Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who Inspires You?

This week, our theme is, “Who Inspires You?” I knew that, so I don’t know why it came as a surprise to me that at our opening staff meeting, we were asked to briefly speak about a woman that inspires us. The first to respond was Director Trish Ward and then we went through the rest of the staff. Fortunately, I was more than halfway around the circle so I had time to think…and my mind started racing. Should I go with a family member or with a famous person? Who would be a unique enough response that I wouldn’t be repeating the others?

As the first few staff members spoke, I didn’t know who to mention as my source of inspiration. Maybe I should pull out a safe response from history. That could work, right? Should I say I am inspired by Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister in Great Britain? Regardless of whether or not one likes her policy choices, she was a very powerful and important woman and she defied many of the traditions of her time, regardless of what men, or other women, said about her. Not to mention, she is the one who once said that in politics, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” How can a young lady not be inspired by that?!

But maybe someone else in the group would talk about Thatcher…who else could I pull from history that others might not mention? Oh, I could say I am inspired by Abigail Adams, First Lady to our second president. As we have learned from her letters, she was a strong supporter of women’s rights and wrote against slavery and racism. Eleanor Roosevelt? Margaret Chase Smith? So many choices!!

A lot of staff members mentioned they are inspired by their grandmothers, mothers and sisters. I am too, and could stand up to talk about my mom. Should I do that? My mom, who did not go to college herself, recognized the importance of education and instilled a thirst for knowledge in each of her four kids. All of us excelled in school, attended private colleges, and all four of us hold graduate degrees. Even when money was tight, we were always fed, clothed and happy. My parents have been married for 43 years this year, and that is also an inspiration for me when I think about my own future. But so many others said their mom, and I still wanted to be unique.

But maybe, I should stand up and talk about my sister? She is seven years older than I, and I have always looked up to her. Kelly serves as an Assistant Dean for the School of Pharmacy at her university. She works full time, but also has three children. Somehow she finds a way to balance her workload with taking care of her family, being active in the church, and offering advice to me, her baby sister, whenever I need it. Kelly is an amazing mom, a great dean, and the world’s best sister. She inspires me more than she probably will ever realize.

Or perhaps I should talk about someone in the American Legion Auxiliary who inspires me? I first met Ilene Bailey when I was a delegate to Hoosier Girls State. She was Government Director that year and, prior to her retirement this year, she served 45 years on HGS staff. As a junior in high school I could see how important she was to the HGS program, and serving alongside of her on staff for 12 years, I realized how important the program was to her. Although I doubt I will have that many years on staff, I understand the importance of giving back to the program that had a tremendous influence on my life. Or, I could talk about Vickie and Jane who were, when I first met them, my party leaders, but who are now the Director and Government Director at HGS respectively. Both of these ladies have become a part of my family and I look up to them and they inspire me to excel and serve.

Or maybe I should tell my fellow staff members how much they inspire me. We have so many people who are dedicated to the Auxiliary and to their Girls States programs. There are staff members who have been planning this year’s Girls Nation since the last session ended. We have eight junior counselors whose enthusiasm is frankly a little overwhelming, but certainly contagious. We have a PR staff that inspires us to laugh, have fun, and to eat ice cream. We have senior counselors that inspire me to remember why we serve. Our director has a vision for a Girls Nation program unlike any other from the past 67 years. My fellow government team inspires me to stay on top of things and believe in myself – and remind me that sometimes we need to “do something death defying.” My fellow turtles are fun to work with and inspire me daily.

Oh no - My time was running out and I still didn’t know who to mention as my source of inspiration. Maybe I should mention my students? I teach in Kansas City, MO, and I have a lot of non-traditional students. I am constantly inspired by the veterans and the single parents who are returning to school to get degrees. I have had a student who was formerly homeless, one who was sexually abused as a young girl, a domestic abuse survivor and so many more other situations that I cannot comprehend. Yet, they sit before me, eager to learn about how government works, and how to make a positive change in their world.

By the time it was my turn to speak, I was overwhelmed. I can’t remember what I said aloud that day, but I do remember feeling so thankful that I have so many points of inspiration in my life. And, the list of who inspires me has grown. All week I have seen, from among our 98 senators, young ladies who are incredible. From my vantage point on the stage at Senate, I have seen many of these ladies grow. Your questions, your debate, your conversations on the bus or in the lunch room…do you realize how unique you are in this world?

