NEWBERRY COUNTY — The American Legion annually sponsors Palmetto Boys State and Girls State, a week long sessions designed to promote patriotism, leadership, civic involvement and an understanding of the American institution.
During the week long event, mock elections for statewide officers, as well as mock Legislature and court system are held. This year Boys State was held at Anderson University and Girls State was held at Presbyterian College.
The American Legion Post 24 sponsored six boys and American Legion Auxiliary Unit 24 sponsored 14 girls, all from Newberry County. In celebration of these students, a banquet was held where each student present could speak and talk about their experience.
Participants for Boys State this year were as follows: Lucas Allen (Newberry Academy), Bennett Connelly (Newberry Academy), Chandler Dickert (Mid-Carolina), Wesley Livingston (Mid-Carolina), Dustin Phillips (Newberry High) and KyJuan Wise (Newberry High).
Participants for Girls State this year were as follows: Kaylynn Roche (Whitmire High), Haylee Rikard (Whitmire High), Taylor Wise (Newberry High), Ledare Livingston (Newberry High), CiCi Corley (Newberry High), Maggie Bowers (Newberry Academy), Kathryn Wilbanks (Newberry Academy), Georgia Summer (Mid-Carolina), Courtnie Stafford (Mid-Carolina), Megan Grubbs (Mid-Carolina), Emily Terry (Mid-Carolina), Anna Marie Wicker (Mid-Carolina), Olivia Anglin (Whitmire High), Chelsea Victoria Goggins (Whitmire High).
In order to help send Newberry County students to Palmetto Boys and Girls State, a business or individual will sponsor a person.
This year’s sponsors were, Samsung, Roche Pharmacy, Whitmire PTO, Newberry Car Buffs, Rotary Club, Newberry County Governmental Association, Senator Ronnie Cromer, Rep. Walt McLeod (retired), Pomaria Ruritan, WOW 437 and the Little Mountain Ruritan.
Tom Komaromi, general counsel for Samsung Electronics Home Appliances America, spoke of Samsung’s commitment to charitable works with veterans during the banquet.
“As a company that rose from the ashes of the Korean War, our executives in Korea pay a deep respect to the American soldier. So we partner with Legion Chapters and have over 25 years of commitment of charitable works with veterans,” he said. “Thanks to all Boys State and Girls State folks, I was amazed looking at social media at the fun celebration you guys had, and the life skills courses, public speaking, all things that make you a wonderful man and woman.”
“Girls State, we had to learn to speak without a paper in front of us, so I wanted to give that a try. I’m really thankful for the experience I got, and thanks to my sponsor, Newberry Governmental Association. Girls State was a week of a lifetime, I will never forget the friendships I made and what I learned,” Wilbanks said.
During the week, Wilbanks said she enjoyed learning about government and how government works in the state and country. However, more than that, she enjoyed learning and growing with the other girls and feeling empowered.
Livingston talked about her experience with making a banner. She said the girls elected to do the banner did not show up. So at the last minute girls from the county she was in came together and made one, with a Wonder Woman theme.
“Bunch of us came together from the cities in our county, painted and stayed up to do this banner. We really grew as a county and city,” she said. “Thank you all for this opportunity.”
Wise said Girls State was an amazing opportunity, and was very emotional the last day because of the great time and friendships that were formed.
“I’m very thankful for being able to come,” she said.
During the week, Corley actually celebrated her birthday at Girls State, she said that was weird spending her birthday with people she didn’t know, but they stayed together and created lifelong friendships.
“I’m so grateful for y’all letting me go,” she said.
Summer said when she started out she ran for a city position and was elected city manager. Her responsibility was to reflect on their day, and how everything happened for a reason. She later ran for a House of Representatives spot, and was elected.
“I got to go in the Chambers and listen and present bills, go through the process. It was an amazing opportunity to do, shows you what a real life situation it is,” she said.
Like Summer, Wicker was elected to a city position during her time, which was mayor. She said she later got elected to the Senate, which was exciting for her.
“In the Senate, I got to go into the Chambers, we were able to pass or table laws. Best experience I could imagine, able to sit in the chair of Senator Cromer, and experience the things he does on a regular basis,” Wicker said.
Stafford said this was the best experience of her life, and thanked everyone who helped her get there, especially her sister who helped her write her essay to get into Girls State.
Grubbs talked about how she first hated Girls State, because everyone was shy, but went on to love it because of her experiences. She was able to run for Senate, and win.
“I did my speech, and I was so proud of myself,” she said.
Allen said going into Boys State he didn’t realize how much it would impact him.
“I am a very social person and the first day I got there, I saw 40 random boys, and I was just like, I’m not comfortable talking to these random people,” he said.
However, by the end of the week, he knew everyone’s life story. Allen enjoyed the experience so much, he has already requested to be a junior counselor next year.
Connelly is the third person in his family to go to Boys State, both his dad and brother participated. Before going he asked his brother what he should do, and his brother told him to make relationships.
“By the end of the week I feel like I’ve gotten to know every single one of their names. Boys State to me, was all about making relationships,” he said. “This was probably the best week of my life. When I was there I was making a name for myself, growing my own type of reputation.”
Dickert said one thing you learn at Boys State is that you are all one Boys State.
“Very phenomenal to see 1,100 boys in the auditorium screaming at the top of their lungs about nothing,” he said. “Another amazing site, seeing 1,100 boys doing jumping jacks at the same time.”