09/13/2014 07:36 EDT | Updated 11/13/2014 05:59 EST

Prince Edward shakes hands with 87 Duke of Edinburgh award winners at B.C. ceremony

VICTORIA - His Royal Highness Prince Edward Earl of Wessex told a ballroom full of young people on Saturday they earned the right to walk a little taller after successfully completing a journey that millions attempt but relatively few complete.

He shook hands with 87 young high achievers as he handed out the Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Award during a ceremony at Government House.

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award dates back to 1956 when it was established by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Its aim is to help young people develop a sense of responsibility to themselves and their communities through self-reliance, perseverance and responsibility.

The concept of the award is individual challenge and runs in more than 140 countries and has attracted eight million participants. The award started in Canada in 1964 and is open to people between the ages of 14 and 24.

"You have stretched yourselves in ways that have perhaps surprised yourselves and others, and you've stepped outside that comfort zone, and as a result you've come through feeling much more confident about your own abilities and what you can do, which will serve you in good stead in the future," the Earl of Wessex said. "I wish you the very best of luck in all of that, and, once again, congratulations."

The 18-month program saw some of the youth award winners challenge themselves in ways they never would have considered, including humanitarian work in Senegal, volunteering at a haunted house and achieving black belts in martial arts.

Award winner Sukhdeep Brar of Abbotsford, B.C., said she confronted her lifelong fears of speaking in public and during the program turned herself into an accomplished speaker and a student politician.

"Our world needs youth leaders to take on global challenges," she said.

Brar said the program also challenged her physically, leading her to endure 16-hour hikes across glaciers and complete the Great Wall of China marathon, which consists primarily of running up stairs for more than 40 kilometres.

The Earl of Wessex said the award winners are members of a select company of people who have successfully completed the program and they should consider themselves special.

"When you walk out of the room a bit later today just walk a few inches taller," he said. "Just feel a little bit proud of what you've actually managed to achieve. Well done."

The Earl of Wessex thanked Songhees First Nation Chief Robert Sam for welcoming him to his traditional aboriginal territory in Victoria by welcoming him to his mother's house. Queen Elizabeth and all other royals stay at Government House when in Victoria.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex, Sophie, are on a five-day working visit to B.C. that takes them to Vancouver Island, Vancouver and West Kelowna.