P oised and confident as she stood at the podium inside the House Chamber, 11-year-old Haydin Simmons told hundreds of her classmates that she wants to make sure no one goes hungry.
Moments earlier, the fifth grade student at Pollard Elementary School in Plaistow had been administered the oath of office by Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald to become New Hampshire’s 2023 Kid Governor. The term runs one year.
Haydin’s parents, Jennifer Simmons and Erica LeMire, sat in the front row as they watched Haydin, who was wearing a 2023 NH’s Kid Governor sash, present most of her speech from memory.
“My entire life my mom has told me about when she was little and she never knew when her next meal might be,” Haydin said. “She taught me to be grateful for what I have and not complain about what I don’t have.”
She realized the need during the COVID-19 pandemic when she heard of people not being able to afford food, rent, clothes and other necessities. This was the platform for her campaign.
“Sometimes when you get hungry or cold you might say, ‘I’m starving’ or ‘I’m freezing,’” Haydin said. “Imagine not having enough food in your fridge to be able to go and get a snack or meal whenever you needed to. Imagine not having enough heat in your home to be able to go inside and get warm.”
The Kid Governor election, which coincided with the November election, aims to “inspire students to be lifelong agents of change, active participants in our government, and registered voters when they turn 18.”
Fifth grade teacher Julie Hazelton, who helps run the program at Pollard Elementary, said Haydin is a natural leader.
“I think what made Haydin stand out is how genuine and relatable she is to her peers,” Hazelton said. “Her classmates — even the ones running against her — just jumped right on board and wanted to support her.”
“She works really hard at whatever she does and puts her whole heart into it,” said Dolores Coyle-Quirk, Haydin’s classroom teacher. “This is something she really believes in.”
Beside MacDonald, special guests included Gov. Chris Sununu, House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, and Executive Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye.
Stevens called the students the “future leaders of America.”
“Find a way to give back,” Sununu said. “And sometimes it’s just giving a little bit of your time in your community, and we do that really, really well here. The solutions are not just here in Concord. The solutions are in your schools or at your town meeting, school boards or nonprofits.”
The group also acknowledged last year’s kid governor, Charlotte Cotti, who mentioned meaningful visits to the Friendly Kitchen, a soup kitchen in Concord.
The event also included six students elected to the New Hampshire’s Kids Executive Council: Sierra Boulanger, Kaylee Cook, Emily Parent, Jordan Sseguya, Ava Strahan-Howe and Andrew Swanson.
In the corner office
After the ceremony, Haydin and several of the kid executive councilors visited with Sununu in his office.
Sununu pointed out a stack of documents for the state’s $7.4 billion budget on a coffee table, which his staff continues to pore through. He said $2 million will be designated for a civics curriculum and to write a New Hampshire-based textbook.
No topic was off limits during the casual visit.
“How high is the ceiling?” Haydin asked the governor. The question, however, went unanswered.
Sununu showed off some of the mementos in his office, including a Navy Paddle, a duck call and an ancient Apple 2E computer, with the game Choplifter popping up on the screen right after it was booted up.
“It’s very cyber secure,” Sununu said. “No email on that thing.”
After the ceremony, Haydin said she tries to donate food whenever she can, including placing extra items at bins at the grocery store.
A student at Bicentennial Elementary School in Nashua, Jordan Sseguya, 11, wants to use his platform to bring awareness to the dangers of smoking and vaping, an issue he found out about from his 14-year-old brother.
“My brother told me a story that every day or every week there are kids in the bathrooms at his high school smoking and vaping and trying to get other kids to do it,” Jordan said.
He plans to create a Google Classroom where students can go to find out more information.
The Kid Governor program is led by NH Civics and New Hampshire Institute of Politics with support from the New Hampshire State House and Department of Education.