American Legion Auxiliary Girls State officers for 2014 are, from left: Anna Swigris of Gulfport, Commissioner of Agriculture; Grace Stringer of Flowood, Commissioner of Insurance; Leigha Coke of Star, Attorney General; Lindley Williams of Meridian, State Auditor; May Brown of Jackson, Treasurer; Marisol Moreno of Jackson, Secretary of State; Maya Thompson of Jackson, Lieutenant Governor; and Mayah Emerson of Meridian, Governor. / Photo by Kelly Dunn
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Young women from all over the state of Mississippi have been on The University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus June 1-6 to participate as delegates in the 66th annual American Legion Auxiliary Girls State.
The program’s hands-on citizenship training provides upcoming high school seniors the opportunity to learn about politics on local, county and state levels by creating their own cities and campaigning for elected office in the state of “Magnolia.”
The first two days were busy for the delegates, with caucuses held by the Federalist and Nationalist parties, nominations of candidates for office, campaigning and casting ballots.
Most of the young women participating agreed the political rally was the highlight of the program.
The delegates not only gained new information about politics, but were also encouraged by the guest speakers that included State Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Southern Miss alumna.
“I think it has been great because there have been a lot of speakers talking about women in government and politics and that interested me, because that’s what I am thinking of going into,” said Emily Tipton of Gulfport High School.
Participants in the program talked about what the experience has taught them and how it prepared them for the future.
“I gained knowledge about the role of diversity in politics, and I learned how hard people fought for us to get where we are,” said Aya Johnson of Jim Hill High School in Jackson.
“I also learned respect will take you a long way, and what you put into things is what you will get out of them.”
Nyesha Banks of Tupelo High School believes the program prepared her for the future by showing her a side of politics she was not accustomed to.
Banks said she has never been very interested in politics, but the program sparked her interest.
“My favorite part was when a candidate gave a speech saying to take every opportunity presented to you and always take chances,” Banks said.
Johnson, who earned a senate office during the program and hopes for the opportunity to go to Girls Nation, said the program has shown her other possibilities and inspired her to consider studying political science in college.
Tipton, who ran for attorney general, said that campaigning prompted her to come out of her shell by helping her with speaking and meeting new people.
“Campaigning was my favorite because it gave me the opportunity to meet new people outside of my city and party,” she said.