of 30,000 - and throughout his journey thus far - Myrick has sought to break from the status quo and look at situations from a completely different perspective. On Thursday evening, Myrick's President's Forum address, "Youth and Democracy," highlighted this passion.
"He comes to us with many accomplishments already and a great commitment to community service," said President Mark D. Gearan. "This is a young man who has taken his passion for ideas and put his talents to work."
As a child, Myrick knew the importance of government programs. In his early years, he remembers living in homeless shelters, relying on food kitchens, and even at one point living in a car - all while his mother worked several minimum wage jobs.
Although Myrick's story is an inspirational one, it can also, he admitted, be a dangerous one. "Americans love the myth of the guy who pulls himself up by his bootstraps - they love stories about individuals," said Myrick. "But I'm not self-made. It was a community that conspired together to raise a child."
It was a high school teacher, Hobart alum Jonathan Sherry '96, who showed Myrick that he needed to change his view of his own narrative. "Mr. Sherry showed me what I needed to do to be successful," recalled Myrick. "He changed the way I thought about my own story."
Myrick credited his success to the countless individuals who have helped him throughout his life. "If you think that the way to solve a problem is to hunker down by yourself, to will yourself through - you will fail," remarked Myrick.
From his mother to his band teacher to his soccer coach, Myrick recalled the various life lessons he took away from each. "All of these people are the people you come to lean on, they make you a success," Myrick explained. "True stories are ones of collective action."
It is this mentality Myrick took with him to the office of mayor. Myrick outlined a few of his accomplishments since coming to office, including transforming his private parking space into Ithaca's smallest public park. "By turning something private into something public, everyone has a stake in it," said Myrick.
Throughout Ithaca, utility boxes became canvases for 21 artists thanks to the 21 Boxes Project Myrick spearheaded. A Fourth of July celebration brought 20,000 Ithaca residents together for an evening of true community. "Now we all have something to talk about, we have a collective experience we can share," said Myrick, who believes that such experiences produce pride and collective responsibility.
In addition to these mayoral successes, Myrick has helped the city undergo its first serious organizational reforms in decades and close its budget deficit.
Now 25 years old - and just barely older than the students he addressed - Myrick asked his peers to get involved, to work to tackle the problems the country is facing today. "We don't need you in politics 40 years down the road, you have what we need right now: energy, creativity, and moral authority," remarked Myrick. "You may fall on your face 45 percent of the time, but it's okay because remember - you only need 55 percent of the votes."