Guest blog post by Sabra Denny, ALA Palmetto Girls State director
As we gear up for American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation, we look back at an exciting year for those who attended ALA Girls State in South Carolina.
ALA Palmetto Girls State participants got quite the surprise at the end of their weeklong program.
Presbyterian College’s President Dr. Matthew vandenBerg said the college is offering to each of the 600 ALA Palmetto Girls State delegates if they apply to, are admitted, and enrolled at the college, they will receive an annual $25,000 Palmetto Girls State Promise Scholarship — a four-year, $100,000 commitment.
Denny gives more insight into this amazing opportunity for participants who attended this year.
Was this the first time a scholarship was offered by the college for ALA Girls State participants?
This is the first time PC has offered a scholarship of this amount for our delegates. Many of our state colleges, including Presbyterian College, offer and have previously offered scholarship opportunities for students who attend the various colleges but in much smaller amounts.
How did you feel when you learned about the scholarship surprise?
I found out the Friday prior to when our staff moved in when I got a text message from the vice president for enrollment letting me know that he and the president of the college wanted to talk to me sooner than later. When they presented the idea, I was floored, excited, and promised I would keep the secret, so it was a huge surprise for the delegates and staff. We have always had a great working relationship with Presbyterian College, and this just added another layer to our program being supportive of PC and PC being supportive of our program. We have been talking for a few years about the number of delegates and staff who attend PC from our pool of delegates who attend the program.
Why is it important for the program to have a good relationship with the college?
Presbyterian College has always gone above and beyond to ensure we have a great working relationship so that we are all on the same page to give the delegates and staff the best experience during their week. Over the years, we have worked year-round with the campus liaison and everything is set and ready to go when we arrive on campus. We pretty much run ourselves as a program, but all of the support from maintenance, grounds, campus services, public safety, summer programs, dining, the president’s office, and everyone we encounter makes our week seamless and productive.
What do you think this says about the college’s belief in this program?
I think this scholarship opportunity shows the Presbyterian College family is committed to empowering and building future leaders just like the ALA Palmetto Girls State program. It shows they believe in what our program teaches and realizes that within the over 600 future leaders, there is much potential to be sought with the appropriate training and have a vested interest in positive outcomes for our future generations.
What were the girls’ reactions when they found out?
To begin with, the girls loved that Presbyterian College President Matt vandenBerg came to speak to them in his kilt with an entrance to bagpipes, which was very different from our typical speakers. Their vice president for enrollment, Woody O’Cain, gave a welcome on Sunday and let them know that a big announcement was coming later in the week, and I was able to add to that throughout the week.
When President vandenBerg gave his remarks and announcements, the reactions from the delegates were priceless. They were shocked, smiling, crying, screaming, and every other emotion. Many were immediately texting their loved ones to let them know. It was definitely a highlight of the week that many continued to talk about. It was exciting for me to be on stage and have a front row seat to seeing the progression of emotions on the girls’ faces. It was a moment I will not forget for sure and such a special part of our 75th session!
Were any girls immediately interested in applying?
Many of the girls were discussing applying, and I had multiple parents reach out to let me know that they had gained an interest in Presbyterian College after the week and this announcement. Some of the delegates let me know that a post-secondary degree was never an option for them until this announcement. They let us know that this gave them an opportunity they did not think they would ever get.
As an educator myself, and a mama, this was probably the most special part for me because it opens up opportunities for girls who may not have ever had an opportunity to further their education this way. Even for those delegates who do not apply or have other plans for the military or work force, it lets them know there are colleges and supporters who believe in them and see the potential they have as future leaders.