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Unstoppable: How Boyd’s Vivienne Garner Found Her Voice and Discovered Her Ability to Inspire Others

Press Release|
Shane Mauldin|
Friday, December 4, 2020
Vivienne Garner on the steps of the Texas Capitol. At the end of January, McKinney Boyd High School senior Vivienne Garner was elected governor at the Texas Youth and Government state conference. She is the first high school student from McKinney to be elected to the position. (Photo: Roslyn Garner)

Vivienne Garner on the steps of the Texas Capitol. At the end of January, McKinney Boyd High School senior Vivienne Garner was elected governor at the Texas Youth and Government state conference. She is the first high school student from McKinney to be elected to the position. (Photo: Roslyn Garner)

McKinney, Texas – As a sixth grader at Dowell Middle School, Vivienne Garner’s first inclination was that she wanted nothing to do with the YMCA Youth and Government program offered as an extracurricular activity at her campus.

But, you might say she’s come around since then.

Now a senior at Mckinney Boyd High School, Vivienne is a well-rounded student who’s part of the aviation program and a member of the national award winning Boyd Consortium Orchestra, among other things.

She’s also a leader in Youth and Government. In the intervening years since she first came across the program at Dowell, Vivienne qualified as a delegate for the Youth and Government annual state conference every year and was twice selected to represent Texas as a delegate at the national conference.

Even more impressively, Vivienne emerged the victor in a four-candidate governor race last spring at the Youth and Government state conference, making her the first McKinney ISD high school student to do so. Boyd had boasted lieutenant-governor winners in the past, but previously, no high school student from McKinney had claimed the governor’s seat.

Vivienne in front of banner

Vivienne Garner at the 2020 Youth and Government state conference in Austin. (Photo: Roslyn Garner)

Now, Vivienne is helping to lead the program through the challenges of planning a virtual 2021 state conference in the ever-present shadow of COVID-19.

“To be honest, at the beginning, I was scared of Youth and Government,” said Vivienne. “I joined in sixth grade. Mrs. A-B [Judith Anderson-Bruess] was my history teacher, and she said that this was a program that we as students might be interested in. But, I had no interest in standing up and talking to people. I had no interest in it at all. That could never be me; I could never do that. But, she convinced me to try one practice—and I absolutely loved it.”

Youth and Government first appeared in 1936 in New York and is now active in 40 states with more than 25,000 participants. It came to Texas in 1946 and has been a presence in MISD for the past 17 years, thanks in large part to the work of Anderson-Bruess. Under her leadership, hundreds of middle school and high school MISD students have taken part.

Through the middle school and high school levels of Youth and Government, students learn how to identify weighty public issues, research those issues and draft proposed legislation to address those issues.

The goal is to develop four core values—respect, responsibility, honesty and caring—while learning about and successfully navigating the legislative process at Youth and Government events in order to qualify for the state conference. Once there, participants work to get their bills onto the desk of the elected Youth and Government (high school) or Junior Youth and Government (middle school) governor and see them signed into law.

Before she joined Youth and Government, Vivienne thought her views and opinions wouldn’t be seriously considered or valued by others. In time, however, she found her voice and transformed into a confident speaker who could stand in front of her peers and persuasively argue her point of view.

In seventh grade, she ran for governor at the Junior Youth and Government state conference. It didn’t go as well as she hoped.

“You can either run in seventh grade or your junior year or for each one. So, in seventh grade…I lost hard,” she said with a laugh. “I lost. I was really upset about it, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. I kept going. I won as a delegate every year, and I loved just debating everything. Then I ran for governor again my junior year.”

At the 2020 state conference held in Austin during the last weekend in January, Vivienne and three other candidates took the floor at the Texas Capitol and addressed the full 1,300 member Youth and Government delegation of high school students from across Texas.

“We have an opening speech the night that we get there,” explained Vivienne. “You hear from the candidates. I had 2 minutes and 30 seconds to tell all 1,300 kids in front of me why they needed to vote for me. A lot of them had known me before from our district conferences … but, for those who didn’t know me, that was their first impression of me—‘Ok, what does this girl have to offer us?’ After that initial speech, we had Q&A sessions where the delegates could ask us questions.”

The election came down to a run-off between Vivienne and the candidate from Ft. Worth. “When they announced the final winner at the end of the night, I was completely overwhelmed with joy,” Vivienne said. “I was excited and just kind of of taken aback because I was just like, ‘I really did this.’”

It was a moment etched in time for Vivienne.

“At the end of the night, every Dallas kid was standing around the staircases and just started jumping and screaming when I came up there,” she remembered.

Over the years, Anderson-Bruess has watched her once-reluctant Youth and Government participant grow in confidence and ability, so she was not completely caught off guard by the news.

“She has excelled in the program,” Anderson-Bruess said. “She leads by example and is always ready to help anyone and teach them to be better debaters. She exemplifies the four core values of the YMCA: responsibility, respect, honesty and caring. You will not find a more deserving person than Vivienne.”

Boyd Principal Jennifer Peirson had high praise for Vivienne as well. “She is an amazing student,” Peirson said. She’s a hard worker, and she’s a leader on our campus. It’s just been exciting to watch her.”

Winning the governor race has been the crowning achievement in Vivienne’s seven years in Youth and Government, but it was an encounter with another delegate at the state conference that perhaps has had the most significant impact on Vivienne. It helped her see with greater clarity the power she holds to inspire others.

“One of the delegates came up and pulled me aside and said that I was the first young black woman that she had ever seen doing something of that caliber, and that I had given her hope that she could actually attempt to do something in the future,” Vivienne said. “And, she’s running [for governor] this year.

“So, I want to have that impact on people to show them that you can be more than what other people say that you are—and that you can be more than what you believe that you can,” Vivienne said.

With college on the horizon and scholarship offers in the wings, Vivienne is considering aviation administration and aviation law or—not surprisingly—international affairs and policy. Whatever path she chooses, it’s safe to assume that she is not going to let anything hold her back.

Vivienne on the steps of the Capitol

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