Friday, July 26, 2013

Recalling Room 5214

Many times people focus simply on where they are going. Often times they can forget that what matters the most is who they are with. The experience of Girls Nation would not be the same without the amazing women who run it, and the exceptionally open minded and kind senators that attend. We’d like to focus here on how friendships with your roommates add to the experience that Girls Nation provides.
Upon arrival we found ourselves in a room with a ginger from Wyoming, an eye shadow enthusiast from Iowa, a not so typical southern bell from Louisiana, and an outgoing over packer from Pennsylvania. The room was small, the hair products plenty, and the make-up ritual intense in the morning.
A precedent was set as the Southern Bell was the first and only to rise as the alarm clock rang. At the end of our first full day we returned from Arlington National Cemetery reveling in our mutual heat, exhaustion and appreciation. From these commonalities a strong bondage of friendship was forged. Before we knew it room traditions began to be established. That night the Over Packer initiated a juvenile truth or dare session, where we learned each other’s deep dark pre-school secrets. The following night a new tradition was formed as the Over Packer began to “borrow” brownies from the cafeteria to add to the nightly excitement. The amount of borrowed food increased each night to contribute to the experience. The week flew by as we attended a wounded warriors BBQ, senate sessions, guest speeches, and trips to monuments, Capitol Hill, and the White House.
We fought battles together in Senate as well as against the centipede invasion that occurred in our room, possibly due to the stash of 240 pixy sticks that resided there. Our quartet soon became inseparable and sat together for meals and bus rides. The conversations became deeper as our friendships got closer. The lack of sleep however, urged us to memorize Ice Ice Baby and sing along to Fergie without shame.
In closing, this is Outgoing Over packer and I have to say that I want to be friends with these girls for life. Their intelligence and beauty, inside and out, is unparalleled. Who knew that one week would change our lives and foster a sistership between us all. Girls from room 5214 and all of Girls Nation, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” –Dr. Suess You my friends, are incredible.

By: Jacey Kinnaird, Alex Cloutet, Gabbie Ruggiero, and Dakota Frederic

A Visit to the White House

Bethesda 7/26/13
Since we woke up at 4:45 this morning, each and every one of us was buzzing with a distinct and insuppressible energy that came from the knowledge that we were to have a privilege that most people only dream about.
Never have girls ever been so excited to go through security. Of course a few lengthy lines, a few hours without a cell phone or camera, and a few secret service officers don’t compare to a the chance to meet the leader of the free world. Of course, the fact that the lines were shared with Boys Nation Senators did not hurt.
As we entered the White House, we were given free reign over a rainbow of different rooms. The red room, the green room, the blue room, and the yellow room, each packed with history in different forms. Paintings of famous Presidents, the plates and dishes they ate from, books that gave them knowledge, the chairs where our heroes sat, and the hallowed halls they walked, all around us there was a presidential glow. There are few feelings that can match looking out the window at the Capitol building, from the lavish interior of the White House, and feeling (if even silly, and just for a moment) like the President.
After a thorough inspection of the building’s great splendors, we were ushered onto risers and seats to pose for a picture with the president and awaited his arrival. But of course, like every good president, we waited impatiently for long enough for our heeled feet to ache and for the boys to break out in song (and you all know how often boys break out into song). It wasn’t long before we joined in for spontaneous renditions of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah”, and then “America, America” in a round. Many of the girls bit back tears of patriotism and fierce anticipation, and boys chanted USA so loudly we were nervous the President would hear us.
Once the ambiance had died down to a gentle rumble, the nervousness of the group sharpened into an acute focus. Finally, after Chuck the photographer had run out of jokes, we saw a door open at the end of the hall, and the President of the United States walked into the room.
It was one of those moments when the world seemed to slow down, yet still it felt as if our time with him was over in an instant. President Barack Obama thanked the American Legion family for its service to our nation’s veterans and told us that he was proud of each of us. He was also sure to tell us that “Michelle says, ‘hey’”.
One of the men with us from the American Legion pointed out that the president’s birthday was coming up (August 4th, if anyone was wondering). We quickly launched into a rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”, unfortunately without quite the same overall talent possessed by Marilyn Monroe.
Then it was time for the picture: photographic evidence that we had been in the same room, breathed the same air, as arguably the single most powerful person out of the whole of the living human race. The lines on the bleachers parted as rehearsed to make way for the President as he stood between two of our fellow Girls Nation senators and said “cheese” with us, successfully conjuring a mass of nervous smiles. We had been told at the beginning of the week that we were one in a million, but at that moment we truly began to believe it. Following photographs with the Boys Nation senators and then the AL and ALA staff, it was time for the United States President to depart, bidding us goodbye with a classic presidential wave and leaving us shocked, excited, and looking forward to seeing ourselves on “West Wing Week” next Friday.
Exhausted, adrenaline filled, and trying to process what had just happened, we returned to the 4H Center to prepare for the talent show. While we had just met the president, there were several other meetings this week that quite possibly may have impacted our lives just as much: meeting each other. Sitting back in the Ohio Room, watching triumphant fingers dash across piano keys, listening to powerful voices that stirred our hearts and challenged our minds, songs that spoke of strength, friendship, and love, and a good portion of creative skits and comedy acts that brought the sweet to the bittersweet feeling of goodbye, we realized just how connected we all are. We have formed friendships with some of the strongest, smartest, kindest, most passionate, and most beautiful young women that any of us have ever met. In just one week, we have lived a lifetime.

