Waialua High Student Comes Into Her Own As Youth Governor

Student governor Shawna-Leigh Balon addresses the Hawaii Youth Legislature on opening day of the session. Photo courtesy YMCA of Honolulu.

With the aptitude of someone well beyond her years, it’s no wonder that teen Shawna-Leigh Balon recently served as the youth governor for the YMCA Youth in Government legislative session.

Spend five minutes talking to her and you sense her maturity and command of the role.

“It educates you on what goes on around the state, and it also gives teens or students the voice – the voice that we hardly have, or the voice that we’re afraid to have – and it gives us a chance to speak up for what we believe in,” said the Waialua High School junior.

“And it gives us the chance for the adults or the leaders in our community and in our state to see what we want, too, for a better future.”

Currently in its 62nd year, the YMCA Youth Legislature is offered annually to students in grades 6-12. After a hiatus for two years, it returned this spring for three days during which students conducted a mock legislative session.

In addition to electing a youth governor, students also chose a speaker of the house, senate president, delegates and other roles.

This year, it attracted 85 students from schools throughout Oahu.

The process to being selected youth governor began with Balon and other candidates speaking about their goals. After debating others and a final voting process, students who selected Balon as their leader weren’t the only ones to recognize her talent.

“She makes everybody feel important when they’re speaking – because to her, they are,” said Kaimuki YMCA executive director Noa Hussey.

“They picked someone who is truly trying to work on their leadership skills,” he added.

Though seemingly a natural for the demands of leadership, Balon had a rocky start in her family life. Luckily, the opportunity offered by Youth in Government opened new doors for her.

“My only way out was joining the program, getting involved, and I found every reason to get out of my house because it was just too much for me,” she said.

“It gave me the opportunity to want to get out, to want to get involved, and it gave me the opportunity of becoming governor because it motivated me – that I don’t want to be stuck at home all my life, I want to do better for myself.”

In her role as youth governor, Balon was responsible for planning the state session that involved students visiting the State Capitol, where they were able to propose their bills. She also had to research bills and would make herself available to anyone that needed help.

For other students who are thinking of trying out the program, Balon has the following advice:

“I would encourage other students because this program opens a lot of doors, it shows you a lot of possibilities and opportunities out there.”