Friday, July 31, 2015

Reflections from Potomac

It’s 7 a.m. and all of the ants in Potomac are running around trying to assemble the perfect accessories to go along with our American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation uniforms. Today, Thursday, is the most important day of the week to us all; the day we meet President Barack Obama and it was our awesome Junior Counselor Hayley Lund’s birthday.

The day was filled with multiple emotions. It started with exhaustion and continued with anticipation. By the time we finally had the opportunity to meet the president; the room was filled with elation. Some girls broke into tears, others were numb with shock.

It seems as though the weather reflected our emotions during the day. Before our White House visit we were stressed, not only because we were meeting the president, but because of campaigns, speeches, and lack of sleep. After meeting President Obama, Washington D.C. was met with a torrential downpour. It seemed symbolic of our emotions. The rain washed away our tensions and stress, and led us into another portion of our lives.

The sun shined before our meeting, but the seemingly deliberate rain reminded us of understanding. Today we had the unique opportunity to see the human that stands behind the politics of America. He was kind, funny, and warm as he stood before us and asked, “so, how’s everything?” Whether or not we all support his policies, every girl here could agree that meeting Obama is one of the coolest things we’ve ever had the privilege to do.

We express our thanks to the White House staff, Verna Jones of the D.C. American Legion offices, and the American Legion Auxiliary. We are infinitely grateful for these rare opportunities we have been afforded and we cannot wait to bring this new found passion, joy, and knowledge back to our own communities.

We rushed back onto the buses with smiles on our faces, some with tears in their eyes, and notified everyone at home via phone calls and social media. We shared our joy with those we love.
Coming back to the 4-H Center on a high, the Potomac girls had flag-lowering duty, which we all enjoyed so much that we would love to do it one more time. After doing community activities together, we find that we love each other more and more.

The Senate sessions remain hectic and stressful, but necessary for all of us to attain the skills to share and defend our ideas. As our last day approaches, we don’t want to leave. We will cherish these last moments together and urge all of the other communities to do the same.

With Love,

Potomac


Thursday, July 30, 2015

ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation: Life Changing Experiences


There are not many opportunities given in life to meet one’s role models. When the summer began, I had a neatly laid out AP Lit summer reading schedule and a plan to attend American Legion Auxiliary Badger Girls State. A month and a half later, I sat, pen poised and shaking above a blank sheet of paper, with the ability to address an all but unreachable figure who I wholly admire.

I hadn’t really been interested in politics before I attended ALA Girls State. I was sure that I was going to be a scientist, and that work in medical research would consume my life and passion. I thought that this was how I could best foster a positive and permanent change in the world around me. Although I will never give up on this dream, I have realized that I was perhaps going about planning my life the wrong way. I still plan to major in biochemistry and go on to research cancer, but what I didn’t realize is that I should also plan to be socially and politically active. As a citizen of America I have a duty to my country to serve it in each capacity I can and to the best of my ability. It isn’t enough for me to be a researcher on the cutting edge anymore. I now know that I would like to perhaps serve on a school board or lobby for underprivileged groups. The long and short of it is that I went into ALA Girls State as one person and I came out as another.

Several weeks after I returned home from ALA Girls State, I saw a speech Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) gave to a group of graduating community college students. Her message was that sometimes the fight in life is hard, but if there are things that are wrong, things that we as humans want to change or fight for, we must, even, and especially if, it appears we will lose. The next day I read article after article about the orator that had ignited my mind. The more I read the more I grew to respect this woman that I had never met and probably would never meet. I saw her desire to make a change in her world and it was this that I admired most as it is the dream I hold most dearly for my own future. Although I was thrilled at the prospect of spending a day at Capitol Hill with ALA Girls Nation and of meeting my senators, I was sad that I would be so close to this hardworking revolutionary I so admired and have no opportunity to tell her what she had grown to mean to me over the past month.

I’ve come to the point in this particular anecdote where my pen rested above this stubborn blank piece of white paper. I had decided that with nothing to lose I would find Senator Warren’s office and try to find some way of conveying to her what her battles in life and on the hill had meant to me. How much her desire to stay in the Senate over running for president for the reason of being able to enact more positive change in her world made me reevaluate my own impressions of the world, coming out with the understanding that the opportunity to make a difference is the most important thing in this world even if one will not receive any great prestige or honor for one’s pains. When I nervously asked her secretary if I could write Senator Warren a note, I had hardly considered that she would say yes. I was now faced with an understandable dilemma. One never expects to meet their idols so one never has a speech prepared. How could I sum up in the span of one note the change that had been worked in me by ALA Girls State and its intended recipient’s words? What I wrote on that paper may not be on par with the works of Shakespeare, but I had the opportunity to truly thank someone I had never met, and probably never will, for an influence that she had never known she had had.

I considered something about the world today. I was fortunate enough to receive the opportunity to honestly thank someone that had influenced me. The recipient of my gratitude, however, doesn’t even know who I am. It made me think about what kind of impact some of our actions might have. While I absorbed the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren, it would have been just as easy for someone else to listen to the words that come out of my mouth. What we say matters because we never know who might hear. Each word is important because they do not merely die on the air when they leave our mouths, but they are reflected upon in the thoughts of someone else. ALA Girls Nation teaches that everyone has the power to change their world if only they reach out and try. However, we can also influence the personal worlds of others with our own thoughts and actions without trying at all. I’m reminded of the lyrics to the folk song “One of Us” by Heather Dale. The singer reflects on a woman she met when she first joined the military. Even though they never spoke face-to-face this stranger became her inspiration for fighting. The last verse of the song says, “So as I gather armor, bits and pieces here and there, I think about examples, how you act and what you dare, for you never know who’s watching or how far that story goes. Well, wherever that lady is I hope she knows.” 

We never know who we might reach with our words, our thoughts, and our actions. I believe that because of this we should truly think about what we say and what we do. We are important examples to and influences on the people around us and those around us in the world are equally important influences on our own lives. I challenge you to think about the person who influences you and whether or not he or she knows what their words and actions have met. Do you have the courage to tell them?

Breelyn Karno, Wisconsin
Georgetown

 

An Experience on Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill. The place where the business of Washington takes place. It is here that monumental decisions are made that will go down in the history books of our great country. Today, I was lucky enough to meet the staff of the U.S. Senators from Florida, explore the Supreme Court and the Capitol building, and even ride the underground tram that only employees can use!
I started the day speed walking to the Hart building with more excitement than I have ever experienced.  The secretaries who greeted me when my fellow Floridian ALA Girls Nation senator, Isabella Braga, and I walked in were two of the most polite people I have ever encountered. Speaking with Senator Nelson’s legislative aid, Ashley Tighe, taught me that although it may seem like the senators are superheroes who have enough time to debate and research, they are actually just the head of a large team of incredibly intelligent people who work together for the betterment of our country. I was blown away by the amount of behind-the-scenes work that takes place every day, but isn’t talked about in the media. It was also shocking to me when I learned that the staff members from Marco Rubio’s office and Bill Nelson’s office didn’t see themselves becoming a senator themselves. Both Ms. Tighe and Mr. Sutton were happy doing the behind-the-scenes work because there was less pressure and they played a huge role in creating policy and preparing the senators. 

Although I was amazed at the people I met, I was speechless at the architecture I saw in the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the Capitol Building. I can’t even comprehend how the buildings stay standing with the enormous amount of marble that was used to build them! The rainbow of colors I saw on the floors, ceiling, and walls were vibrant and the extreme detail used in the carvings were inspiring.  The Library of Congress was definitely the most extravagant and it also had my favorite gift shop as I am an avid reader! I wish I could spend a whole week exploring the National Mall and I cannot wait to come back. 

In case you don’t know, we have been getting around five to six hours of sleep each night and we are all absolutely exhausted! However, I find myself wide-awake tonight as I write this as I am just busting with excitement for our visit to the White House tomorrow! It was confirmed that Mr. President is going to see us so I am praying that nothing goes wrong that would prevent him from getting to meet all of us. It would be a dream come true to meet him, shake his hand, and hopefully hug him! 


~Haley Tabor, Florida
Georgetown


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Day of Work and Inspiration


Finally, the bills have hit the floor! Yesterday the first legislative session occurred and we began debating bills and resolutions. Two bills have been introduced so far and one has been passed. One resolution was also passed. We are anticipating each party will strive to be their very best as we move forward. The pace at ALA Girls Nation moves so quickly. Combined with all of the amazing opportunities to explore Washington, D.C., the girls are working morning to night and doing a great job adjusting to the fast pace of the week.
“Never again.” We had the opportunity to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Behind the doors we viewed something that you cannot find in a history book, or learn online. The emotions we felt as we viewed rooms filled with artifacts, pictures, and stories of survivors and those who died in this tragedy were beyond compare. In the evening, we had the unique opportunity to listen to a Holocaust survivor’s miraculous story. Nesse Godin’s story included tales of neighbors that refused to help her, time spent eating only bread and water, life in a labor camp and what it was like to go on a death march. Nesse, her mother and brother all survived the Holocaust; however her father was killed in a selection.
It would be easy for someone who endured so much tragedy and pain to become bitter and angry. She shared how at first she was filled with anger, but that it was her mother who reminded her that Hitler wanted her angry. She told Nesse that she was entitled to a life and that she should enjoy all the best life can offer her, and let the best of herself give back to life. Give back to life is exactly what Nesse has done for the last 20+ years. Nesse volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and shares her experiences with groups like the ALA Girls Nation program. Nesse Godin taught us we have an obligation to humanity to show compassion and empathy for those in need. She encouraged us to support our neighbors and offer help to those in need regardless of whether or not it affects us. Her inspirational story is one that will remain in our hearts forever. To read more on Nesse’s story, see her article in the American Legion Auxiliary’s magazine here:  http://mydigimag.rrd.com/publication/?i=242895 .

~Foggy Bottom



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ALA Girls Nation Senators Support and Empower


As hundreds of suitcase wheels and ballet flats scraped the pavement last Saturday morning, the humid air gave a warm welcoming to ninety-nine teenage female senators arriving to begin their life changing week in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Earlier that morning, the Baltimore airport was flourishing with bright-spirited young ladies from all over this nation; from the tall Pines of Washington state, to the palm trees of Florida.


An amazing opportunity has been presented to the ninety-nine young women this summer. Here at ALA Girls Nation these women gather to create a mock senate. Elections, campaigns, legislations, and memories have already been created this week. Two senators from each state, plus a guest representative from the District of Columbia, have been selected as the nations’ top women leaders. ALA Girls Nation brings forth the strengths of these leaders while also recognizing their weaknesses through multiple learning experiences. This program’s overall objective is to shape our future women leaders of America and improve their political skills and maturity level.

Amazing field trips have been included in this summer program so far such as visiting the Arlington Cemetery and our nation’s capital. This is not your average high school field trip; we are learning through hands-on experience rather than skimming the pages of a textbook. Arlington gave us an image of the tolls of freedom, and provided them inspiration to support and respect the dedicated servicemembers of our country.

Not only are we thoroughly supported, but also empowered by our fellow women senators. As senators campaign, encouragement fills the hallways of the 4-H Center, encouraging women to be bold and courageous. How will this diverse group of females apply their newly polished life skills to the rest of the week and the rest of their lives? We shall see. 
   

~Chevy Chase

Monday, July 27, 2015

Alexandria: 21 steps, 21 seconds, 21 seconds, 21 steps

Click. Click. Click. A member of the Old Guard paces down and back in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 21 steps, 21 seconds, 21 seconds, 21 steps. As the honor guard paces in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Eternal Flame burns at John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, a sea of red polos washed over the cemetery. Four girls (Emily Demsetz, Breelyn Karno, MaKennah Little, and Charley Planteen) had the honor of laying a poppy wreath at the tomb of “An American Soldier Known but to God,” while the rest of the senators watched in silence. After a beautiful patriotic ceremony in the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater our group was taken by tram to tour the Women for Military Service for America Memorial, a tribute to service women from all time periods. Because of this powerful trip to Arlington, we have learned that freedom is NOT free. Arlington National Cemetery was just a glimpse at the amount of service men and women who have died fighting for our freedom.

After an awe-inspiring, busy morning the senators were all business when it came to party meetings, senate sessions, and election procedures. Winning officials included Annabelle Roth (Federalist Party Chair), Kaylene Khosla (Nationalist Party Chair), Ruiqi Chen (President Pro Tem), Kelsey Vita (Chaplain), Renee Ermer (Senate Secretary), Brianna Turner (Senate Assistant Secretary), Erin Battaglia (Senate Reporter), Kate Shooshan (Sergeant-at-Arms), and Lora Delahunt (Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms). Congratulations to all who got elected and amazing job to all who ran.

This day has showed us a glimpse at what we can expect for the rest of the week. We look forward to the different experiences that will be offered. Do not take any of this for granted. Have a good week, Senators! Let’s show D.C. what ALA Girls Nation is all about!


~Alexandria Community


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Wally Experiences Tours and Traditions

It’s Day 2 for the senators in Washington, D.C. We started out with a beautiful and solemn tribute to fallen servicemembers at Arlington National Cemetery. Did you know there are more than 400,000 people buried there?! The land used to be General Robert E. Lee’s home, thanks to his wife Mary Custer, but they left it when Lee joined the Confederate Army. The Union Army later took this land to bury their dead, which I’m sure didn’t make Lee too happy.

After our tour, the senators had the privilege of laying the poppy wreath they made at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You have to be very quiet and show your utmost respect to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, yet were never identified. The guards have a very regimented routine of 21 steps in each direction, which alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary. The guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. Can you imagine doing that during a storm?! That’s major dedication!

After our Patriotic Service in the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, we returned to our temporary home for the start of Senate. I did some light reading and learned all about something called Robert’s Rules of Order. I’ve been told that following these rules can avoid embarrassment, hard feelings, and possibly even legal troubles. Madam President, I rise to a point of order! 

I continue to meet so many wonderful young ladies. The girls here are so smart and talented. They enjoy taking pictures with me, but I think I like it more than they do. Keep watching to find out what tomorrow’s adventures will bring. I have a feeling I’ll get the chance to finally debate my bill!

XO
~Wally