Gov. Henry McMaster bestowed the prestigious South Carolina Order of the Palmetto on Nov. 8 to Wes Hayes, board chair of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, in honor of Hayes' commitment to public service through decades of exceptional leadership within the state.
Hayes, a native of Rock Hill and a graduate of the United States Military Academy, has dedicated his life to both military and civilian service. The Order of the Palmetto is the highest civilian honor awarded by the state and highlights Hayes’ commitment to the betterment of South Carolina.
"Commissioner Hayes has been a steadfast advocate for higher education in South Carolina and his leadership at the CHE has been instrumental in shaping policies that promote access, affordability and excellence at our institutions of higher learning. This well-deserved honor reflects the profound impact of his contributions to our state as well as our organization," said Rusty L. Monhollon, Ph.D., President and Executive Director of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education. “Chair Hayes has steered the board through dynamic challenges and opportunities, working towards a stronger and more collaborative higher education system for all South Carolinians. His legacy will undoubtedly continue to inspire future leaders in the realm of education and public service.”
Hayes’ journey in public service began with distinguished roles in the United States Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and the South Carolina Army National Guard. After completing his legal education at the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he served as the president of the Student Bar Association, Hayes established his own law office, Wes Hayes Law Office.
In 1984, Hayes entered the realm of politics and was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he served with distinction for seven years. His reputation for leadership and commitment to public service led to his election to the state Senate in 1991, a position he held until 2016. Throughout his Senatorial tenure, Hayes played pivotal roles in the education and finance committees, shaping policies that would have a lasting impact on the state's higher education landscape.
Hayes' dedication extends beyond the realm of politics, as evidenced by his active involvement in various civilian organizations. He has served as the chairman or president of esteemed organizations such as the York County Red Cross, the York District Boy Scouts of America, the Rock Hill United Way Campaign, and the Palmetto Council Boy Scouts of America. His extensive engagement in both military and civilian spheres has left an indelible mark on the community.