Aster O’Leary was one of 98 young women in the country selected to attend the 69th annual Girls Nation in Washington, D.C. First held in 1947, Girls Nation is an American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) program created to provide aspiring young women leaders firsthand experience with practical insight into how the federal government works. O’Leary spent the week in Washington, D.C. creating a mock legislature, submitting bills and resolutions, participating in senate sessions, holding a national convention, and electing officials such as president and vice president. In addition, Girls Nation includes visits to the White House, Arlington National Cemetery, monument tours, and a day on Capitol Hill meeting with state senators and representatives.
O’Leary, who is a senior this fall at South Burlington High School (SBHS), reports the experience as “amazing and humbling.” She adds, “I’ve been able to meet girls from all over the country, and everyone here is so passionate about politics and current events. Even when we’re not officially in senate session, we often find ourselves having heated political discussions.”
Before Girls Nation, O’Leary was selected to attend Girls State held in June at Vermont Technical College. She says one of her best Girls State experiences was running for office, adding, “I was nervous about the whole campaigning and election process. The last time I had run for anything was for student council in third grade. However, once I arrived, the excitement and enthusiasm of my fellow Girls Staters inspired me to put myself out there.”
At Girls State, O’Leary ran for Lieutenant Governor and won. However, she says the entire process of campaigning would have been worth it even if she lost. “I’m really glad that I ran, but the most rewarding part of my whole week at Girls State was the opportunity to meet and become friends with amazing girls from all over Vermont. Running for office forced me to step out of my comfort zone. As a result, I met so many great people,” says O’Leary.
As Girls State Lieutenant Governor, O’Leary ran the Girls State mock senate sessions and met with Vermont Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott. She says, “It was amazing to be able to ask him questions about his role as Lieutenant Governor and about politics in general. He was super nice, and easy to talk to.”
After Girls State, O’Leary went on to Girls Nation, noting, “This program has completely shattered any expectations or preconceptions I may have had. Every girl here is so intelligent, so talented, so passionate, and so kind. I’ve learned so much from them already.”
O’Leary says her most memorable experience at Girls Nation was meeting the President, “It was so surreal to even be in the White House and shaking the President’s hand is definitely something I’ll never forget!”
Looking forward to her senior year at SBHS, O’Leary describes herself as “kind of a nerd,” viewing school as one of her hobbies, along with playing the piano, writing, and traveling. She also is the co-captain of the SBHS varsity girls tennis team, co-president of Future Educators of America, and a writer for Rebelution, the school newspaper. After graduation, O’Leary plans to double major in English and history and one day be a college professor.
In commenting about the impact of ALA Girls State and Girls Nation, O’Leary feels both programs could help improve the disparity between the number of male and female politicians. She explained that the programs “showed me that I’m capable of putting myself out there and advocating for my beliefs. If other other girls have that same realization, then there is no stopping them from being successful in the political arena as adults.”