For seven days, ALA Girls Nation senators hold mock Senate sessions which require them to write, caucus, and debate bills; campaign for elected office; elect an ALA Girls Nation president and vice president; and work together to pass legislation. But, the program is so much more than hours spent in Senate.
ALA Girls Nation senators destined to become our future leadersEvery summer since 1947, two high school juniors from each ALA Girls State program are given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent their state as “senators” at ALA Girls Nation. The program is a profound learning experience designed to teach these young women, even before they are of voting age, about how the federal government operates. For seven days, the senators hold mock Senate sessions which require them to write, caucus, and debate bills; campaign for elected office; elect an ALA Girls Nation president and vice president; and work together to pass legislation. But, the program is so much more than hours spent in Senate.During the 2017 ALA Girls Nation held July 22-29 in Washington, D.C., the girls participated in a variety of other activities, including daily flag raising and lowering ceremonies and a community service project to benefit our deployed troops. The girls also toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and heard from Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin; toured the National Mall and sang patriotic songs on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; witnessed the Twilight Tattoo show at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall; and placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. All of these activities were designed to showcase the sacrifices our veterans and military make for our freedom, and instill a sense of pride and patriotism for our country.The ALA Girls Nation senators also had the unique opportunity to meet with their respective state senators on Capitol Hill. The girls spoke with their senators about the bills they had written as well as local issues, and received advice from the people whose shoes they one day hope to fill.Perhaps the rarest opportunity of all came when the senators met 45th President of the United States Donald Trump in the Rose Garden at the White House. President Trump took the time to shake hands with the ALA Girls Nation participants before delivering a speech where he encouraged the girls to “Never quit. Never give up — always do what you love.”This is what ALA Girls Nation is all about — learning how the federal government works so that our nation’s future leaders can make informed decisions, recognizing that freedom isn’t free, and seeing it all come together before their very eyes while roaming the halls of the Senate buildings on Capitol Hill or tracing the steps of past U.S. Presidents at the White House.Upon arrival, each ALA Girls Nation senator is put into eight different communities where the young women are guided by a senior counselor, who is an ALA member, and a junior counselor who is a former ALA Girls Nation senator. The junior counselors return from their freshman year of college — two years after they first attend as a senator — to help the girls learn the ropes through the eyes of someone who has been in their shoes. The “JCs” are chosen because of the leadership qualities they exhibited during their week at ALA Girls Nation. One junior counselor is invited back two years in a row — her third time at ALA Girls Nation — to act as the dean of junior counselors. Get to know some of the JCs:Annabel RothAlabama2018 Dean of Junior CounselorsWhat was it like switching from an ALA Girls Nation senator to a junior counselor?Being a senator is so great because you get to meet people from every state across the nation. There’s no other organization like it where you’re surrounded by women all across the country who are so smart and such strong women. And then, going [back] to be a counselor, I was nervous at first. There were a lot higher expectations that I had set for myself. But I was excited because I wanted to share my experience with the senators, and I wanted them to enjoy and get as much out of the program as I did.What has been your favorite event at ALA Girls Nation?I really loved all the party aspects because that’s something I feel like you aren’t really taught about that much in school. The party rallies are so fun because not only is everyone dressed up and the room is decorated so fun, but also you get to hear the great speeches. It’s just so positive on both sides. It goes down to what ALA Girls Nation is: You’re having so much fun with all of your friends, yet you’re really learning so much and benefiting from every fun activity that we do.How have you used what you learned at ALA Girls Nation?It’s one thing to work with people in your local community, but when you’re able to take ideas and learn from different leaders across the country, that’s an opportunity that’s not really given anywhere else. I didn’t really realize that until going to ALA Girls Nation.Lauren LautermilchOhioWhat went through your mind when you were selected as an ALA Girls Nation senator?I went in to ALA Girls State