It has been a pleasure serving this week and I want to thank everyone for being such an inspiration!

Government in a half shell!

Katie Cochran

Friday, July 25, 2014

Government by the Numbers: Part 2

For those of you who enjoyed the Government by the Numbers blog…here are a few more numbers to share with you.

2014 Bills passed: 8
2014 Resolutions passed: 4
Number of senators who spoke on the floor this year at Girls Nation: 98 (every last one!!!)
Number of ice cream cones the PR staff actually ate this week: >47 and counting
Number of steps Jane, Kelly, and Katie walked on Capitol Hill Day (as per a pedometer): 22,080 steps!
Estimated number of miles that means we trekked: 9.48 miles
Estimated number of calories burned that day: 2,230 calories
Number of exhausted government staff members: 4

Government in a Half Shell! Voting Power!
Katie Cochran
Indiana / Missouri

The Nationalist Administration of ALA Girls Nation 2014

The votes have been cast. The tallies have been marked. The results have been announced. So now let us take the opportunity to dive a little deeper into the platform of our new fearless leaders.

First we look to education and recognize, to paraphrase Vice President Ogechi, that not all paths to success are the same. The Nationalist party sees the truth in these words and promotes vocational training as well as a decreased dependency on standardized test scores for school funding. It is not fair or realistic to ask students of varying backgrounds and socioeconomic standings to reach identical results in identical time frames without identical opportunity for learning both within and without the physical walls of the schoolroom as our president stated in her whistle stops.

Many of our senators, Federalist and Nationalist alike, come from agriculturally dependent states and, on occasion, families. For them we tackle the "big-small" issues head on. By big-small I mean big issues about physically small things. The Nationalist party will strive to educate their constituents on GMOs, protecting farm resources, and provide small farmers protection from search by large corporations.

The economic plank of our platform extends not only to opportunities at home but abroad as well. Steps will be taken to invest in the productive capacity of America and in that same stride we aim to create tax incentive structures so all start-up ventures can continue their innovation for years to come. Looking beyond our own borders our goals are to continue in the building of trade relationships with a desire for economic growth for our allies as well as ourselves in mind. The expansion of our own power generation capabilities will be accompanied by the lifting of the crude oil export ban in order to strengthen our energy sector and encourage future investments.

In continuing with the international theme presented in our Economic section the Nationalist Party moved focus to Foreign Policy. Our party has a strong and definitive position that nonintervention should be the first course of action. This would promote multilateral foreign policy efforts over unilateralism. Funds will be extended to bolster humanitarian aid in conflict zones and in post-conflict zones creating "administrative infrastructures, justice systems, and overall stability." At this juncture Economics and Foreign Policy cross. International economic development will be facilitated to decrease illicit activity and increase foreign investment.

Finally we reach the environment which is the final brick to be laid or rather plank to be platformed as the present situation commands. The movement for green energy and fewer emissions will be led by tax incentives for companies that elect to reduce emissions and for innovative manufacturers of green energy. We will look to the future with investment in renewable energy and the prohibition of oil drilling in National Parks and protected wild life areas to ensure that both our "Amber waves of grain" and "purple mountains majesty" will be here for generations to come. The Nationaliat party does stand in favor of the practice of hydraulic fracturing.

These five planks together form the 2014 Girls Nation Nationalist Party Platform. This week my faith in our generation has surged up. I feel so honored and blessed that you would all share your stories, convictions, and words with me. Congratulations to our newly elected dynamic duo President Sydney Roberts and Vice President Ogechi Obed. We know you will serve us well. Finally thank you Girls Nation Nationalists for allowing me the opportunity of chairing our our illustrious party. It has been the experience of a lifetime.


Hannah Moore
Nationalist Chairwoman

Potomac's perspective on Capitol Hill Day

Today we finally experienced one of the most anticipated days here at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation: Capitol Hill Day. For many Girls Nation senators, myself included, this is our first time in Washington D.C. To be able to have such a comprehensive and all-access trip to Capitol Hill is a blessing and more than what most of us would experience on our first trip to D.C.

Not only were we graciously given the chance to have personal meetings with our Senators, Representatives, and their staff, many Girls Nation senators were granted special access to restricted areas of the Capitol. Tennessee Girls Nation senator Rebekah Ninan said, "Our senator, Bob Corker, wasn’t available to meet with us as long as he wanted to, but with the wave of a hand he got us a tour of the Capitol!" Other Girls Nation senators spent their time after their Senator appointments touring Smithsonian museums and the Botanical Garden or getting cards at the Library of Congress.

