Spring Valley native, Leah McQueen had the experience of a lifetime during her week at Girls State this June. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Spring Valley native, Leah McQueen had the experience of a lifetime during her week at Girls State this June. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“Americanism, pride, determination, teamwork, compromise, great food, late bedtimes and wonderful girls.  When I think back on my experience at Girls State that is what fills my mind,” Spring Valley native, Leah McQueen said of her time at this year’s Girls State event held June 15 through 20 at St. Thomas University in St. Paul.

A nonpartisan program, American Legion Auxiliary Girls State teaches young women responsible citizenship, as well as a love for God and country.  The program began in 1937, and to date has provided nearly 1 million youths throughout the United States the opportunity to learn how their state and local governments work.

“The most surprising thing about the experience was how many girls were interested in politics and government,” McQueen commented. “Young teenagers taking an interest in our state’s government was a change for me, but I think everyone should get the experience to learn about government and how it affects our every day lives.”

The Kingsland senior learned so much about our nation’s storied traditions, but what she learned about the American flag was quite eye opening for her.

“The flag raising and lowering ceremonies taught me that no matter where you are or what you are doing every morning and every night respects must be paid to the flag that flies over this great country and that flies over all who have defended it.”

During the five-day event, participants were honored to hear from Faribault, Minn., native Elizabeth “Betty Wall” Strohfus, who was a Women Air Force service pilot (WASP) during World War II. She has since received numerous awards such as 2009 Minnesota Woman Veteran of the Year; that same year she received the Congressional Gold Medal with fellow WASPs and in 2001 she was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.

“Knowing that she beat the odds and became one of the first female pilots in the Army inspired me to work hard to achieve my dreams of being a drill instructor in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). The stories she told about flying for hours on end and showing up all of the supposedly superior male pilots inspired me to have the same drive and determination as her. Betty Wall taught me to reach for my goals and not to let anyone stop me,” McQueen expressed.

It also gave her insight into our country’s past.

“My favorite and honestly the most emotional part of my journey was the history and traditions I learned about and experienced,” explained McQueen. “The knowledge and experience I have gained by attending Girls State will serve me well through my life, whether it be in political science class, watching elections or debates on TV, mock trials in school or even brainstorming a solution to a problem.”

For McQueen the overall experience of Girls State gave her the tools and the mind set to make a difference and to take the lead in any situation she chooses to dive into in the future.

“I’m honored to have walked among the future leaders of America.  I know that every girl there has the determination, skills and tools to make a difference in this great country and I know that every single one of them will make a great impact in our future.  I will do my best to fulfill the same duty in all of my choices and decisions,” McQueen concluded.