Boys State / Girls State: Governor tells teens to fight for beliefs

Gov. Nikki Haley challenged more than 1,600 high school students Friday to overcome their fears, stick to their convictions and use lessons learned this past week to serve South Carolina.

Speaking during the Palmetto Boys State and Girls State rally at the Statehouse, Haley said it’s not always easy for people to fight for what they believe in. But showing the courage to do so can make a difference in the world, she said.

“Fear is going to come in front of you, and you’re going to have a decision to make,” Haley said. “Are you going to step back and allow it to go on by, or are you going push through it? I challenge you to push through it. You will continue to be successful every time you do.”

The Boys State and Girls State programs are annual, weeklong sessions that teach rising high school seniors about government, politics and working together. Boys from across the state are housed at Anderson University, while girls are at Presbyterian College in Clinton. They were bused to Columbia for Friday’s rally.

During their week away from home, they participate in mock state and local governments. Teens run for offices, make speeches, vote for candidates and debate different political issues with their peers. The elections included those for a mock governor, lieutenant governor and other offices.

But the first day of Boys State and Girls State programs can seem daunting. Teens from across the state are thrown together the first day, and many do not know each other.

Haley asked the students to remember how scary it seemed when they first arrived at the Boys State and Girls State sessions – and how the teenagers now had overcome fear and criticism to complete the programs.

“Don’t ever forget what you feel like today,” the governor said. “Look at how much you accomplished in a week. That’s a very cool thing.”

Friday’s rally in Columbia featured a parade down Main Street to the Statehouse, where students blanketed the capitol steps to hear from Haley and others. The highlight was the presentation of officers for Boys State and Girls State. They were escorted by Haley and other elected officials, including Attorney General Alan Wilson and Superintendent of Education Mick Zais.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Costa Pleicones swore in Boys State Gov. Trevon Andrews of Manning High School and Girls State Gov. Jessica Wright of Academic Magnet High in Charleston. They were elected by their peers this past week.

Organizers of this year’s Boys State and Girls State programs said they had record numbers participate. Boys State had 1,016 participants, while Girls State had 620 participants. Boys and Girls State programs are learning sessions sponsored by the American Legion in most states.

Students will end their week at Anderson University and Presbyterian College on Saturday with closing ceremonies.