Girls State celebrates its 65th anniversary

This is a big year for South Dakota American Legion Auxiliary Girls State.

Not only is it the 10th consecutive year the event has been held on the campus of the University of South Dakota, it�s the 65th anniversary of the event itself, which concludes this Saturday.

�We�re excited about it,� said Girls State director Cheryl Hovorka. �It�s the same program, we�ve just kind of enhanced some things. � Every year we try to add something.�

This year the addition is a college career fair that was held in the Muenster Student Center (MUC) Wednesday afternoon.

�All the colleges and universities in the state that offer scholarships have been invited,� Hovorka said.

Military recruiters were there, as well, she added.

This year also marks the first time the newly-remodeled Slagle Hall will be the site of Girls State happenings.

�We�re pretty excited we�ll get to use it, because for the last couple of years we�ve been in the MUC ballroom, which has been fantastic. That�s a beautiful facility, too. But it�s a little bit smaller,� Hovorka said. �We�re excited. It�s a beautiful, beautiful facility.�

On the stage in Slagle is another reminder of the event�s anniversary � a poster featuring the names, and the faces, where possible, of the past Girls State governors.

Girls State offers girls from all parts of South Dakota an opportunity to learn about every aspect of government in the United States, from local and state level to the federal and executive branches.

They also will have the chance to learn firsthand from a number of South Dakota politicians, including Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who will participate in a state of South Dakota Q&A session Friday morning.

U.S. Sen. John Thune, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, Dustin Johnson, chief of staff to Daugaard, S.D. Attorney General Marty Jackley and state Sen. Jean Hunhoff spoke at various points during the week, as well.

The 436 participants are selected by the American Legion Auxiliary, and are divided into 14 groups that are classified by the names of major U.S. cities, along with Journalism City, which produces the Girls State newspaper.

�They�re involved in things all week,� Hovorka said. �For example, they start out in city government. … So basically, Tuesday is centered around city government. They actually elect their mayor and city councilman and they meet and talk about city government.�

Later in the week, the girls have an opportunity to take a judicial class or law enforcement class, building toward a mock trial to take place Saturday.

�I�ve had girls tell me they never ever thought of going to law school, but once they participated here and got excited about law, that�s what they decided to do,� Hovorka said.

The girls are divided into Federalist and Nationalist parties and vote for Senate and House reps, as well as state officers.

�All the girls vote except Journalism City. They don�t actually branch into the city and county government part of it. But they do vote overall in the primary and the state election,� Hovorka said.

One year, the girls had trouble deciding between the two gubernatorial candidates.

�They were both outstanding candidates, and the girls didn�t know who to pick,� Hovorka said. �At that point, we encourage them to vote party. The American Legion Auxiliary is totally non-partisan. We can�t support one party or the other. But here, we just try to encourage them either Federalist or Nationalist. If you can�t decide between one party or the other, then normally you would just kind of support your party.�

Held for its first years in Mitchell, Girls State moved to Brookings in 1985 before coming to Vermillion in 2002.

USD is a good venue for Girls State, Hovorka said.

�The campus is fantastic,� she said. �They roll out the red carpet and Girls State pretty much takes over. We have support from everybody from top administration down to the custodians who are amazing. We have everybody willing to help.�

The USD School of Law, the Beacom School of Business and the Al Neuharth Media Center are among the biggest helpers, she said.

The Clay County Sheriff�s Department offers assistance, as well.

�For several years now, we�ve had a forensic investigation team,� Hovorka said. �We take 14 girls that rank the top 14 of the law enforcement test, and they�re part of a CSI team. The sheriff�s department works with them and teaches them how to do fingerprinting and that sort of thing.�

This year also marks an anniversary for Hovorka � her 10th as Girls State coordinator.

It�s gotten easier each year, she said.

�It�s a lot of work, but yet it�s not,� she said. �People are so great about volunteering and helping out. Just working with the kids, it really doesn�t seem like work.�

The American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program is hosted by the W.O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership.

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