The Unforgettable Experience of Wyoming Girls State

Governor Mark Gordon with the Girls State delegates for 2021. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Girls State.

Wyoming Girls State is a weeklong learning experience and citizenship training for girls who have completed their junior year of high school. Sponsored and organized by American Legion Auxiliary, Girls State is held at LCCC in Cheyenne, Wyoming. During the week, delegates learn about the process of government, create lifelong friendships and connections, and also get the chance to win college scholarships and earn college credit. 

Delegate introducing herself to Governor Mark Gordon. Photo used with permission from Kialie Pead.

Dawn Kenneda assistant director of Wyoming Girls State explains “American Legion Auxiliary was founded in 1919. Its vision is in the spirit of service, not self…to honor the sacrifice of those who served by enhancing the lives of our veterans and their families…In Wyoming we have 42 units around the state and we have around 3,000 members.” 

The poppy is the official American Legion flower. The poppy corsages worn in this photo, are worn 2 days during the week to honor those who have fought and/or died serving in a war. Photo used with permission from FaithHoney Anderson.

Upon arrival at Girls State, these high school delegates are split into mock cities with names such as Bison, Meadowlark, and Paintbrush. The girls are also split into mock political parties. 

“Girls State works really hard to be non-partisan, that is why we call (the parties) Nationalists and Federalists. We don’t use the words Democrats and Republicans. We don’t use anything we think might cause a bias at Girls State, because it is about the process of government. It is not about your politics.” says Kenneda. 

Delegate debating her bill in the Girls State House of Representatives. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Girls State.

During the week, delegates get a hands-on experience learning about being part of government branches. The young women participate in writing and debating bills in the Girls State Senate and House of Representatives, and debating court cases as different positions in the Girls State court room. Girls State also has the girls learn and participate in voting, party caucuses, and running for different offices. 

“Girls State is about taking your natural ability as a young woman and as a leader, and polishing it through government. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a lot about government, Girls State is going to bring that part of you up,” says Kenneda. 

Two senators from the Wyoming Senate helping the delegates in the Girls State Senate. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Girls State.

Wyoming Girls State gives an opportunity for young women to meet others with a passion for learning, and an interest in being a part of American democracy. 

Delegate from Greybull, Maliyah Porras, winner of the Northwest College Scholarship explains, “I am an introvert, so I knew meeting people would be a challenge. But by each day, I noticed myself coming out of my shell more and more, and I have made amazing friends. From this amazing experience I have gained so much confidence, learned so many things, friends, and memories. I recommend for any girl who has even the slightest interest in doing Girls State, do it. It’s worth it, and you won’t regret it.” 

Delegate and staff member saying goodbye at the end of Girls State. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Girls State.

All Wyoming Girls State staff volunteer their time to help the delegates succeed in becoming the best they can be.

“Natural leaders come in all shapes and sizes; they are introverts they are extroverts…they come from all walks of life, and that’s part of the beauty of Girls State. We make sure our staff also come from all walks of life, so the delegates feel like they have a place. They can look at another woman leader and go ‘well I’m not like Gayle, but I might be like Melissa or Kendra or Dawn or Shareen.’ We try to make sure that they can see different types of women leaders, because we do come in all shapes and sizes…in our government, each one of us should have a place,” explains Kenneda. 

Girls State delegates debating a bill in the real House of Representatives at the Wyoming State Capital Building. Photo used with permission from Rylee McCollum.

Delegates also participate in activities such as touring the capital and meeting real Wyoming government officials including Governor Mark Gordon and Senator John Barrasso. They also have the opportunity to participate in a talent show, a drawing contest for the cover of the Girls State handbook, and sing in a group choir performance on the steps of the Wyoming Capitol Building.  

The Girls State Choir practicing with their choir instructor, Dawn Kenneda. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Girls State.

Kenneda shares how she teaches 76 young women to sound beautiful in only one week for the Girls State choir, “It’s a miracle to me every single time. The girls are separated into city rivalries and split into party rivalries. They cheer for their team and they are debating bills and they have some pretty stressful court cases. For me, choir is that moment for them to emotionally have a safe place, express the stress of it, and to come together and unify as an entire delegation so they know they are a part of something bigger.” 

Delegates celebrating with a political party rally. Photo courtesy of Wyoming Girls State.

Delegate from Laramie, Katrina Yurista, and winner of Girls State County Treasurer explains, “Some of my favorite parts were doing all the cheers with the friends I made.” 

Girls State Cheer (call and response): 

Call: “Girls State is what!!??”  

Response: “Dynamite!!!”  

Call: “Boys State is what!!??”  

Response: “Hold up, wait a minute, they ain’t got no women in it!!” 

The Laramie Girls State delegates, from left front row: Ruby Homer-Wambeam, Arundathi Nair (the 2019 Girls State Governor), Katrina Yurista. Top row: Anna Roesler, Tanner Rogers, Mischa Yurista. Photo courtesy of Val Rothwell Photography.

Delegate from Laramie, Arundathi Nair, winner of the 2019 Girls State Governor explains, “I love the experience because I get the chance to get to know smart, talented, incredible young girls from all around the state. Through Girls State, we get the chance to discuss a large variety of topics and learn different perspectives. The environment is full of supportive women who believe in you and encourage you to push yourself.” 

Delegates at the Wyoming State Capital building. Photo used with permission from Grace Steenbergen.

Kenneda adds, “The thing you will see in Girls State delegates is that it makes such a significant change in their lives that when you see a woman who is a mover and shaker in her community, you can almost bet dollars to donuts, she is a Girls State delegate or she has been a delegate in the past.” 

For more information about Wyoming Girls State visit: http://www.wylegionaux.org/girls_state.html

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