A Day on Capitol Hill

At Laurel Girls’ State in Connecticut, Senator Blumenthal stated that, “Democracy is not a spectator sport”. We observed this first hand as we followed Senator Blumenthal and Senator Murphy through their daily schedules.
Our day began with a photo-op with Senator Blumenthal and our Boys’ Nation counterparts. Senator Blumenthal was in a hurry so he addressed us briefly and began to run to committee. As the Senator departed, his wife encouraged us to chase him. Thus, our journey began. We accompanied Senator Blumenthal to three separate committee meetings that he was scheduled to attend that morning. We attended the quorum call in the Judiciary Committee, watched presidential nominees being interviewed for prominent military positions in the Armed Services Committee, and listened to debate over improving cellular connections in rural areas in the Commerce Committee. Senator Blumenthal’s staff informed us that this was a light day for him, and this shocked us as we had attended three committee meetings in under an hour and a half.
Similarly, Senator Murphy had a jam-packed schedule. After speaking with him, we followed him as he attended his daily appointments. On our way to watch Senator Murphy present an amendment on the Senate floor, we stopped at a reception of Jewish community leaders where the Senator addressed the crowd. After taking the underground tram with the Senator, his Chief of Staff, and his Scheduler, the Senator escorted us to a special viewing gallery where we watched him present his amendment that encourages companies to use American labor.
After spending the day with our Senators, we have a new found appreciation for what our Public Servants do on a daily business to promote the common good of their constituents. We would like to thank our Senators for providing us with this profound opportunity and for further inspiring us to pursue careers in politics. We greatly appreciate the time they spent with us. In addition, great thanks are given to the American Legion Auxiliary for organizing Girls’ Nation and arranging the meetings with our Senators.

Connecticut Senators Sammy Salkin and Alexandra Small

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Girls Nation Epidemic?

