Hurricane High School sends student to Girls Nation, another elected ‘governor’

Ellie McDonald and Thomas Christiansen, who was elected "governor" during Boys State, pose with their girls and boys state advisors, Becky Wheeler and Don Hutchinson, Hurricane, Utah, June 19, 2015, Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

HURRICANE – For the first time in history, a student from Hurricane High School has made it to Girls Nation, the pinnacle of the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program. Ellie McDonald, who will be a senior at the high school next year, will travel to Washington, D.C., July 25-Aug. 1 to participate in the program. Hurricane High School also had an excellent showing at “Boys State” with Thomas Christiansen being elected governor by write-in-ballot, the first time it has happened since during World War II.

Girls State and Boys State is a political simulation for students who have just completed their junior year learning and living politics for a week. Participants run for offices, from mayor at the municipal level to senator at the national level. They also write mock bills and give political speeches. The Girls State website said the program “teaches young women responsible citizenship and love for God and country.”

This year the Utah event was June 1-6 on Weber State University campus.

Ellie McDonald, a Hurricane High School student heading to Girls Nation next month, poses with Thomas Christiansen, who was elected "governor" during Boys State, Hurricane, Utah,  June 19, 2015, Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News
Ellie McDonald, a Hurricane High School student heading to Girls Nation next month, poses with Thomas Christiansen, who was elected “governor” during Boys State, Hurricane, Utah, June 19, 2015, Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

McDonald, who moved to Hurricane from Spokane, Washington, before her sophomore year, heard about Girls State from members of the Hurricane High School volleyball team and was excited to apply, based on her longstanding interest in politics, a career to which she has aspired since fourth grade. She said she loves debate and public speaking.

McDonald was elected senator, which earned her the privilege of attending Girls Nation along with Anna Marie Barnes from Pleasant Grove High School. The election to senator was quite an honor because, as McDonald mentioned, she was going up against some of the best girls in the state, many of them being 4.0 students and practically one third of them serving in student government.

In Washington, D.C., McDonald will meet President Obama, debate on the congressional floor and write a bill for Utah. The bill she and Barnes are writing for Girls Nation aims at incentives to lower the wage gap between men and women.

“I’m so excited,” McDonald said. “I just can’t wait.”

She already had a little experience in politics before attending Girls State, being the niece of District 71 Utah Rep. Brad Last.

Ever since moving to Hurricane, she said, she has visited her uncle while the state Legislature is in session – visiting the legislative chambers and talking to lobbyists. She is right in the middle of her school’s politics, serving as pep club president last school year. Next year she will serve as the social vice president on executive council. She also participated in student government in middle school.

McDonald’s hobbies include writing music, playing the piano and studying the stars, she said.

“She’s going to run for president one of these days,” Hurricane High School Girls State Advisor Becky Wheeler said of McDonald.

Before that can happen, McDonald said she hopes to attend Brigham Young University or Stanford University.

Christiansen said that unlike McDonald, who was motivated to apply immediately after hearing about it, his parents, David and Tracy Christiansen, had to push him to apply for Boys State. One of his mother’s main incentives for pushing him to apply is for the scholarship opportunities available through the program. He said he didn’t want to take too much time away from golf, one of his main pursuits, next to baseball.

Today, he’s grateful he applied and made it, and not just because of the scholarship opportunities.

At the Boys State, Christiansen was mayor of his “city” and, according to Hurricane High School “Boys State” Advisor and American Legion member Don Hutchinson, he became well known because of his personality.

“That smile carried him a long way,” Hutchinson said.

Christiansen said the actual candidates for governor at Boys State said some controversial things and weren’t very composed. Many of his Boys State peers said they were going to write him in instead. And they were true to their word, questioning why there was no independent party, starting what Hutchinson called a “rebellion.”

“They had to learn how to spell my name,” Christiansen said. “The thought of rebellion got everyone excited.”

Hutchinson said it was amazing when everyone found out Christiansen had been elected governor.

“It was fun to watch,” Hutchinson said.

As governor, Christiansen will help administer the program next year. Even though he was not elected senator, he will be visiting Washington D.C. in December with other Boys staters thanks to Congressman Rob Bishop.

American Legion Post 100 in Hurricane raises money for boys and girls state all year, Hutchinson said. It takes $350-$400 to send each participant to boys and girls state each year. Each participant is responsible for $100 of that amount, so they have a vested interest in going, while the American Legion covers the rest.

Christiansen and Wheeler said they are doing their best to help revitalize the program in Hurricane, and now they’ve got two enthusiastic ambassadors. Christiansen said he and McDonald would do their best to increase interest in the program.

Wheeler said one of her aims is to help instill patriotism in today’s young people, which she believes is slipping.

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