learning to lead

Craig DeSilva
July 01, 2019

Every year, Hawaii’s youth take over the state Capitol. For a few days, they get to make decision about Hawaii’s future as if they were in charge. They write, debate, and pass bills in a mock legislative session just like their elected representatives and governor. It’s part of the YMCA of Honolulu’s Youth & Government program’s aim to instill lessons of leadership and civic responsibility.

Love being gov: YMCA Youth Governor-elect Krysta Reese with Gov. David Ige at his State Capitol office.

“It’s encouraging to see young people step up and provide focus and efforts on legislation and be engaged in civic life,” U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono told the young participants at the opening of the 2019 youth legislature in January.

Hirono is among the thousands of participants who’ve gone through the program. Other participants who’ve gone on to top government leadership positions both locally and nationally include:

  • Eric Shinseki, a retired four-star U.S. Army general and former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who was youth governor in 1960.
  • Ryker Wada, director of the state Department of Human Resources Development, who was youth governor in 1993.


Participants in the YMCA Youth Legislature presented a list of bill they passed to Gov. David Ige in his office at the State Capitol. 

Andrew Aoki, who participated in the program in 1986 when he was 17, says some students are passionate about youth government and look forward to it all year. Aoki’s two teenage children participate in the program.

“For some kids, it can be a life-changing experience, maybe even a lifesaver,” says Aoki, who earned graduate degrees in law and government and is the founder of the Islander Institute, an organization that fosters youth development and leadership. 

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