It has come to my attention that an epidemic has broken out among the Senators of Girl’s Nation; symptoms of near madness have begun to plague us all. The symptoms?
Petey Peterson claims to “feel awful, hungry, sore throat, delirium,” while Gillian Mwangi suffers from “over-sassiness due to lack of sleep, a sore throat, and a serious hatred for chairs at the moment.”
When asked to explain her affliction, Anne Marie Hagerty could only convulse in the throes of a laughing fit, marked by periods of snorting. Her contagion soon spread to Dianne Jeffcoat, who began to- there is no other word for it- cackle. It was a cackle like no other, a cackle that seeped into the very marrow of your bones and shook you to the core, a cackle that the wicked witch of the “feds” would have been jealous of.
What is this strange illness, might you ask? Why does it seem to affect the citizens of Georgetown and Girls Nation as a whole so strongly?
Anne Marie and I did some serious soul searching to find the answer to our illness. We wanted to know why I would ever whip my scarf back and forth, or why Elle would ever attempt to imitate a llama, and we found the answer.
It was not a withdrawal from boys, as many of us believe it to be. It was not over-consumption of ice-cream, cheesecake, and other diabetes-inflicting foods. It was not even the fact that we had taken an in-depth tour of, not the Pentagon Memorial, but the Pentagon parking lot-
The cause was, and has always been, a mixture of sleep-deprivation and the relief of tension after the presidential elections.
Indeed, today’s elections marked a turning point in the environment of Girl’s Nation. Everything the candidates had worked for, campaigning, decorating their respective sides of the room, practicing and composing speeches and policies- all built up to one final moment.
It was a moment in which your eyes were screwed shut and you were clutching your running-mate’s hands and you were praying in that one moment-
And then you heard your name.
It was a moment in which dreams were realized and a future was created for Girls Nation, and it was a moment which I will never forget.
But in all seriousness, our Senators are on the verge of discovering a new aspect of each other that only blossoms from the depths of its hiding place after one has grown accustomed to another.
This new aspect can be found in Anne Marie’s infectious laughter, in Gillian’s saucy remarks, and in Petey’s half-dazed demeanor.
It is, quite simply, the beginnings of a family.

Attiya Latif with assistance of Anne Marie Hagerty

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Girls Nation: Day 3

Today marks the 3rd official day of ALA Girls Nation. As we advance in the week, all of the senators are becoming more comfortable with each other, and how the program truly works.

With the familiarity, we as Senators were ready and capable to elect our party nominees for President and Vice President of Girls Nation. All of the candidates went through a very complex and rigorous primary election in both the Federalist and the Nationalist Parties. They delivered passionate speeches and answered difficult political questions (topics for these included the ethics of drones and the effectiveness of the American healthcare system). It’s really incredible to see how much effort all of us are willing to put into this program, and how much we trust this process. When deciding who would represent the respective parties in the general elections, both parties really thought about the decision in order to have the best candidates for tomorrow’s stressful yet exciting day. Not all preparations were made for the purely intellectual parts of tomorrow, however. Campaign committees worked until the last minute to put final touches on the elaborate decorations, polish up the theatrical skits, and solidify the spirited cheers in preparation for the pep rally, Seeing the decorations across the walls of the Ohio room created a buzz of excitement and anticipation for tomorrow’s events.

For the final results, the Federalist nominees are Attiya Latiff and Yujin Seo. On the Nats side, we have Ann-Marie Hagerty and Gillian Mwangi. Both parties feel confident in these four inspiring young women, and cannot wait to see what tomorrow’s general election brings.

After primaries and planning for the rally, all of the Senators moved onto the Senate session of the day. This session was very challenging in a positive way, for the duration of it was 4 hours. All of the Senators were very respectful in their speeches, questions, and debates. It was amazing to see how politically aware our generation is at such an early age, and how much work was put into these bills prior to this week. Because our mock-congress is very productive and successful, many important issues were addressed today. The bills covered a wide range of topics; from the controversial issue of mandatory voting, to the importance of physical education in elementary schools. Our Senators from all over the nation brought interesting problems to think about and discuss while here. Not only is this time in Senate a time for involvement, but it is a time for reflection.These issues at hand are present in bills very similar to what is being discussed in actual congressional sessions right now.

After dinner, all of the Senators had the honor of listening to a holocaust survivor , Nessie Godin, speak of her experience and memories. As a Jew myself, I am familiar with how important it is to pass on the horror stories of these times to future generations so the world learns from their mistakes. Judaism also values tenacity and optimism, which is exactly what our speaker encompassed. By the end of her story, there was not one dry eye in the room, and you could hear a pin drop. Being so privileged in this incredible country, many of us take simple things for granted each day (such as a shower, or even a bed to sleep on). We forget about how much humans have had to endure in difficult times, and it’s important that we don’t. Nessie Godin really opened our eyes to how beautiful life is, even though the people sometimes aren’t.

