By Elsa Watland
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
Although I learned this oath in kindergarten, its meaning held little significance in my life as I boarded a bus in June to Evergreen Girls State, a program held annually at Central Washington University. This intensive week-long program has existed since 1942 and is organized by the American Legion Auxiliary: the world’s largest woman patriotic service organization.
At Girls State I joined 250 junior girls from Washington and participated in mock elections at the city, county and state level, as well as congressional sessions, workshops and listened to speakers, and, of course, there was the occasional cheering (its inevitable when you coop up 250 teenage girls together). Although I wasn’t familiar with governmental procedures upon arrival, I most certainly left with a firm grasp in the field.
I also bonded with girls from a variety of backgrounds. I met girls from the top right to the bottom left of our state, from 4A high schools to combined middle and high schools of 200 students. We all have such different lifestyles, and it made me realize how much more there is to life than my stereotypical urban existence. While I have always known this, it seems fast-paced suburbia has forced me to push these thoughts to the back of my mind.
The success of Girls State was made possible by the members of the auxiliary, who put an enormous effort into their organization. Not only did they make it fun and educational, but they are incredible role models. They truly believe in the vision of Girls State, which is to educate today’s female youths and encourage the political involvement of women. Their enthusiastic and passionate allegiance to America was inspiring; they constantly reminded us that the American flag is not to be associated with political parties, but represents our nation and those who have died for democracy and freedom. I think we all can learn from this. With the ’08 elections drawing near, rising gas prices and a national recession, it is essential that we all support our country even if we do not always agree with prevailing methods or values.
When I exited the bus a week later, I had a newfound respect for my country and flag. I will no longer nonchalantly recite the pledge as I have in the past. To disrespect the pledge is to dishonor those who have defended our country.
I feel honored to have been able to have had the opportunity to partake in such an enriching program. I took many lessons home with me, but what I will treasure most is that I found that being patriotic isn’t something to shy away from; it should be something all citizens embrace, regardless of religion and political orientation.
Girls State citizens possess a certain quality that unites them under one common goal. They want to make a difference, whether it is in science, politics, our communities or nation, and I will make that difference. Now all I have to do is figure out how I am going to fulfill my duty as a Girls State citizen. I’ll get back to you on that one.
Elsa Watland is an Inglemoor High student.