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South Jordan Journal

Girls State motivates teen to become active in her community

Sep 17, 2018 03:12PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Bingham High’s Celeste Stevens met with Utah House of Representatives’ Rebecca Edwards and Rebecca Chavez-Houck this summer at Girls State. (Photo courtesy of Celeste Stevens)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

This fall, Bingham High senior Celeste Stevens may be changing her class schedule to fit in a political science class and jump into more activities geared toward service and learning about government. 

This motivation to understand and serve her community comes after Stevens attended the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State with about 300 other juniors in high school this past summer. 

Utah’s Girls State program, which began in 1946, is a weeklong youth program designed to develop leadership and promote civic responsibility in young women. Through the program, girls draft and debate legislation; learn public speaking and debate skills; actively participate in all phases of creating and running a working government; earn three college credit hours in political science; and meet friends throughout the state with similar interests in patriotism, government and service.

“It’s an amazing program,” she said. “It changed my life. I have a better understanding of the voting process locally and nationally and what it stands for.” 

At the program, Stevens met Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic chair Mitt Romney, numerous veterans of Vietnam and Korean wars and several elected officials, including Utah House of Representatives’ Rebecca Edwards and Rebecca Chavez-Houck.

“I loved to hear their stories,” she said. “Some were heart-warming and impacted everyone. Some of them, like Gov. Herbert’s and Mitt Romney’s, were how to believe in yourself and go out and get things, while the veterans shared how they appreciated having friends’ support especially in times of conflict.” 

During the program, the girls were divided into groups of about 25 and were placed into mock cities, where they ran for elected positions. They held city council meetings, trials and ran cities similar to real life. 

“I ran for about every position,” Stevens said. “I took Mitt’s message to heart to get out there and try my best, knowing the worst thing that could happen is be told no. He didn’t win running for president, but he got right up there and ran again for another office. Others said the same thing. All that matters is to get right back up and try again and get to work. I also learned from Lt. Gov. Cox how college can help prepare you for your life ahead in whatever direction it takes. He wasn’t planning to become our lieutenant governor, but when it was offered and he realized the impact it can have and how he can help Utahns, he jumped at the chance."

Stevens said some skills she learned at Girls State she hopes to put to use this fall. 

“I learned how to communicate with people, which will help me in school as I help lead LIA (Latinos in Action) in service,” she said. “I also learned how to organize and realized what amazing things we could get done if we’re organized and communicate better.” 

Stevens also hopes to bring parliamentary procedure into place at Bingham High. 

“Once we started using it there, we worked better together and it was amazing,” she said. “I can see it helping us at school.” 

Girls State also helped Stevens realize that perhaps, she, too, would like to enter a political career. 

“I met a councilwoman who described her job to us. It shocked me how much of it is service where she is helping people. I think it would be an amazing opportunity to meet people, try new things and serve people. I love service,” she said, adding that before she was considering a career as an accountant. 

This fall, she’d like to take part in a youth council to learn more about her city and how it operates as well as use the skills she has learned as president over service and professionalism for both LIA and Spanish club. 

“Girls State really gave us confidence about everything and realize that through hard work and getting out of our comfort zone, we really can accomplish so many things,” she said. “We’d talk with one another until 3 a.m., and I wrote down what happened every day; it almost filled a full book.” 

Another moving part of the week in June for Stevens was watching veterans retire a U.S. flag. 

“It’s amazing and sad,” she said. “When they burned the flag, it is so powerful and just touched our hearts. What these veterans did for us, for our country, makes me realize how great their sacrifices are. And they’re still serving us. We bought some school supplies to them so they could donate them to Utah veterans’ families who need school supplies so they have the same opportunity in school as we do. It was such an amazing week. I learned so much about our government, about myself and ways I can help serve others.”