For our evening activity, the Senators boarded the bus to major sites in DC: The Korean, Vietnam, and Lincoln memorials. The views and sites from each location are jaw-dropping, and it’s interesting to see how each senator interprets the monuments. DC is an incredible place rich with history, and being able to tour it with such a passionate group of girls makes it all the better.

This journey continues on and I continue to learn and grow as a person here. I know that I have personally changed so much in just a few short days, all thanks to the wonderful American Legion Auxiliary. Without these ladies’ passion, wit, and strength, none of this would be possible

Phoebe Wiener

Foggy Bottom

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Girls Nation Gets Official!

Our second full day at Girls Nation began with us waking up bright and early (much to our dismay) to take pictures with our communities and the Nation as a whole. After a brief battle with the never ending swarm of gnats and the shifting sun we all took our pictures. Now bright eyed and bushy tailed, as much as we could be in the early hours, we all broke up into our perspective parties to set us off for the day. Here in our parties we voted on Floor Leader and Party Majority Whip, and fervor for our parties was born. The passion and enthusiasm we had for not only our parties, but for one another was contagious, and quite quickly we transformed into eloquent and forceful leaders with a comradeship that was undeniable. From then on, we broke into committees and prepared for rally day. Every committee worked hard to establish their goals, whether it was rules during the convention, or creating the most creative costumes out of glue sticks, paper and some imagination. The cheers got everyone dancing like we were a European discothèque, and our skits and props would have put any Broadway theater to shame. Work in the committees was admirable and outstanding. Considering the short amount of time we had, and the amount of work we all got done is just another example of the character and determination of every Senator at ALA Girls Nation.
But I believe I speak for my fellow Senators when I say that the highlight of our day was the Walter Reed Wounded Warrior Picnic. An overall feeling that I felt during the picnic was an overwhelming sense of gratitude, bravery, and most strongly, humbleness. Each and every service man and woman there willingly left their homes, family, and civilian life to fight for not only the freedom of our Nation, but for strangers they will never know. Here, in front of me were men and women who faced experiences I could never dream of, and quite literally came to the brink of death each and every day. They were never bitter, regretful, or angry at the world. These soldiers were the embodiment of the American spirit. No matter what obstacles they faced, or troubles hindered them, they could not be broken. Their love for their country, and American life was something that you don’t see every day. We could relate and talk to everyone there, and it was an experience that will forever be remembered by us all.
Later that evening we assembled into our Senate Caucus, and the legislative process began for our bills. This was the beginning moment where all our hard work and research would be displayed for our peers to judge. We debated, amended, and voted to the point where my state card began to become frayed, but it was all worth it. Being able to participate in a type of government role, even in debating fabricated bills was an amazing experience. It was a glimpse into the reality that actual politicians and senators face on a daily basis. The responsibility that it holds, and impact you have on society was exemplified in these bills. In this group of intelligent women, we came one step closer to improving not only ourselves, but society as well.

Chevy Chase Community

Monday, July 22, 2013

Welcome to ALA Girls Nation!

The 98 ALA Girls Nation Senators arrived at the airport in Baltimore, Maryland today [Saturday] with feelings of excitement and nervousness. After getting off the plane, the senators searched for others with the lime green bandanas and soon began congregating in an area after being greeted by the friendly ALA Girls Nation staff. Senators exchanged their names and states which produced a variety of responses including but not limited to: requests for repeats for the rather original names, questions about the senators’ respective states, epiphanies followed by a story about the time the senator visited the state, and sometimes, just nods and smiles. After the half hour bus ride, the senators arrived at the 4H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Giggles and conversations could be heard throughout the registration process followed by the photo session to celebrate the first wearing of the wonderful lime green polo uniforms. The first event prepared for the senators was the pocket flag folding session; with every fold, a sense of patriotism heightened, as the senators learned about the significance behind every component of the American flag. The variety of accents and dialects that could be heard throughout the cafeteria truly reinforced the diversity every senator brought to Girls Nation. With much anticipation, senators completed their days, looking forward to embarking on the eye opening journey of ALA Girls Nation.