After all of the fun, the inauguration ceremony was held. Senior Counselor Sandra Rice presided over the swearing in of Girls Nation President Sydney Roberts and Vice President Ogechi Obed; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mara Tazartus, and her eight fellow justices. The ceremony was concluded with a speech given by U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota that cannot be described as anything less than inspiring. Heitkamp told us, "You are too young to give up on your dreams. You are too young to give up."

The day was finished by a productive and encouraging senate session presided over by both Vice President Obed as well as President Pro Tem Julia Nusgart, where debate topics included net neutrality, equal pay, and recycling. It was a long day, but one full of learning, fun, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Mary Celeste Floreani, Texas

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chevy Chase: The Change Begins With You

“Who inspires you?” This is the theme of Girls Nation 2014, and the events of this Tuesday have provided us with a plethora of new answers to this question.

Our first inspirations came in the morning, with the election of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. Overall, 38 extremely qualified young women ran for these positions, presenting speeches and answering difficult questions. Their speeches and responses collectively testified to the diversity of talent and passion we have here at Girls Nation. While many of us have common interests–government, politics, and public speaking among them–we are at the same time extremely unique, with our own gifts and talents, ideas and opinions. It was simply amazing to see so many girls have the courage to try out for such high offices, and even more amazing to hear what they had to say. Thank you to all who ran, and congratulations to our four final candidates–you are all truly inspiring.

Later in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit the United States National Holocaust Museum. While “inspiration” is certainly a word that comes to mind, we also walked away with newfound compassion, understanding, and hope. Having previously known about the tragic events of the Holocaust, going in we thought we had a general idea of what to expect. The reality of the experience surpassed all expectations. History textbooks could never have the same impact as a room full of victims’ shoes; school lectures could never convey the feeling of walking through a train car that dropped off individuals at concentration camps; writing essays could never compare to actual artifacts and to picture after haunting picture. “The change begins with you” was a phrase found throughout the museum, reminding visitors that we must work to fight against hatred, prejudice, and ignorance, to ensure that a horrible tragedy like the Holocaust will never happen again. We honor the victims, the survivors, and those who risked their own lives to help other people. May we always have the courage to stand up against injustice, and to stand with the oppressed.

Finally, after returning to campus, Girls Nation was honored with a visit from holocaust survivor, Nesse Godin. You could hear a pin drop in the large auditorium, as Nesse described her experiences in Nazi controlled Lithuania and work camps. As she concluded her remarks, Nesse reminded the senators: “We cannot change what was, but we can change what is and what will be.” Nesse inspired every senator and staff member in attendance to never forget the horrors of the holocaust, and to vigilantly stand guard against discrimination, persecution, and hatred.

Senator Margaux Fontaine, RI

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“Are you hungry?” - Reflections from Walter Reed

Although these may seem like three simple words, the conversation that followed that simple question will forever leave an impact on my life. As Dean of Junior Counselors at ALA Girls Nation, this is my third year of participation in not only Girls Nation, but also the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Picnic. However, Monday night was unlike any other picnic I have ever attended.

As a staff member, my purpose at GN is to enhance and stimulate the experience of each senator. While at Walter Reed, this meant keeping an eye on the senators and allowing each one of them to interact with a wounded warrior. I saw a young man walking by the courtyard, whose eyes gazed to the sea of red polos that engulfed the area. When our eyes locked, I asked him, “Are you hungry?” Similar to most males, he quickly replied, “Of course, I’m always hungry for good barbeque.” As he walked closer, he asked if I would join him for dinner, so I complied. When we had made our way through the food line, we found two empty seats near the doors of the medical facility across the cobblestone road. As we ate dinner and discussed hobbies, interests, family, and school, I finally felt comfortable enough with the young man to ask him his age. When he replied with the age of 19, I was in absolute shock. There I sat, a twenty-year-old young woman feeling like I was in the prime of my life, and there was Patrick. Patrick was not only a young man, but he was a patriot who has dedicated his life to defending the very freedom I enjoy every single day of my life. He had a spirit that could ignite a light within anyone’s soul.

