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‘Be something bigger than what you are’ Youth of the Year shares how she paved the way for her future
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Gainesville High's Alexyss Smith has been awarded the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier's Youth of the Year. - photo by Scott Rogers

Alexyss Smith isn’t the same person who entered the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier nine years ago. Back then, she described herself as a “shy shell” of who she is today. 

During her senior year at Gainesville High School, Smith has not only applied and gotten accepted into 25 different colleges, she was also named the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Youth of the Year. 

“She’s always been one of those girls who stands out,” Antoine Nealey, unit director of the nonprofit’s Teen Center, said. “A lot of our teens, they don’t want to stand out. She is always driven and focused on what she has to do. She’s kind of way beyond her years.”

As a part of Youth of the Year, Smith will receive a $1,000 scholarship toward her education from the Duane Hinshaw Scholarship Fund. She will later go on to compete in the state Youth of the Year, which involves a $5,000 college scholarship and will be held virtually later in March. 

While juggling her classes, earning a 3.8 GPA and applying to colleges, Smith turned in three essays, a speech and a 30-page form to be considered as the nonprofit’s Youth of the Year. 

“I work like I have no time left,” Smith said. “They always tell me to slow down, but I never do. I just keep pushing no matter what.”

On Feb. 5, Smith said her grandfather, who she calls her “real-life superhero,” died while fighting COVID-19. As the father figure in her life, she said he inspired her to “always keep going” and find a brighter future outside of Gainesville.

“No matter where it was, I needed to get out and be something better than who I am,” she said. “That was really powerful to me, and I’m glad I had him for the time I did.”

In addition to her grandfather, Smith said those at the Boys & Girls Clubs supported her throughout her journey into adulthood. Growing up, she explained in her Youth of the Year speech that she faced multiple obstacles, including her father’s absence in her life and being “violated” her freshman year by someone she thought was a friend.

“I felt disgusted with myself,” she wrote in her speech. “I, like many other girls out there, didn’t think it could or would happen to me.”

Smith said she has been able to open up and share her emotions with those in the club, receiving the support that she needs.

“Yes, I have a blood family, but the club has been my second family for the past nine years,” Smith said. “They’ve helped me get to where I am today. Without them, I’d probably be nothing.”

This fall, Smith will attend Florida Southern College and study psychology with a minor in criminology. The senior said she aims to pursue a career in forensic psychology and one day open her own practice. 

“Last semester, I took forensics, and fell in love with it,” she said. “I already had the mindset of going into psychology. I like studying the mind. I put those two things together and made the ultimate love.”

If she could give kids and teenagers any advice, Smith said she would tell them to stay away from joining a clique and “find yourself.”

“Once you find yourself, you are able to move on and figure out your future, and what you want to do with your life,” she said. “I want you to be something bigger than what you are. Be something bigger than Gainesville. Do not keep yourself in a box.