Spring Valley


Today our second day of ALA Girls Nation began at the crack of dawn, well actually it was 6:45, but after a night full of new friends, giggles, the beautiful creation of inside jokes, overwhelming excitement and a heavy lack of slumber …6:45 felt very much like a rude awakening from a very short, very deep nap. However, after the walk down the stairs to the flag ceremony all sleepiness had been forgotten and we embarked on the first full day of the opportunity of a lifetime. The flag ceremony set the tone for a day full of patriotism and American pride and nothing feels more American than elections.

Although it seems absolutely impossible, the extremely qualified, passionate and driven young women of our committees pushed themselves even further outside of their comfort zones and began their campaigns for party delegates. With this, the glorious city of Alexandria jump started a winning sweep that should probably go down in Girls Nation History. The two party delegates elected from our city were Kristen Wolfford for the Feds and Kitanna Belnap for the Nats. Both of these champions went on to each be elected Vice Chairs for their respective parties.

The next event in our journey was a wonderful visit from Ms. Mary “Dubbie” Buckler, the American Legion Auxiliary National Secretary. She spoke to us senators and showed us what it means to be a woman of power. She instilled within us a sense of pride and honor and reminded us just how special we must be to be the 98 girls chosen for Girls Nation. We worked hard, we exhibited character, we fought for a cause greater than ourselves and we made it. We made it to Washington, D.C. With this reminder of all that we stand for we boarded buses to pay homage to those who have fought for our freedom.

A sea of lime green flooded the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery and we were welcomed by the heat of a thousand suns accompanied by the confused looks of hundreds of tourists wondering what all of the green shirts were about. We rodes trams through the cemetery to our first stop, President Kennedy’s grave site. From there we were taken to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was so humbling to see such a dedicated soldier defending the souls of the brave. Their identities are known to God alone and they died for us. We were given the honor of being able to present a wreath of poppies at the changing of the guards, just a small token of appreciation for the freedom that they gave to us. From here we were taken to the amphitheater to broaden our views and extend our appreciation for all of the religions represented at Girls Nation.

It was absolutely inspiring to hear the testimonies of our peers and hear their encounters with their faith and the role it plays in their lives. These girls let us into their lives and it showed us just how much our upbringings play in the women we have become. With all of these differing viewpoints we gained a new respect and appreciation for many religions unlike our own.
Once back at the 4H Center the city of Alexandria continued sweeping up Senate leadership positions left and right. Elected to Senate positions were Elena Sokoloski (OH), President Pro Temp; Carlin Deharsh (NE), Assistant Secretary; Molly Dominick (IL), Chaplain; and Abby Hutton (AR), Sgt. At Arms.
This day was one filled with so much knowledge and respect. We were given the chances to thank those who have given their all for us, we were allowed the opportunity to learn more in depth about the lives and faith journeys of the girls we are coming to know, and we began doing what we came here to do: become stronger leaders and learn as much as we can about the governmental system that impacts us.

We began leaving our mark on an already outstanding Girls Nation Legacy.

Alexandria Community

Welcoming comments to the 2013 Girls Nation senators from Dubbie Buckler, American Legion Auxiliary National Secretary/Executive Director

As an ALA Hoosier Girls State alumna, I am delighted to be here. That experience is one of the main reasons I am in my position with the ALA. The other reason is the ALA’s mission to help our veterans, military and their families.

My dad served in WWII, and my son served in the War on Terror/Operation Iraqi Freedom. We are here in this place – free to present this program – because our veterans have put their lives on the line to protect our free nation. That someone reveres our freedom enough to fight for it is really awe-inspiring. It’s our American spirit.

Our American Legion Auxiliary Girls State programs honor our veterans’ service by teaching the ideals our military have defended since WWI. This year, some 16,000 high school girls across the country attended ALA Girls States. We’re close to ¾ million girls who have participated in ALA Girls State since we first began.

The first two ALA Girls States took place in 1939 in Kansas (ALA Sunflower Girls State) and Nebraska (ALA Cornhusker Girls State), so 2013 marked the 74rd year for those inaugural programs. Their diamond jubilees are coming up in those two states next year!