thinking that only the governor, lieutenant governor, or state officials would have a chance at going to ALA Girls Nation — and I was not any of those. It was definitely a shock to me. But I was also thankful and super excited.What were you looking forward to the most?I was really excited about the Senate sessions. I have never been involved in an organization in which parliamentary procedure was the norm. Getting the opportunity to debate and hear about issues from girls in other states with totally different experiences from mine was something that I was really excited to experience.What kind of community service activities are you involved in?I am involved in my church — I do vacation bible study every year and am a Eucharistic minister. … I also volunteer at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. I work in a structural biology lab. I basically do research for them as a volunteer.Caroline IrvingCaliforniaOutstanding ALA Girls Nation Senator Scholarship WinnerWhat did you personally hope to accomplish at ALA Girls Nation?I was personally looking forward to giving support to people, because at ALA Girls State I ran for lieutenant governor, and I had the complete support and momentum behind me from my city. I wanted to make sure I could give that kind of support to someone else. So going in, I wanted to be party leader, and I wanted to make sure our presidential and vice presidential candidates felt that kind of love I had.What was your favorite experience during ALA Girls Nation?I think my favorite experience was Inauguration. It was a moment that just had such feeling behind it because you’re on Capitol Hill, you had just met with senators, and you had really gotten an up-close-and-personal look at what the legislative system looks like.How will you share your experience with your community?Since I’ve left ALA Girls Nation, I’ve been seriously considering joining the Navy after graduate school. I feel more of a sense of duty to our country now — something I definitely felt before, but now I have a really close personal look at it. It’s really important to me now that I’m there for our country.Gillian BeginskiIllinoisWhat was your favorite experience during ALA Girls Nation?Definitely the Senate sessions were one of my favorite parts. Another aspect was just enjoying D.C. I talked to my mom the summer before about desperately wanting to go to D.C. I got the answer that ‘We don’t have the money; probably not going to happen.’ Getting the opportunity to go [to ALA Girls Nation] was exciting enough, but really being there [in D.C.] was just so unbelievably cool. It’s something I never would have been able to do had it not been for the American Legion Auxiliary, and, for that, I am just so thankful.What kind of community service activities are you involved in?I am volunteering at all elections in my area as an election judge — it’s one of my favorite things to do because you get to meet a lot of people you normally wouldn’t meet. Also, charity work. I would say I wasn’t nearly as philanthropic before ALA Girls Nation. It really reminded me of what’s important.Who inspires you?Definitely inspired by my mom. She is one of the strongest human beings I’ve ever met. She has been through a lot of loss, and she has a huge sense of empathy. That’s a really big thing for me — being empathetic and compassionate to people, even if times are hard for myself. She inspires me to carry on those qualities.Emily GarciaArizonaWhat are you looking forward to when you return as a junior counselor?I’m really looking forward to helping other girls experience the same opportunities that I got to. My junior counselor was one of the pivotal parts who made my experience at ALA Girls Nation the best that it could be. I’m excited to just encourage girls to find their voice and run for positions that they were unsure of or that they didn’t think they could do, and also to encourage them to soak up every minute that they’re in D.C.What are you interested in as a college major?Before attending ALA Girls Nation, I was going to be a pre-med major, but after attending I’ve decided that I do want to have a more integral part in our political process. I’m going to do a political science major with an emphasis on biology.What kind of community service activities are you involved in?I head up my school’s annual shoe drive. We help out schools in the Isaac School District of Arizona that are below the poverty line. I assemble a team, and we measure shoe sizes for all of their fifth-graders, and then we order the shoes and we go down there so they can start off their fifth-grade year with a brand new pair of shoes. When you see their faces light up just from a brand new pair of shoes, it’s really eye-opening.Samantha “Sami” GortmakerSouth DakotaWhat did you personally hope to accomplish in Washington, D.C.?My personal goal going into the session was passing my Senate bill. The National Trust and Transparency Bill was a cause I hold dear to my heart as it works to bolster communication between law enforcement and the public in cases related to officer-related shootings. Our bill passed with one friendly amendment, and it was one of my happiest