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



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  2. Beautifully written Bree! I hope you hold onto this belief all your life. As your mentor said, life can be hard and it is easy to lose site of what is truly important as you battle through day to day life. Know that you can make a positive difference with each word you speak and each life you touch. You have amazing gifts- continue to share them. I believe in you! Love Paige

  3. Nicely said, Bree! Just think what could happen in our world if everyone believed this.