Girls learn political leadership in state camp

Sydney Edwards, Staff Reporter

Eastern hosts many camps during the summer ranging from basketball to journalism that bring in students from all over Illinois and sometimes from all over the country.

The American Legion Auxiliary Illini Girls State program, which teaches participants how to run for political office, is one of the camps taking place on campus this summer. Girls State is celebrating its 75th year as a program.

During the day, all the participants split up based on the office they are running for and by the county they are in. While they are gathered, one of the girls speaks about a bill she wants passed and tries to get the others to agree.

Pam Ray, the director of Girls State, said the program was originally hosted by MacMurray College in Jacksonville beginning in 1940 until Eastern started hosting the program in 1986.

“They did not have air conditioning and we were just starting to out grow the place,” Ray said. “We work closely with (Eastern’s) housing department. They are always there for us.”

Girls State is a program based on leadership, citizenship and government, she said. The participants run to be city officials for a week and try to get bills passed and sent to the state level. They have to be at the end of their junior year of high school to be in the program.

This year, Girls State has a member who is an exchange student from Hong Kong. This is her last week in the United States before she leaves to head back to her home country. Ray said she is excited to have the exchange student here and enjoys that she is running for a state position.

Cecilia Canizela, a member of Girls State who ran for city treasurer, said the time she has spent at Girls State has affected her life positively.

“I like meeting new people and I am learning about the election process,” Cenizela said.

Wednesday was the inauguration night, and Cenizela said she was excited for the Hawaiian Luau they were having.

Rene Powers, a member of Girls State who is a city reporter and on the state’s government, said Girls State introduced her to the voting process.

All the participants who come to Girls State are educated on how the government works and are encouraged to run for different positions within the city or state. Ray said Girls State is preparing them for future leadership roles.

“College applications are now have places asking if the applicant has participated in Girls or Boys State. If they have, it gives them some admission points,” Ray said. “We tell Girls to attach the certificate of completion to their college applications.”

The members plan to celebrate the 75th anniversary by having past members come to speak this Friday.

Girls State has many alumni who have gone on to hold roles in politics, and one is even thinking of running to be the governor of West Virginia.

“She attributes to this program and we are happy to hear her say that,” Ray said.


Sydney Edwards can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]