moments during my week at ALA Girls Nation.What have you learned from your experience at ALA Girls Nation?A primary lesson I have taken away from my experience at ALA Girls Nation would be the value of involvement in the community, state, and country. I have a newly adopted awareness about the incredible importance of what our veterans’ service has done for our country.Who inspires you?My biggest inspiration comes from those young people my age who are willing to have conversations with me. ALA Girls Nation was an opportunity to have encouraging, eye-opening conversations with girls from all backgrounds and corners of the nation. Those people who are willing to set aside their stubborn differences for the sake of learning and growing are my daily inspiration.Osaretin “Oti” OgbeideIndianaWhat did you personally hope to accomplish at ALA Girls Nation?I hoped to grow as a leader, learn to listen to other ideas and viewpoints, and be able to look at that and critique things — trying not to do so with bias, but with an open mind, so I could learn to be more empathetic to other people and other viewpoints.How will you share your experience with your community?I’ve gone to my school and different United States history teachers hoping to open their eyes to the ALA Girls State program. I’ve realized that a lot of the students at my high school aren’t aware of the opportunities and the programs that the ALA offers young ladies.What are you interested in as a college major?I’m really looking into a marketing and writing major. I love to write and inspire people, as well as marketing and promoting different ideas.
Throughout the first part of the week, the senators work tirelessly to elect their very own ALA Girls Nation president and vice president. This is no popularity contest. The girls elected to these two offices are chosen based on a variety of factors, including their party platforms, ability to do the job, and overall charisma. This year’s president and vice president won the election as the “underdog” — the minority party. Meet the two young women who overcame the odds:Melody WangGeorgia2017 ALA Girls Nation PresidentWhat made you decide to run for office?I knew that coming to ALA Girls Nation was already a huge honor, but I decided, “Why not? Let’s run for president so I can really represent my fellow senators and sisters.” I thought that I would be able to give a voice to all the states, not only Georgia or the South, but really represent ALA Girls Nation to the best of my ability.What was your favorite experience during ALA Girls Nation?I would say the Senate marathon that we had on Friday. I think being in the Senate was really interesting because I got to see all the girls deliberate, and debate for and against bills. I think it really shows what topics we as a body were really passionate about. I just loved being able to observe the nature of the legislative process, and how the democratic process really works.What kind of community service activities are you involved in?I play piano at local senior centers around my community. I really believe in the power of music. It’s inspiring and enlightening to see how they react to the music, no matter if I play classical music or something more contemporary. … I’m a volunteer at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I use technology, and I compile base layers and maps to really show the food banks where the highest concentration of food insecurity is in the metro Atlanta area. I can use this to analyze where I believe they should allocate most of their resources and spend most of their time.Danica MoonKentucky2017 ALA Girls Nation Vice PresidentWhat went through your mind when you were selected as an ALA Girls Nation senator?The first thing I experienced was shock. I didn’t expect to really get that far in the program. I didn’t know what ALA Girls State was all about; I had never heard of it before one of my teachers showed me the application. So, when I was selected, of course I was overjoyed, but mostly I was shocked that something I had never heard of was about to do so much for me.What made you decide to run for vice president?I thought that there were so many candidates for president that I was a little intimidated. I felt like all of those girls were so accomplished and intelligent and that they would be better representatives of ALA Girls Nation as a whole. I think the office of vice president was better suited to me because I wanted to be involved in the Senate. I wanted to do everything I could so that we could get through a lot of legislation.What was your favorite experience during ALA Girls Nation?The day on Capitol Hill was a fun day. It was cool walking around and getting a sense of the vibe of national politics, especially because it was such a busy day with the Health Care vote going on.To learn more about the weeklong immersive learning ALA Girls Nation program and to see highlights from the 71st Session, including the ALA Girls Nation Times, bills and resolutions, video of President Trump’s speech, ALA National Headquarters social media accounts for photos, and more, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org/ALAGirls-Nation.