Four South Burlington High School students were nominated to attend the 2017 Vermont Girls State. L-R Lana Al-Namee, Zaneta Sulley, Josie Ford, and Frankie Karnedy. 

Vermont Girls State Building Character in Leadership

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Thursday August 10, 2017

While high school summer vacations may conjure visions of relaxing or hanging out with friends, four South Burlington High School (SBHS) students instead spent some of their time off campaigning, taking office, debating, and engaging in local and state legislative and political infrastructures. Sounds intense perhaps, but to Lana Al-Namee, Josie Ford, Frankie Karnedy, and Zaneta Sulley, the experience was challenging and empowering.

First presented in 1937, Girls State is a marquee program of the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA). Approximately 16,000 young women across the United States are nominated to attend the patriotic week-long immersive learning experience each summer in state held events. Vermont’s Girls State took place June 17 to 22 at the Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center. There, the four SBHS students, who were nominated their junior year, participated in creating mock parties and becoming county and state officials of their Vermont Girls State. The mission of the ALA program is to develop leadership, while instilling pride and a greater understanding of government and American traditions.

Al-Namee, Ford, Karnedy, and Sulley each made their mark at the 2017 Vermont Girls State. Al-Namee was elected governor, Ford lieutenant governor, and both Karnedy and Sulley were senators. In addition, for all four, it was a distinction to be nominated. High schools around the country nominate students based on demonstrated leadership qualities, scholastic achievement, and service to the school or community.

“Being elected governor, between so many other very qualified girls, was an absolute honor,” expressed Al-Namee. To win the election, she wrote and delivered two speeches within the span of 12 hours. She says, “It was very empowering to see how effective words could be.” Al-Namee’s platform was “A Healthier Vermont.” She says, “I wanted to make sure that people knew that if they wanted to have a healthier lifestyle, it should start with them.”

After being elected, Al-Namee had her favorite experience of Girls State, a meeting with Governor Phil Scott. “We had a great conversation, talked about goals and family. He was very kind and great to talk to!”

Not long after Girls State, Al-Namee took her experience on the road to Oklahoma where she said she employed what she learned at an Episcopal Youth Event. She spoke to a crowd of 1,500 about “a pathway to peace.” She shares, “I was so glad that I had the experience I did at Girls State under my belt to confidently speak to the youth in Oklahoma.”

Ford, who campaigned to be lieutenant governor, has been interested in government since the eighth grade when she served as a legislative page in the Vermont State House. “I was humbled to be elected lieutenant governor because it meant that my peers saw me as a receptive leader.” She recalls presiding over the Girls State Senate, moderating what she describes as a powerful debate between the elected senators. In addition, she was able to meet with her real-life counterpart, Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman. “I respect his dedication to environmental protection as well as diversity and inclusion.”

In addition to being elected to executive office, Ford was given the honor of being selected as an alternate for Girls Nation. According to ALA, two outstanding young women, and their alternates, from each state program are chosen to attend Girls Nation in Washington, D.C.

Karnedy and Sulley campaigned for senator. Karnedy recalls the experience, “It was a little nerve-wracking at first. There were about 20 girls running for senator positions, and only 15 were available. We each were given twenty seconds to make a short statement on the spot about why we should be elected. It was a really rewarding experience because it taught me the importance of being able to think on your feet.”

Sulley, who says, “I surprised myself by campaigning for a position when I had originally intended not to run for anything,” initially ran for secretary of state, but was defeated. But that did not stop her, she then campaigned for the role of senator. “I put myself out there again and was happy to be elected for a government role. My experience as a senator was interesting and fun.” Sulley describes the process, “We started out in chamber groups and discussed our bills, called witnesses, and made amendments to our bill. Then, we met as an entire senate and debated our bills.” The young senators debated freedom of speech for school journalists, daylight savings time, and increasing minimum wage. According to Sulley, “The debates got very heated and it was interesting to see the different perspectives.”

For both Karnedy and Sulley, their experiences were heightened by all the friends they made. “Over the five days, I became extremely close with many of the girls, and a group of us still keep in touch today through social media,” reports Karnedy. Sulley concurs, “One of my best experiences at Girls State was getting to meet amazing girls across the state that I probably would not have met otherwise and creating connections and lasting friendships with them.”

All four SBHS 2017 Vermont Girls State students will be seniors this coming fall. Al-Namee looks forward to being back on the track team. “I love to run! Being on the track team here at SBHS is something amazing.” She thoughtfully remarks that her mother has always provided her inspiration and motivation, adding, “She is always motiving me to do my best and have fun along the way. She has the biggest heart, and I wish one day I could be half the person that she is.”

For Ford, this fall, she looks forward to serving on the district-wide SB Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee as a student representative and being a SLAM leader, mentoring a group of freshman. In particular, she notes her biology teacher, Theresa Akerley, as inspiring. “I hope to approach everything I take on with the same overflowing excitement that she brings to class every day.”

Karnedy shares her excitement about her senior year, “I’ve filled most of my required courses, I can really take advantage of some of the great electives my school has to offer.” A student who enjoys reading and writing, even in her spare time, Karnedy finds time to also take dance classes year-round and is on the SBHS varsity dance team, along with Sulley.

No doubt these four young leaders have promising futures ahead. This summer’s Girls State is sure to be only one of many new and challenging experiences that will continue to shape and define their lives for years to come.

SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper