Friday, July 29, 2016

Maryland Senator Realizes Her Potential at ALA Girls Nation

On Saturday, 100 girls arrived at the National 4-H Conference Center. We were told that we were the best of the best, and that made me nervous. I didn’t believe that I was particularly special, and I knew that every girl present had some sort of leadership or personal quality that I did not possess. I was worried that I would be eaten alive. Thankfully, I was wrong.
This week I have met kind young women all dedicated to changing the world. Not only were they all dedicated to change, but they were also dedicated to compromise and unity. Within our senate sessions, senators were able to put aside their differences to pass comprehensive legislation. Though we spent a large time in Senate, it was not the only thing we did. From the humbling experience of visiting Arlington National Cemetery — where we learned the true cost of freedom — to the work experience of talking to congressional staffers, this week has truly been unforgettable.
Though many of us were disappointed in our inability to visit the White House, we were all so grateful for the ALA Girls Nation staff’s efforts and our trip to the Thomas Jefferson, FDR, and the MLK Jr. Memorials instead. Traveling around with these girls all week has caused me to grow as a woman and it has truly changed my life. I really didn’t realize that I belonged until talent night when I sang “Rolling in the Deep” and my fellow senators, my friends, were singing and dancing along. This feeling of belonging followed me to the banquet and the subsequent dance party as I fought back tears thinking about saying goodbye to these girls who seem to understand who I am and who I want to be.
ALA Girls Nation has helped me realize that wanting to change the world isn’t a daunting dream. It is tangible, and I hope all my fellow senators feel the same.

Olivia Antigua, Maryland


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tuesday Reflections by Chevy Chase

Maya Angelou once famously said “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Today was chock full of said moments, from elections and participating in the Senate sessions to touring the Pentagon and 9/11 Memorial. Your red-eyed but revved-up Chevy Chase writers, Samantha Aloysius, Deirdre Duquette, and Meena Venkataramanan, bring to you Tuesday’s news.

Meena’s Party Update
As your Nationalist party chairman, I am truly honored to represent many of my fellow senators by giving them a voice and presiding over party meetings. Today, as both the Nationalists and Federalists exchanged secret handshakes and entered their party’s respective conventions, the senators were given the privilege of listening to wonderful speeches made by vice presidential and presidential nominee hopefuls. In the end, two amazing nominees were elected to represent each party, and the parties have united behind them to promote their platforms, both complete with hopeful cries of social justice, improved national security, and a focus on the environment. After the party convention, the Nationalists and Federalists sang bittersweet goodbyes to their official party caucuses, but came together to make decorations for their two-party rally, complete with skits, speeches, and cheers.

Sam’s Senate Report
In Senate sessions, we were able to engage in what can only be considered as the most constructive and respectful form of debate as we discussed the bills we have so painstakingly written. The level of eloquence from this group of young women is exemplary and should be lauded. Everything from the topic of presidential primaries to special interest groups in political campaigning to immigrant policy reform, your Senate session had it all. Things are moving much quicker now and parliamentary procedure has been adopted quite effectively by our ALA Girls Nation senators.

Deirdre’s Peek at the Pentagon
The ALA Girls Nation senators had the unique pleasure of visiting the Pentagon, as well as the beautiful and moving 9/11 Memorial. The experience really impacted many of our senators, and it was heartwarming to see the respect and loving bond between the girls as they viewed the memorial. The interior of the Pentagon was yet another pleasant surprise. While we did not see any secret service or aliens (unfortunately, today was Will Smith’s day off), we were shown around the building by our kind and humorous tour guides, who were decorated members of our country’s military. Senators learned much about the history of all branches of the military and our involvement in various conflicts. The Pentagon truly exceeded expectations, and the air conditioning helped too.

Meena Venkataramanan, Arizona
Sam Aloysius, New York
Deirdre Duquette, Massachusetts

Chevy Chase

Holocaust Survivor Nesse Godin Inspires Senators By Spreading Message of Love and Tolerance

Yesterday we had the privilege of listening to a very powerful and moving guest speaker. Nesse Godin is an 88-year-old Lithuanian-American Holocaust survivor who dedicated her life to spreading a message of love while educating about the repercussions of hateful intent.

