Young Alabamians’ compete for mock government roles, scholarships

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Young Alabamians’ compete for mock government roles, scholarships

The Alabama Girls State and Boys State programs, which occur every summer, provide a hands-on learning opportunity for some of the distinguished young students of Alabama. High schools all across the state send rising seniors to experience a week of leadership training, mock governmental procedures and political discussion. Delegates have the opportunity to write and debate legislation, hear from speakers and participate in mock elections at the city, county and state levels. 

Alabama Girls State and Boys State are sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. Its mission is to serve the armed forces and help meet the needs of all veterans, military and their families — both in the United States and abroad. The purpose of Girls State is to “epitomize the American Legion Auxillary’s mission to honor those who have brought us our freedom through a commitment to develop future leaders grounded in patriotism and Americanism,” according to the American Legion Auxiliary. 

For many years, The University of Alabama has been home to Alabama Girls State. The delegates, often reaching numbers of about 400, spend an entire week on campus. They stay in dorms, eat at the dining halls and use academic buildings and campus facilities for almost every aspect of the program.  This week comes before the crucial time many of the attendees will make their college decision, and The University of Alabama makes a mark for many of the delegates. 

Delegates essentially spend a week as a student on campus and see firsthand the benefits the campus has to offer. Additionally, The University of Alabama financially invests in these young women. UA President Stuart Bell personally welcomed this year’s group of delegates to campus. During this welcome, he announced that every delegate would receive a $1,000 scholarship from the University if they chose to attend the next year as a student. 

Briana Byrd, a student of Paul W. Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa, was elected governor of the 77th session of Alabama Girls State. Byrd had already been considering The University of Alabama as an option for her secondary education before Girls State based on its proximity.

“Tuscaloosa is my hometown, so having a college right down the street has always been very convenient,” Byrd said. “It has been a topic of conversation.”

One of the more prominent aspects of Alabama Girls State is the opportunity to run for office. Delegates have the chance to campaign, make speeches and answer political questions in both primary and general elections. While the positions are just titles within the program, the elections are very similar to the real-world process but condensed into a week. Every elected title has its own responsibilities modeled off of real positions throughout the government, and they’re known to hold an incredible amount of prestige throughout the program. 

The three most coveted positions are governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. The governor receives a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Alabama, making it competitive financially. The Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General also receive scholarships.

After spending a week on campus with Girls State and winning a governor position, Byrd had more than one reason for wanting to attend The University of Alabama. 

“Winning governor made me heavily consider The University of Alabama because of the amount of love we received from being on the campus for the entire week,” said Byrd.

Byrd did not originally know about the scholarship each Girls State governor receives when she first decided to run. She wanted to run for governor to have a platform to spark change within her assigned state. Byrd wants to inspire other young women to reach their aspirations. She said the program gave her the confidence and affirmation needed to know that she could make a difference, and she wants to do the same for other young women. When she found out about her scholarship offer, she was overjoyed.

“They told me that it was a full ride, and I cried for the fiftieth time that week,” Byrd said. “I was grateful because any amount of money helps toward education. It makes you feel more secure for your future. It’s definitely a concern of almost every high schooler: How are you going to pay for college? Girls State affirmed that I can do anything I put my mind to.”