First Columbus teen to attain this national office started his path with a failure

His path to becoming the first Columbus teen elected as a national president of a career and technology student organization started with what some would call a failure.

But those folks probably haven’t met Alexander King, a Carver High School senior, who became the national president of the Technology Student Association this past summer.

TSA, with more than 250,000 members and more than 2,500 school chapters, strives to help students prepare for postsecondary education and to pursue careers. TSA develops student leaders while they hone their networking and technology skills through competitions in more than 70 categories, comprising fields as varied as fashion and engineering.

“TSA was that ‘it’ for me,” Alexander said. “TSA was that ‘aha’ moment. TSA was that thing for me that was like, ‘I found my home. I found my home away from home. I found out what it is for me.’”

Alexander was a seventh-grader at Rothschild Leadership Academy when he heard about TSA. After delivering the morning announcements as part of the engineering and technology class.

“I love speaking in front of people,” he said — his teacher, Mbonya Myers, was impressed and suggested he join TSA. Myers was the TSA chapter adviser at Rothschild.

Thinking it would simply “look good on my resume,” Alexander agreed. At his first TSA competition, during Technology Day at the Georgia National Fair in Perry, the model bridge he built out of balsa wood and hot glue collapsed. And the straight-A student cried.

“It was my first experience at failure,” he said, “but it taught me that failure is life’s greatest teacher. … Ever since then, I’ve just had a drive to continue.”

Also at that competition, he saw the state TSA officers honored on stage. He watched them speak and yearned to be one of them.

“That hooked me,” he said.

Later that year, he attended the state conference in Athens. He finished in third place in the prepared speech competition. He spoke about “Designing Your Dreams,” a riff on the engineering design process.

“In life, if you have a goal, the engineering design process will help you get there,” he said. “… Everything can continue to be improved, so the cycle never, ever, ever ends.”

Then he cited his favorite quote: “Every accomplishment begins with the decision to try,” attributed to various people, including President John F. Kennedy and two-time Olympic 100 meters champion Gail Devers.

“If I never would have tried,” Alexander said, “I never would have been able to get to where I am now.”

As an eighth-grader, he was appointed second-vice president of Georgia TSA, which is the association’s highest office for a middle-schooler, representing 64 middle schools in the state. At that year’s state conference, Alexander gushed to himself, “Wow, I’m on stage in front of 2,000 kids! Who would have ever thought?”

He still was a TSA member as a ninth-grader, but he took a break from vying for a state office because he wanted to focus on making a smooth transition to high school.

As a 10th-grader, his TSA peers elected him as the state reporter. As an 11th-grader, they elected him as state president, the first from the Muscogee County School District. Then, this past summer, during the national TSA conference at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, with more than 8,000 students in attendance, including 1,500 voting delegates, they elected him as national president.

Alexander cried at a TSA event again — but for a joyful reason.

“I immediately burst out into tears,” he said. “… The delegations from all across the country screaming for me and cheering for me and supporting me truly was the best opportunity of my lifetime.”

Alexander credits Myers for getting him involved in the first place.

“I owe it to my wonderful adviser,” he said. “I mean, if it wasn’t for her that crazy day just saying, ‘Hey, you need to join,’ then this never happens.’”

Myers recalled Alexander having “a lot of energy” as a seventh-grader. “He was a natural leader,” she said.

She told him then, “Alex, you know what? You are a big fish in a small pond. We’re going to go to a place where you are going to get a chance to grow and expand, and you’re going to get a chance to try your leadership on different levels. You’re going to meet people from all around the state of Georgia and all around the world.

“Alexander embraced that idea. He took advantage of every opportunity. And he’s absolutely been able to flourish and bloom.”

Myers explained the lesson King embodies.

“One thing that we learn as scientists, as engineers, is to put things that other people might call failures into perspective,” she said. “So what might seem like a failure to one person actually is a step, a necessary step, on the road to success.”

Alexander also praised the STEM (science,technology, engineering and math) magnet program at Carver.

“The rigor of those classes helps me with my analytical thinking skills and being able to be an in-depth thinker,” he said.

Alexander listed three keys to being a great leader:

Build effective and healthy relationships. He asked, “How else are you going to be able to communicate with people?”

Citing motivational speaker Kent Julian, E + R = O (Event plus Response equals Outcome). “You don’t always control the events in your life,” Alexander said. “What you control is your response, and that dictates your outcome.”

To be a servant leader, Alexander said, you must have a servant heart.

“Those are the three driving principles of everything I do,” he said. “… I feel like God has called me to do something greater, and that something greater is to serve others.”

His next goal on his path is to establish a nonprofit organization that would “help other students have the experience that I’ve had, being able to be an advocate for something they’re passionate about.”

The organization would connect students with successful business professionals for career experiences, job training, internships and leadership development.

The national TSA officers’ goal this year, he said, is to increase awareness of college opportunities. They are contacting college deans and admission officers and sending them TSA promotional materials. They want to get TSA added to the Common Application as a recognized student organization.

“I’m willing to go to UGA and speak with the dean of engineering,” Alexander said, “to interview him and get his feedback on what he looks for in students and how can TSA benefit his department and what he can do to help us. … I know that the things that I’ve learned in TSA, the technical skills and the soft skills I learned, can be applied anywhere, no matter what field I go want to go into.”

Alexander enjoys designing graphics and websites.

“I just love the ability to express myself,” he said. “The creativeness that comes with promotional marketing and then the complex coding of website design, it’s just something that, when you put all those components together, and then you get this simple website out of all the complex coding that you do, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ Then you get to see those finished products. It just makes me happy.”

He also wants to go into politics.

“My big goal is to be president of the United States,” he said. “So in 2040, I’ll be running for president. OK? I just want to put that out there.”

Before that, he plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Georgia, then work on political campaigns and “possibly own a Chick-Fil-A.” He already works at the one on Manchester Expressway.

Alex Vann, the owner/operator of that Chick-Fil-A franchise and the one on Wynnton Road, called Alexander “an ambassador.”

“Wherever he goes, whatever he does, he represents his family, he represents the organization that he’s a part of,” Vann said. “. . . Alex loves people — a genuine heart and care for people. So when you’re that smart, when you’re that talented, but you combine it with humility, it’s a very rare quality. That’s one thing that really sets Alex King apart from his peers.”

Myers quipped, “I think it would be easier to describe what doesn’t stand out about Alexander King.”

Having a Carver student attain this honor, Myers said, is “absolutely amazing. Hopefully, it is an example that Alex is the first of many to come, that he’s not just an isolated anomaly but that he is an indication of what’s possible for all of our students here if we just encourage them, if they put forth their best effort, and if they’re willing to believe that it is possible to achieve great things, even beyond what you had originally imagined.”

Steve Price is executive director of the Georgia Technology Student Association, which has approximately 22,000 members in 233 school chapters throughout the state. After teaching for 32 years in Clayton County Public Schools, he considers Alexander to be one of the best student leaders he has seen.

“Alex is one of those people who gets things done,but he doesn’t dictate,” Price said. “He’s a servant leader.”

Price added, “He’s motivated to always do better. He’s tough on himself, and I have to remind him sometimes that what he’s doing is great.”

Alexander has attained every TSA office he sought, Price noted. So when Alexander told him he intends to be president of the United States, Price said, “I don’t see anything stopping that. So far, he’s batting 1.000. I wouldn’t be against Alex.”

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.