Hundreds of rising high school seniors from across the state spent the last week at Troy University participating in the 80th session of the American Legion Auxiliary’s Alabama Girls State program learning about all levels of state government and making memories that will last a lifetime.
Every American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program operates through a nonpartisan curriculum where students assume the roles of government leaders, campaigning as “Federalists” and “Nationalists” to become mayors and county and state officials of their ALA Girls State. The girls also live in “cities” within the residence halls.
The first Girls State was conducted in 1938, and since 1948 has been a regular part of the Auxiliary’s better citizenship activity nationwide. In 1942, Alabama’s first Girls State was held at Camp Grandview Park with less than 70 girls in attendance.
Now, it has grown to approximately 350 delegates roaming the campus of Troy University.
“As the host site, we’re always grateful to have the opportunity to introduce another group of prospective students to TROY and everything it has to offer them,” said Herbert Reeves, Dean of Student Services. “We’re happy to have the American Legion Auxiliary Alabama Girls State back on campus, and we hope they are back for many years. The week went really well, and its success is a testament to the partnership between TROY and Alabama Girls State.”
Participants had a week packed full of hands-on learning opportunities by running for office, attending governmental meetings and legislative sessions and giving campaign speeches. They also had the chance to hear from accomplished women, including Katie Boyd Britt, a candidate for the Alabama Senate; Dara Torres, a 12-time Olympic medalist; Lillian Brand, Account Director for KC Projects Public Relations; Kay Marie Briddell, a Montgomery, Ala. real estate agent and community leader; Alice LaCour, Assistant US Attorney; Air Force Major (Ret.) Heather ‘Lucky’ Penney; Ada Ruth Huntley, World Central Kitchen coordinator; Liz Huntley, attorney and author; US District Judge Anna Manasco; Charisse Stokes, President of Tidal IT Solutions; and Mary Margaret Carroll, Fine and Geddie Associates partner.
Wednesday’s breakout sessions featured “Healthcare in Alabama Post COVID” given by Sarah Nunnelly, Chief Operating Officer of East Alabama Medical Center, interview skills with Starla Jones, Chairman of Butler/Lowndes County Distinguished Young Women, and a lesson on governmental affairs with Toby Roth, Managing Director of Capitol Resources of Alabama.
Governor Kay Ivey, a former Girls State Lieutenant Governor, spoke to the delegates Wednesday morning about patriotism and the responsibility we all have to be good citizens, but also about how Girls State will continually impact their lives.
“You’re becoming a part of a large network of people that, in reality, make the world seem a little smaller. No matter the direction you want to take in life, this week is already preparing you to get there,” she said. “Girls State is not just a week. It’s a state of mind, an attitude, a way of thinking that has stuck with me my entire life. Every day when I enter the Governor’s Office in the Capitol, I take with me the virtues that Girls State so ably instilled in me.”
As a student at Auburn University in the early-to-mid 1960s, there were few opportunities for female students to hold true positions of leadership. Instead of running for the women’s Student Government Association, Ivey thought she could make a bigger difference running for office in the male-dominated “regular” SGA. She went on to hold the titles of Freshman Senator, Sophomore Senator, Secretary of the Student Body and was the first female Vice President.
“Whether you’re a man or a woman, a governor or a doctor or a US senator, it’s about being the person to make a real difference. I knew I’d be able to do that if I chose to run against the boys for SGA,” she said. “Very often, I get asked what it’s like to be a female in a male dominated field, and my response is always the same: I don’t think about it.
“I firmly believe that whoever is the most qualified person should be the one to get the job, but as I like to say, sometimes the best man for a job is a woman.”
Maren Fajan, a delegate from Daphne High School who was also elected Attorney General, said listening to the Governor’s speech was inspirational.
“She inspired us to just go out there and do it, no matter if there’s going to be setbacks, and I think that’s what the message of Girls State is,” she said. “You can do anything.”
Elected Governor Samantha Simmons of Hartselle High School said she felt empowered and saw herself in a new light.
“Her quote, ‘Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman,’ was so impactful to me,” she said. “I’m not looking at myself as less than, I’m looking at myself as a key proponent for a job.”
Kristen Marshall, Mayor of the city of Redstone representing Buckhorn High School, said despite being nervous the first day about meeting new people, the experience was more than she could’ve asked for.
“I called my parents the first night worried I wasn’t going to make any friends. I was very wrong,” she said. “This week introduced me to the most amazing women, and these girls showed me what friendship truly is. They showed me it’s okay to be vulnerable and it’s okay to be uncomfortable. This is what Girls State is truly all about: encouraging each other no matter what and making bonds that will last a lifetime. I’m beyond proud of us and I’m so proud of Samantha for being elected governor.”
Graciana Doster, a recent graduate from Enterprise High School, returned to Girls State this year as a counselor for the city of Bellingrath after serving as the 2021 Party Chair at Girls State and Girls Nation. She said she called on her experience as a delegate to try to be the best counselor possible.
“After participating just last year, I tried to remember the emotions I felt throughout the week and help the girls through the nerves and exhaustion I recalled experiencing myself. I also tried to be a kind and informed counselor, just like mine were last year,” she said. “I remember it being so helpful at both ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation to have a counselor who let us be independent, but was right there if we needed her. I hope they saw in me a desire to learn from others like they learned from each other this week.”
At the closing ceremonies Friday after returning from a trip to Montgomery to see the Governor’s mansion and tour the Capitol Building, each of the city mayors gave a speech and awards were announced.
“Throughout the course of this week, we have all grown in so many ways we could have never imagined,” said Goat Hill Mayor Annsley Wallace of Hooper Academy. “The support and genuine happiness from all of these girls is something I’ve truly never seen before. I want to thank the girls of Goat Hill, our wonderful counselors and the welcoming staff of Troy University.”
The awards and scholarships given are as follows:
Good Citizen Award
May Beth Youngblood
Claudia Jane Elliot
Young J. Boozer award for Leadership and Service
The Jane Shelton Dale Outstanding Counselor Award