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STARKVILLE, Miss. — Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, challenged participants in the 2014 American Legion Boys State to work hard and make wise choices when she spoke Thursday [May 29] at Mississippi State University.

“Farmers are some of the most resilient people around. They are good businessmen and women with positive attitudes,” she said.

Hyde-Smith told the 380 Boys State participants about visiting a Winston County poultry farmer. His family had the foresight to install a storm shelter and take cover in it three minutes before the April 28 tornado demolished their house and poultry barns.

“As soon as the farmer came out of the shelter, he started cleaning up and getting ready to rebuild,” she said.

“Never stop applying yourself. If you are the smartest one in the room, you are in the wrong room,” she said. “Be courageous. Step out of your comfort zone. There is nothing wrong with failing. A master has failed more times than a beginner has tried.”

Hyde-Smith added that wise choices have long-term implications. For example, poor decisions about postings on social media sites may never go away. She warned the teens that “employers are watching.”

Hyde-Smith became the first woman to be elected Mississippi’s commissioner of agriculture and commerce in 2011 after serving 12 years in the Mississippi State Senate. As a state senator, she was an advocate for Mississippi farmers, serving as the chairman of the Agriculture Committee for eight years and as a member of numerous other committees.

“I’ve got the best job in government,” said the state’s leading advocate for agriculture.

Hyde-Smith recently gained insight into the national challenge of immigration. She joined other agricultural commissioners for a meeting in Texas and toured the border area.

“I knew a little about the challenges, but this gave me the opportunity to see it firsthand. They told me that they had detained 1,400 illegals just the night before and pulled seven bodies from the Rio Grande River. The next challenge would be to process them back out of the country,” she said. “This is an important national issue that we must address.”

Hyde-Smith concisely explained her platform on immigration.

“I support the legal way to get here and the legal way to send (illegals) back,” she said.

The commissioner took questions from the audience covering topics such as negative campaigns, immigration, discrimination, water shortages and fire ants.

Johnathon Gage of Picayune was elected the Boys State Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce. He said the business aspect motivated him to run for that office. Like Hyde-Smith, who owns her own farm and stockyard in Lincoln County, Gage is a business owner.

“I have a grass cutting business, taking care of 10 two-acre yards,” he explained. “That was one reason I asked her about fire ant control.”

Gage, the son of an active duty member of the U.S. Coast Guard, said he hopes to attend either the Coast Guard Academy or Naval Academy.

MSU was selected in 2013 as the host campus through 2015 for Mississippi’s American Legion Boys State. Boys State teaches upcoming high school seniors how government works and helps them develop leadership skills and nurture an appreciation for the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

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