If you met him today, “shy” isn’t a word you would use to describe Salomon Campos-Rice.
After all, as a mock trial team captain and former director of student government’s City Advocacy Commission, he’s no stranger to speaking up under pressure. Yet, this first-generation Carolina Scholar knows all too well how it feels to be voiceless.
“Growing up, it was tough for me to speak out in my community,” he explains. Campos-Rice is Hispanic, but he grew up in a non-Hispanic household in a small town in Tennessee where none of his friends or teachers could relate to his background. Rather than speaking up about his experiences, he spent years staying silent.
All of that changed when he moved to South Carolina for high school and accepted a volunteer position with the community organization Students First. The opportunity to advocate for changes in his school environment inspired him to speak up in a major way—and to encourage others to do the same.
“I realized that youth like myself were often overlooked and we weren’t equipped with what we needed to advocate for ourselves,” he explains. “From that moment on, I knew I wanted to focus my efforts on youth engagement.”
And he has. Today, he oversees the university’s lobbying agencies as student government’s secretary of government relations. He works closely with student leaders to help the group develop skills to be taken more seriously by officials from the local to the federal level. In his admittedly limited spare time, he returns home to Florence to support teen advocacy in conjunction with a political consulting firm.
But even among his impressive resume, his most recent experience stands out: this summer, Campos-Rice traveled to Austin, Texas to participate in a public service weekend with the Public Policy and International Affairs program.
It was a packed three-day experience, filled with panels, roundtables and reflections led by public officials. Meeting with a variety of students from around the country in a bipartisan setting was transformative. His face lights up as he describes the “one million things” he learned, from effective leadership to avoiding common pitfalls of policy issues to empowering, and truly listening to, diverse voices.
He still has a lot to learn, he admits, and he’s keeping an open mind about where his future might take him. But his undergraduate experiences have solidified his desire to serve the public and to help cultivate the next generation of student advocates.
“I've always wanted to leave any community I've joined in a better condition than I found it,” Campos-Rice explains. “Now, I know that this passion is the fundamental nature of public service, and I look forward to continuing to use the voice I struggled for years to find to serve others.”