The first ALA Girls Nation took place in 1947, so this year, 2013, marks the 67th annual American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation session. ALA Girls State and Legion Boys States are two of the most coveted and selective government education programs in the country – and you are all now ALA Girls State alumnae. You’ll soon be ALA Girls Nation alumnae.

On behalf of all these ALA Girls Nation volunteers and all your ALA Girls State volunteers, I hope you always treasure being a program alumna of the American Legion Auxiliary.

As an alumna, you’re in some pretty good company. Many students who attend our programs go on to be leaders in their communities, states and the nation. Some of our nationally notable alums include former Today Show host and renowned broadcaster Jane Pauley, former Texas Governor Ann Richards, and former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (President Obama’s former National Homeland Security Secretary).

And after the horrific attacks on 9/11, which of course included the deadly attack on the Pentagon and the one thwarted in Pennsylvania that was intended for our nation’s capitol, one of the first F-16 fighter pilots called on to provide presidential protection was an ALA Iowa Girls State alumna! She is also a former White House fellow and received the Congressional Gold Award. Awesome.

Your generation is often referred to as the “security generation” – your schooled learning – from grades K-12 – has taken place in the post 9/11 era of heightened security. You have a heightened sense of national security – comparable only to those who were in school during WWII and during the Cold War afterwards, when schools and communities had bomb shelters and air raid drills.

In more ways than we might imagine, your generation and my generation (the Baby boomers) are kindred spirits. We both really get it – we understand that freedom is not free.

Your being selected as an ALA Girls Nation Senator makes each of you truly privileged, as the saying goes: 1 in a million. Hmmm, let’s look at that expression… 1 in a million.

Currently, there are more than 76 million children in the US, with more than 25 million children between the ages of 12 and 18 in the US. If you crunch the numbers for the average number of ALA Girls State program participants in each state, every Girls State participant is truly “one in a million” among today’s youth! And each of you, as a teenager in the USA and an ALA Girls Nation Senator is – literally – one in 20 million among your fellow teenage countrymen!

This marquee program has passionate and dedicated volunteers and staff who work year-round to prepare and present this phenomenal immersive learning experience. Even with their collective thousands of volunteers hours, the ALA invests $348,000 – that’s more than 1/3 of a million dollars – for you 98 girls to be part of this immersive learning educational program.

So, you’re one in 20 million, and the ALA invests $3,551 in each of you as an ALA Girls Nation senator. Feel special?
How many of you have scholarships yet? How many expect to receive a scholarship? The value of this program is more than the annual amount of most individual scholarships awarded. The ALA has invested over $3500 for each one of you to be here. Note, I used the word “invested.”

What is an investment? Any investment is made to generate a greater return than what was originally put in. It’s called “payback,” or “Return on Investment.” The ALA, like any responsible investor, has an expectation for our investment in you. We want your payback to exceed our investment in you. We want your payback to be impactful: contributing to a better country through understanding and respect for the principles of democracy that guide and safeguard our republic.
We want you to remember who made this investment in you – the American Legion Auxiliary. Yes, we’re nice ladies, American Legion Auxiliary members who want you to have a wonderful experience this week. But we’re also prudent investors who want you to remember that we made this investment in you with significant expectations.

We expect you to always appreciate and respect our American heritage of self-reliance and achievement. We want you to live a life that respects our Constitution, our veterans who have continued to defend and die protecting our freedom as a nation. We want you to live patriotically, contribute to the good of society, and never forget the opportunities this ALA experiential learning program will provide you throughout your adult life. Our willingness to be here and learn is indicative of our commitment to deliver excellent program content in a legally, morally, and physically sound environment.

We are excited and hope each of you has a great experience that is life-shaping.

As the average lifespan for Americans continues to increase, each of you can reasonably expect to live to be 100. Think of it…100! So, we hope each of you strives to pay back our investment in you in a really big way for the rest of your lives. Live each year as the “1 in 20 million” that you are. Our nation will be preserved and our freedom protected because of the outstanding leaders you will become. Learn from this experience, and MAKE A DIFFERENCE!