Students have intense weeks at Boys and Girls State programs

By Jeff Smith

From left to right, Taleigh Adrian, Erica Houser, Taylor Bobbe and Jessica Welu at Girls State 2018.

There were students who spent the first part of their summer break learning about leadership and government through Boys and Girls State. While students are there they engage in a number of political activities. The students learn how to govern themselves through the process and how officials at the state level, federal level and the executive branch level function. Students can run for mythical elected positions ranging from governor to local law enforcement positions.

Workshops were held and they have visits from state leaders throughout a week.

Four girls from Hill City participated in Girls State this past week in Vermillion. The students were Jessica Welu, Taleigh Adrian, Erica Houser and Taylor Bobbe.

Girls State is held at the University of South Dakota. This year was the 72nd year of Girls State in South Dakota.

The American Legion Auxiliary South Dakota founded Girls State in Mitchell. Each year there were girls that met at the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University until 1985. Then it was moved to the campus of South Dakota State University in Brookings.

The program moved to University of South Dakota in 2002. This year there were 375 high school junior girls that participated in Girls State.

The girls were sponsored by the Hill City American Legion Post 160 and Heart of the Hills Booster Club.

Junior Jessica Welu said she gained a lot of knowledge from the experience and she didn’t regret going.

“We got to hear many motivational speakers and learn about the government in a fun and creative way,” Welu said. “Overall, the week was demanding but beneficial.”

Welu was elected to the House of Representatives. The girls elected to this position voted on and passed bills that other girls had created.

Welu went into Girls State knowing practically nothing about South Dakota’s state government.

“ I now have a much better understanding of how things are run in South Dakota, as well how South Dakota representatives affect the branches in Washington, D.C.,” Welu said.

She said that the University of South Dakota campus has many historical buildings that were easily accessible because they were so close together.

“The facilities were well maintained and it was enjoyable to stay there for the week,” Welu said.

Kristi Noem spoke on the final day of Girls State. Welu stated that personally, Noem affected her the most.

“The other speakers were primarily male, and hearing a woman speak to us inspired me more than the other speeches given,” Welu said.

According to Welu, Girls State was all about how women can be as influential as men in whatever they do, and they should pursue whatever career they choose.

“After hearing all of the state leader lectures this past week, I am most motivated to inspire and empower the strong women around me,” Welu said.

Not to be outdone was Boys State, which was founded in 1940 in Aberdeen. Hill City’s representative was Drew Hanson.

Hanson said it was an exciting time at Boys State.

“I learned a lot about government, politics and those sort of things working with the group I was in,” Hanson said.

He said that since everyone was all the same age they had a lot in common, especially about the process of politics.

There were over 200 high school junior classmen from across the state that spent a week at Northern State University. Hanson was selected by Hill City Post No. 160 and sponsored by Custer Post No. 46 to participate in the American Legion’s South Dakota Boys State program.

Hanson’s roles during the week included city coroner, city alderman and then later on a senator from Brookings County. He had to go around and campaign for the senator position.

“I gave a speech to my entire county asking them to vote for me,” Hanson said.

There were about 40 people in the county. The cities in the county were Phoenix, San Antonio and Honolulu. Even though these are big city names, they still used South Dakota counties.

Noem,  Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune and two Republican candidates for the South Dakota House of Representatives, Dusty Johnson and Shantel Krebs, were just a few of the people in politics that were at Boys State this year.

“They spoke, and we could ask them questions. I got a picture with Senator Rounds. They all had very good messages for us,” Hanson said.

During his stay at Northern State University he was able to talk to the president of Northern State University, Timothy Downs.

He explained to Hanson the updated campus and how it was going to make a positive impact on students and their education at NSU. He also talked about how strong Aberdeen and the surrounding communities were and how positive they are for the NSU campus.

Overall, Hanson’s large takeaway from the program was that he understands the function of political offices much better now and because of this is more interested in a political office in the future.