When the senators began their performance of the Armed Forces Medley, the conversation fell silent between Patrick and I while they sang. After the song had ended, I looked to Patrick and I saw the strong young warrior was filled with pride, seriousness and emotion. He proceeded to ask if our group would be returning the following day, and when I told him no, he seemed to be disappointed. After the senators sang, he asked me all types of questions about the week, my experience at GN, but perhaps most intriguing, Patrick asked me why I continue to return to Girls Nation. Although the young man asked this question out of genuine curiosity, he will never realize the impact his question made on my life.

When I think about the reasoning behind leaving my home state of Oklahoma for 10 days, hopping on a plane (only to get stranded at the airport), spending a week sleep deprived, and worrying about the safety of 98 girls, I know that I (and all other staff members) sound just a bit crazy. However, when Patrick asked me this question, I was forced to dig deep and look for the real answer. I realized that I return to ALA Girls Nation because of the senators. As a Junior Counselor, I have the unique opportunity to watch each girl grow and mature into an empowered young woman in just seven short days. I have the chance to interact with each and every senator that comes to ALA Girls Nation, and watch their lives be changed by the American Legion Auxiliary.

Patrick will never realize the impact he had on my life during our 30-minute conversation, but he left footprints on my heart. He taught me to live each day to the fullest, to never forget where I came from, laugh everyday, and always live with a smile on your face and love in your heart.

Jessie Heidlage (OK), Dean of Junior Counselors

A Perspective on Monday at ALA Girls Nation from the Community of Foggy Bottom

With the rise of the sun, the staff members and ninety-eight sleepy senators began a new day at Girls Nation. Opening with the daily flag raising ceremony, the senators were buzzing with anticipation about the day ahead of us. We started the day by taking the official 2014 Girls Nation picture. Each pair of senators was given a sign displaying the name of their respective state. Excitement was evident among the gleaming smiles of every senator in the photo with many of them describing the experience of holding their state’s sign as one of absolute pride and triumph.

Following a scrumptious breakfast, we divided into our two parties, Nationalists and Federalists, and continued working on the committees regarding our party’s platform, theme, campaign and conventions. With innumerable different upbringings and perspectives from all throughout the country, many girls explained these committees as a testament to bipartisanship that truly displayed the success that comes through compromise. Senators enjoyed creating planks for their party platform, decorations for their party rallies as well as skits and cheers designed to promote their candidates.

After learning about many aspects of our nation’s federal government, we all boarded the bus and drove to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to enjoy a barbeque with some of our country’s wounded warriors. During the bus ride, we sang funny little songs about bananas and burritos to entertain ourselves while we waited to arrive. While at Walter Reed, senators were able to interact and connect with some of the bravest men and women in our country and their families. Many of these veterans are young parents so we were also given the opportunity to entertain their young children. Girls Nation senators conducted activities including patriotic face painting, bean bag toss games, sand art and applying temporary tattoos. Conversing with the patients at Walter Reed really opened the eyes of many of us to how amazing our armed forces truly are. We came to realize that these people are such a blessing to our entire nation; the sacrifices they made are the ones that ensure our freedom every day. Additionally, it was incredibly moving to see how much our visit affected the men and women of the hospital. We sang many patriotic tunes for the veterans including the Tribute to Our Armed Forces. Singing this song was so impactful for many girls because we could see the joy it elicited when an individual heard the song for his or her branch of the military. Overall, it was an amazing experience to meet the real life heroes we hear about each day but never get to see; it made us realize how similar these people are to us and how human they truly are.

Today also marked the day of the first official session of Girls Nation Senate. We discussed three different bills and one resolution that covered many different topics including employment, congressional representation and foreign affairs. Although all of the girls here at Girls Nation know a bit about parliamentary procedure from their experiences earlier this summer, everyone’s knowledge of the topic varies since every Girls State program is run differently. The confusion that occurred today on the Senate floor acted as a driving force that united Girls Nation since everyone there was learning together. Girls were a bit nervous about speaking and debating during the Senate session but many of them joined the discussion with well-written bills and eloquent speeches. One girl even described the Senate as a culture shock because she had never been “surrounded by so much brilliance in a single room.”

Overall, it was an engaging, educational and enlightening day. It seems unlikely but somehow Girls Nation has provided us with once in a lifetime experiences and deep friendships that typically take years to acquire in a matter of days. We would like to thank the extraordinary women of the American Legion Auxiliary who made this program possible and provided us with such an amazing opportunity.

Maddy Ducharme, CA
Foggy Bottom