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Ajayi Pickering-Haynes Delivers Inspirational Leadership Speech Campus Leader and Graduate of CAS Leadership Program

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Photo of Jjayi in navy jacket and bowtie.

When Ajayi Pickering-Haynes (BS biology ’19) first visited DC on a middle-school science trip, he fell in love with the city and all of its academic and professional opportunities. But he also wanted to find a school that offered a small science community where he could get to know everyone — just like back home in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, where he grew up. 

Pickering-Haynes found all of this at American University.

As a premed student with a biology major, Pickering-Haynes found a mentor in Associate Biology Professor Katie De-Cicco Skinner and worked in her cancer laboratory. He joined the Phi Delta Epsilon premedical fraternity and served as its vice president of programs. He spent four years in the highly competitive CAS Leadership and Ethical Development Program (LEAD) and found mentors in the program's two directors, Meg Weekes and Nabina Liebow. Pickering-Haynes also established CAS LEAD's first People of Color affinity group, which helps students to feel supported and included in CAS LEAD and across campus.

“Ajayi [Pickering-Haynes] is not only ambitious, confident, and skilled but he is also dedicated to the AU community and has an impressive record with regard to serving the AU community and working around issues of diversity and inclusion with poise, maturity, and depth,” says Liebow. “If I had to describe Ajayi in a few words they would be: maturity, leadership, diversity and inclusion, and community builder.”

When Pickering-Haynes saw the need for discussion or work on campus, he stepped up. This year, he served as the senior advisor to LEAD. He also pioneered an eight-week masculinity intergroup dialogue as part of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion’s Dialogue Programs. Off campus, he interned at the DC Medical Examiner’s Office. And he did all of this while working for 15-20 hours a week for four years in the university library, including part of that time in the library’s new Makerspace.

To balance everything, he found it helpful to carve out time each day to reflect and write. He started a blog, Finding Your Voice. One of its posts became his popular and inspirational speech at the CAS LEAD Senior Sendoff this year.

You can read it here:

Leading Your Own Life by Ajayi Pickering-Haynes

In 2019, when we hear the word “leadership” or “leader” how many of us think about personal development? Do we think about how we plan to lead our own lives first or do we immediately think of the day where we are finally able to pioneer that new movement or initiative? Before I came to American University and joined the College of Arts and Sciences Leadership & Ethical Development (CAS LEAD) program community, my understanding of leadership was rather limited to the idea that it required an official role for me to fill. It hadn’t occurred to me that the most profound exemplification of ethical leadership relied on an ability to look within myself.

This in no way suggests that one’s leadership style and approach should fully center on self. In fact, I’ve witnessed that a consistent commitment to self-growth has the linear effect of impacting, serving, and influencing others. Leaders should be amazing, genuine people, right? Well, I’ve found that my daily life affirmations, a morning routine, and even using my iPhone notepad app (yes my iPhone notepad) have improved the way that I lead.

Revisiting the early days of my college experience, I would wake up fatigued to the sounds of my 50 alarms. I began my days scrolling through social media for about 15 minutes before I even attempted to jump out of bed. I know many of you relate. To make a long story short, the fall semester of my senior year I suffered from severe burnout. Over the Christmas break off from school, I thought to myself “As a pre-med student, yes college can be hard but something has to change. There has to be something that I can do!” I opened the notepad app on my iPhone and began to type out a list of activities that made me happy. I remember seeing people who I had greatly admired online share about the power that they cultivated from creating their own daily morning routine. I gave this much thought, as I know I was setting a precedence that fueled how I tackled the rest of each day.

I began starting my days implementing the recitation of life affirmations, stretching, praying, drinking herbal teas, and becoming lost between a few pages of my current read. The infinite list of obligations that filled the day became seemingly more bearable because they were followed by a routine that renewed my spirit. I found that creating this routine has made me more present and grounded. More importantly, it has truly made me believe in myself. 

Repeat these life affirmations after me…

1. I have a powerful voice and it’s important to use it. 

2. I am capable, worthy, and preparing for my wildest dreams. 

3. Today, I will strive to be the best version of myself. I will make tons of mistakes and sometimes I’ll be abundantly blessed with success. I am evolving. God isn’t done with me yet.

Know that your story, talents, ideas, and experiences are valid. Share them with the world. Anything that life throws at you, you can handle because you’re prepared and built for far worst. You deserve the best that life has to offer you, not just because you work hard but especially because you have. Know that perfection doesn’t breed creativity, imperfection does. So, don't strive for perfection. Embrace all that you are not. Your purpose has already been written.

To think that this simply started as an idea that I wrote down in my iPhone notes app reveals that the most fundamental lesson about leadership doesn’t have to be some revolutionary act or change that you perform. All your great ideas have to go somewhere, so what better way to foster them than by designating a space for it. You don’t need an iPhone to do this, grab an old half-empty notebook, walk around with it, and start jotting your best ideas down. My writing blog and CAS LEAD’s newly created People of Color affinity group were ideas that began in my iPhone notes. These changes seem so simple, right? Well, it took me 4 years to get it right. So, I’m hoping it doesn’t take you as long.