Girls State shapes future leaders
Special to the Enquirer
Despite being sleep deprived and rain-soaked, Hartselle High School rising senior Alleigh Williams said attending Girls State at the University of Alabama this past week was one of the highlights of her life.
Selected as one of two representatives from Hartselle High School by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 52, Williams said she wasn’t sure what to expect from her time in Tuscaloosa. She said she knew she would learn more about government and politics, but she was not prepared for the overwhelming support and instant camaraderie she experienced with roughly 500 girls from across the state.
“The first night I got there, I was feeling a little overwhelmed with the number of smart, amazing young women who surrounded me,” Williams said. “When we got into the ice breakers with our city about our hometown’s top Mexican restaurants, I realized we were more similar than different.”
Alabama Girls State is a week-long, interactive and hands-on learning opportunity to develop young women into future leaders grounded in patriotism and Americanism. It is run by the American Legion Auxiliary.
The selective leadership program is for junior high school girls. Throughout the week, attendees learn about the political process of electing state officials and running a mock government.
This year was the 79th session of Alabama Girls State, which featured attendees not only campaigning for various offices and positions but also writing and supporting legislation that potentially could end up on Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk for consideration.
The week began Sunday with a speech by Katie Boyd Britt, former president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama and current candidate for U.S. Senate. Britt also is an Alabama Girls State alum, having served as program governor when she attended.
“She told us that since we were in attendance at Girls State, we were part of the state’s best and brightest,” Williams said. “When she told us to never let our insecurities limit our potential, I knew I had to try anything and everything I could to make it the best experience it could possibly be.”
Williams started out running for mayor of her “town,” named Parks after Rosa Parks. “I didn’t get that, or the city council position I ran for, or the Nationalist Party chairman or vice chairman,” she added. “It was only after I ran for the position of party secretary/treasurer that I gained victory and learned that people value consistency.”
Attendees were divided into parties and towns. Williams said that despite girls vying for the same positions, everyone was incredibly supportive of each other, which made it more enjoyable rather than super-competitive.
“That was probably the most welcome surprise for me,” Williams said. “Instead of tearing each other down, as girls are known to do, we cheered each other on for positions and encouraged everyone to try something new.”
Noted speakers – including five-time Olympian Dara Torres and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who was elected lieutenant governor when she attended Girls State – visited throughout the week.
“One thing that struck me with all of our speakers was that despite each of them having seemingly endless resumes with amazing accomplishments under their belts, they all were very humble and acknowledged their shortcomings and the ‘failures’ that pushed them to bigger and better things,” Williams said. “This made me realize that no matter how accomplished someone might seem, there were inevitable failures in their path that they had to overcome before achieving greatness.
“It was truly inspiring.”
Making a difference
For Williams, the Girls State legislative sessions proved to be very productive.
“We debated, went back and forth between the House and Senate and ended up having a few bills signed into ‘law’ by our ‘governor’ by the end of the week – including one to eliminate the state’s ‘pink tax.’ These bills actually go now to Gov. Kay Ivey for her to consider and review,” she said.
The week wasn’t all work for the delegates, of course.
“We also had our skit, patriotic party and game nights, bringing our cities closer together and making memories that will last forever,” Williams said. “By attending Girls State, I have soaked up so much wisdom and knowledge in the most supportive environment I have ever been in. It was absolutely incredible.”
“Despite not getting much sleep, or putting together our skit last minute to a mash-up of Dolly Parton songs, or even me getting a gnarly bruise on my leg from almost falling off the stage during said skit, I would not have changed anything about my week at Girls State,” she said.
“I would highly recommend and encourage this year’s upcoming juniors to apply for Girls State next spring – even if you don’t think you are qualified for the position,” she added. “Many of my new friends would agree.”