The 81st annual American Legion Auxiliary West Virginia Rhododendron Girls State will get underway Sunday, June 9, 2024 on the campus of Davis & Elkins College.

The event, which hosts soon-to-be high school seniors from all corners of the Mountain State, was first hosted at D&E in 2018. Girls State was originally held at Jackson’s Mill in Lewis County in 1941 before moving to Wheeling Jesuit University in 1997.

Girls State was created as a national Americanism activity and is a practical application of leadership, citizenship and patriotism. The program is a nonpartisan, non-political attempt to teach and inculcate in the youth of America a love of God and country.

“We are thrilled to be back once more on the campus of Davis & Elkins College to offer this premier leadership program,” said Davis & Elkins College Dean of Students and Assistant Director of Auxiliary Rhododendron Girls State Kate Garlick. “Being more centrally located in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, more rising seniors are able to participate and not worry about having to drive a great distance. This is truly a life-changing experience for these young women. This week will fly by, but the memories and connections made here will last a lifetime.”

More than 26,000 young women from West Virginia have benefited from the program’s training and the annual number of participants have grown over the years. A total of 220 girls will attend the week-long camp at D&E, which teaches students about government, legislation and other civic responsibilities.

“We are excited to welcome more than 200 young women from across the state to Rhododendron Girls State 2024,” said Director of Rhododendron Girls State Dr. Rosemary Thomas. “This program for rising seniors is nationally recognized as one of the best youth leadership programs throughout the country and West Virginia. We’re fortunate to spend our week right here on the campus of the Davis & Elkins College Senators. Much will be learned, much will be shared, and lifetime friendships will be made.”

Throughout the week participants will learn about the election process with the formation of a mock government. Students will have the opportunity to file for office, campaign, attend candidate speeches, vote and participate in an inauguration ceremony.

Activities for those students taking part will get under way Monday morning with an assembly at 10 a.m. in Harper McNeeley Auditorium. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey will be the guest speaker during the assembly. It will be the sixth-straight year that Morrsey has spoken at Girls State.

The keynote speaker for Tuesday’s 11 a.m. assembly will be U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. A second assembly is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. and will feature retired Huntington fire chief Jan Radar, who made Time magazine’s list of Top 100 influential people in 2018.

A College Fair will kick off Wednesday’s activities at 11 a.m. at the McDonnell Center’s walking track. The keynote speaker for the daily assembly scheduled for 1:30 p.m. will be West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner. That assembly will be held at Senate Commons, Myles Center for the Arts.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia First Foundation Executive Director Jonathan Board, New South Media President Nikki Bowman Mills, and Old Brick Playhouse Executive Director Missy Armentrout McCollam also will address the students during the week.

Rhododendron Girls State was started under the sponsorship and direction of the American Legion Auxiliary Department of West Virginia. The program, which was not held in 1943 and 1945 due to war restrictions, was incorporated under the law of West Virginia. A Board of Directors establish policies and supervises the program direction and promotes its continuance.