To be able to listen to someone like Nesse tell her story is an unbelievable privilege that I will carry with me as I move through life. In Oregon, and my hometown of Roseburg especially, we have something called “Living History Day” where veterans come and tell us their stories. One man, Frank Moore, is a WWII veteran who continues to tour and tell his story. One story he told related to what Mrs. Godin was telling us. Frank told us about the Hitler Youth, who were between 13-17 years old, and they were trying to engage in combat with Frank’s troop. Frank, emotional as he recalls this, talks about how devastating it was to think that that was somebody’s child, someone’s brother, cousin, or nephew. Just as Nesse and the women she was with, it makes you step back and wonder — how could people do this to other human beings? Someone’s mother, sister, or daughter? Blind hate and ignorance never does anything but inspire fear that takes us backwards. We progress as a nation when we unite and we show each other love. We develop as people when we learn tolerance of other people’s beliefs, regardless if we agree. To be able to be a diverse people is one of the greatest gifts we are given, and it’s important that we nurture that gift with love and tolerance.

Dystini Schuster, Oregon


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Guest Speakers Inspire Senators with Lessons on Leadership

Today we had two effervescent speakers, Clifton Lewis of U.S. Vets and The American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett. Both emphasized leadership, teamwork, and transformative experiences in life. The combination of these three traits succinctly sums up our collective ALA Girls Nation experience. 

First, leadership. Dale Barnett said, "Your duty is to be leaders." What that means, however, is open to personal interpretation. This week, leadership opportunities range from heading party committees to presiding over ALA Girls Nation Senate to the coveted goals of performing presidential and vice presidential duties. The impact of this experience extends beyond just this week. The essential takeaway is the understanding that when we return to our communities and our schools we are capable of anything and everything. Hopefully, this inspires you to become a leader in your life back home and moving forward. 

Second, team work. Lewis stated, "One person can't change the world...collectively, we can change our community." Despite the seemingly individual aspect of leadership, teamwork is essential to any great leader. Presidents have cabinets. Campaigns have staff. Organizations and companies begin with a team of dedicated and diverse experts. A group of leaders and representatives, in a place like the Senate, can collectively change the community in which it serves. Here, we demonstrate that collective leadership changes lives, both in our model senate sessions and in the personal rapport we develop. As Lewis added, we need to "stay together as a team" because the connections we form this week will last a lifetime and provide opportunities currently unimaginable. 

Third, transformative experiences. To summarize Barnett, don't look for what's fun, look for what's challenging. The endeavors that make you better by the end are more worthy of undertaking. If ALA Girls Nation pushes you, all the better, and if you fear you're alone in this feeling, I can guarantee you are not. This week will test our stamina, courage, and mindfulness, yet we will walk away with greater endurance, bravery, and introspection.  

To attempt a new level of leadership while here will increase our self worth. To work together will create a lasting network. To grow the most from this experience will maximize our future potential. 

Reflecting on these three lessons from our charismatic speakers reminds me just how blessed we all are to be here in D.C. this week. 

Paige Lawrence, Kansas

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dean of Junior Counselors Turns Goodbyes into Giving Back

Sometimes we have to let go of the things we love most so that we still have fond memories when we leave them. I did speech throughout high school and it was my life. Graduating was the best and worst feeling because that meant no more late nights invested in writing a competitive speech. But, when I return to coach and judge for my high school, I realize that it was time for me to be on the other side of it. It was time for me to give back to an organization and team that set the stage for my career in public service. Now, as I humbly lead at ALA Girls Nation as dean of junior counselors, that time to say goodbye will come again at the end of the week.

Let’s just say Shakespeare could have written a tragedy about my initial attempt to run for positions at ALA Girls Nation. The first couple of days I felt as if I had failed ALA Cornhusker Girls State because I still had not held a position or stood out to my peers. The process was frustrating. Then, in the middle of a party caucus I lead a cheer, and I began to ask questions – a lot of questions. I sat by anyone on the bus and asked them about their states and their favorite part about the week. I grew. I subconsciously was evolving into the person I wanted to be and by Saturday, when it was time to return to “the good life,” I knew I had made my state proud because I thoroughly enjoyed my week full of caucuses, conventions, activities, and tater tots.

Returning last year as a junior counselor reminded me of that experience as I witnessed it on the faces of my Alexandria babies and it only fostered my love more for the ALA Girls Nation program and the American Legion Auxiliary. And now, as I enter the final stretch of the week as dean of junior counselors with my Spring Valley girls, I am reminded of the same emotions I felt as I graduated from high school, when I said goodbye to speech competition and hello to coaching. This Saturday, at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation I must do the same thing, but this time, join the American Legion Auxiliary in attempt to thank the women who empowered me.

Carlin Daharsh, Nebraska

Dean of Junior Counselors, Spring Valley