Sticking neck out at Girls State

There were a lot of girls sticking their necks out at Minnesota Girl’s State.

On the first day of the program, unknowingly adorned with a predetermined Federalist name tag and a Bernie Sanders sweatshirt, I had no clue what I had gotten myself into. I walked into my dorm room and was greeted by an overenthusiastic roommate who never stopped smiling.

Later that night when we walked into the big meeting hall together, I realized my roommate wasn’t the only person here who was super bubbly– everyone was like that. Chatter was ringing through Benson Hall. I instantly knew that I didn’t need to start off small talk by asking what these girls were involved in, because the answer would always be “everything.”

Young women who are going into their senior year of high school from all over the state of Minnesota were carefully selected and presented with the privilege to attend the program based on their leadership qualities, successes, and their ability to, as Girl’s State Education Director Norma Tramm said many times, “stick your neck out.”

Local ladies who also attended include Chloe Hess from Tyler, Mya Christensen from Tyler, Johannah Nielsen from Tyler, Nicole Kamrath from Canby, and Maddie Verhelst from Canby.

The 69th annual Minnesota Girls State Program was held at Bethel University from June 11-17. During the weeklong experience, the 360 girls in attendance learned about Minnesota government on a city, county, and state level. Girls State citizens got the chance to run for a wide array of governmental offices that included everything from city commissioner to governor of Girls State.

Girls even campaigned for their positions by coming up with slogans and making creative campaign posters. Certain people were assigned to either a seat in the House of Representatives or the Senate. Girls got to compete for committee positions on a county and state level.

Everybody received a color coded name-tag that predetermined what political party they would belong to for the week — Federalist or Nationalist.

In our cities, we established potential platform items within our city party groups — I went on to be a state delegate for the Federalist party. Girls State is interactive and tries to emulate real life as closely as possible- because of this, each citizen was placed into a city which belonged to a specific county.

My county was Loon, and my city was Pheasant. Within our cities, we collaborated on law making. One particular law that was in place for our town was to jump over trash and slam dunk it into a garbage can. This was the city of Pheasant’s effort to better the environment.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though. A lot of the times a serious attitude was needed.

The verdict for the Philando Castille case was released, and this caused tension while we were at the capital building. Everything felt rushed and we left fast because protestors were coming.

A serious attitude was also needed when dealing with important civil matters such as voting, campaign speeches, state party meetings, and Senate/House sessions. Whenever all of us girls gathered in Benson Hall, we listened intently to the guest speakers and all they had to tell us about being involved in governmental and political occupations as women.

Each day new speakers would donate their time, knowledge, and priceless words of advice for us to listen to and absorb. We got to ask questions about what it’s like to be a court justice for the state or one of the only female sheriffs in Minnesota.

The messages these women (as well as our Secretary of State, Steve Simon ) delivered were empowering.

As the week progressed and more speakers presented, the level of patriotism, political interest, and governmental understanding as well as confidence increased immensely.

I gained a better understanding of what it truly means to be a good U.S. citizen, which is a privilege that not a whole lot of U.S. citizens truly comprehend, even as adults.

The commendable staff at Girls State helped every girl there to understand that although politics and government may seen daunting and unwelcoming, we do have a voice and it truly matters — now more than ever.

By the end of the week, I was the one who could not stop smiling, because I knew that by participating in Minnesota Girls State, I, along with 359 other girls, had gained valuable knowledge that would help us in being better people, citizens,and community leaders.

Lacey Barke is a graduate of Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High School and will attend Southwest Minnesota State University this fall. She is interning this summer at the Marshall Independent.

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