At 11 years of age, Vanessa Ayala Munoz already has a wealth of leadership experience under her belt. Born in the city of León in Guanajuato, Mexico, Vanessa moved to Brooks, Alberta with her family at the age of three, eventually settling in Tilley, Alberta a year later. Though she faced some challenges, such as living so far away from family in Mexico and learning a new language, Vanessa has flourished in Tilley, and has become deeply involved in the musical life of her school and community.

“At school, I’m told I have leadership skills even if I just feel like trying to help others,” Vanessa said humbly. In reality, what she views as the simple act of helping her peers has had a tremendous impact on her school’s music program. According to Vanessa’s music teacher, she has been a dedicated and passionate musician since first learning to play the flute in Grade 3, always striving to play to the best of her abilities, and eager to help younger students succeed. 

One area in which her leadership skills have shone is in jazz band. Vanessa is credited as being instrumental in the starting of her school’s jazz program, and was heavily involved in fundraising efforts that allowed students to take a trip to work with CFB Edmonton’s Jazz Band. She was also responsible for starting a small jazz combo, led by students with minimal input from their music teacher. 

Vanessa is also known for leading by example. She has been described as having a “contagious excitement for flute playing,” which has resulted in the growth of the flute section as younger students select that instrument. As her teacher said, “They all want to be like Vanessa.” For her part, Vanessa offers endless encouragement and is often found working with younger flute players to help them achieve their goals. In fact, she even switched to alto saxophone in jazz band last year, so that two younger flute players would have the chance to join the group.

In her spare time Vanessa enjoys spending time with her two younger sisters, her two cousins who also live in Tilley, and her friends. Some of her likes include: playing sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, swimming), “making stories in English and exploring in Science” in school, and, of course, playing the flute, piccolo, and alto saxophone. (Her favourite song to play with her “Jazzy 5” combo is “Funk Zone” by Doug Beach and George Shutack.) Some of her dislikes include: mushrooms, snakes, feta cheese, and spiders, and she says that “even though I am Mexican, I can’t and do not like spicy foods!”

Vanessa plans to continue making music and doing her best to help her fellow students. The “NUFSICISUM nomination is a great honour, and I want to thank my teachers, parents and neighbours for their help and for thinking me worthy of it. I’ll keep on trying my best and look forward to what [the] future’s next notes sound like.”