Commencement Speaker

Viola ‘Vi’ Alexander Lyles

Mayor Vi Lyles

Vi Alexander Lyles, a Democrat, is in her second term as Mayor of Charlotte, serving since December 2017. Charlotte, the nation’s 15th largest city, is one of the top five fastest-growing large cities in the United States and one of only three cities to have grown by double digits each decade from 1960 through today.

Under Lyles’ direction, Charlotte continues to lead the nation in community engagement and action to address affordable housing. The City of Charlotte committed $50 million to these efforts via a bond that was approved by the community in 2018. In addition, private funds have contributed more than $50 million to affordable housing. The city has turned these commitments into investments in mixed-income housing, providing housing options for more than 5,000 families.

Lyles has led efforts to address growth proactively, focusing on transportation infrastructure and community safety. The city launched comprehensive plan 2040 to establish community-driven growth guidelines. During Lyles’ first term, the Charlotte Area Transit System opened a 19-mile light rail transit line connecting North Charlotte and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to Uptown Charlotte. In her second term, the transit system opened the streetcar line that travels east-west through Uptown and currently ends at JCSU’s campus.  

Job growth has flourished under Lyles’ leadership, with the creation of more than 27,000 new jobs since she took office. Among its recent accolades, Charlotte is the fastest-growing TechTown in the U.S., a top 10 rising city for startups, and the No. 1 city in America for growth in female-owned businesses. 

For Lyles, job creation is an important economic growth indicator, but workforce development is her personal passion. She is a champion for those who face barriers to employment, helping them develop their skills and talents, and ensuring that the city is committed to opportunities for all.

On November 1, 2021, Lyles stood with corporate and civic leaders to announce a $250 million communitywide public-private partnership to advance racial equity in Charlotte. The announcement, held a JCSU, introduced Lyles’ bold vision for Charlotte to set the standard as an American city for achieving racial equity, social justice, economic opportunity and upward mobility. Known as the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, the transformative plan has four focus areas: bridging the digital divide; investing in Corridors of Opportunity; transforming Johnson C. Smith University for the future; and catalyzing employer commitment to hiring Black and Brown leaders in executive positions. Due to Lyles’ advocacy, $80 million has been committed to transforming JCSU. 

A proud history of public service distinguishes Lyles’ career in Charlotte. Prior to her election as mayor, she served two terms on the City Council as an at-large representative (2013-2017) and was voted mayor pro tem by her peers for two of those years. Even before turning to elected office, Lyles was a valued city employee. Highlights of her career of service include creating the city’s first capital budget and leading the restructuring of government programs to evaluate and assess performance audits for city programs.

After retiring from the city, Lyles joined the Lee Institute and Flynn Health Holt Leadership as a consulting director, assisting not-for-profit governmental organizations in strategic planning and project implementation. 

In 2009, the Southern Piedmont Chapter of the National Forum for Public Administrators created the Viola ‘Vi’ Lyles Young Public Administrator Award, which recognizes “energy, commitment and drive for excellence in work and community service.”

Lyles holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Queens University of Charlotte, and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a trained facilitator and executive coach, completing programs at the Institute of Government, North Carolina State University and the Lee Institute’s American Leadership Forum.