Local students try their politcal know-how

The California Girls State session teaches lessons in government, friendship
By: Jency James The Press Tribune
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The auditorium was packed with a mass of screaming girls decked out in colorful hats and costumes. No, it wasn’t a Jonas Brothers concert or the “Eclipse” movie premiere - it was the 67th California Girls State session in Claremont. During the week of June 26- July 2, 500 girls all across California took a break from their summer activities to participate in Girls State, a non-partisan conference where delegates lived as a mock, self-governing body. Delegates included girls from the northern forests of Arcadia to the sandy beaches of San Diego - all united for the common cause of learning the intricate details of government. While 500 participants seems like a high number, only one junior girl from each school was granted the honor of attending. The process began in February with the schools’ faculty nominating five juniors for the position. The girls were then interviewed by an American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) member in a joint panel interview. “The representative from the ALA asked us basic questions about our volunteer service, leadership activities and future goals to gauge our level of activity in the school and community,” said Ela Banerje, the Roseville High School delegate. The interview went even further, asking the girls questions about themselves as a whole. “We were interviewed about general questions like what classes we were taking, what we did in school and in the community, questions about our family and what we would change about the California government,” said Antelope High School delegate Jessica Etulle. Once selected, the girls attended an orientation in their local area where they had the opportunity to meet fellow delegates, receive more information about the session, as well as hear from alumnae. In order to prepare, delegates were encouraged to pay attention to local and state news and to bring plenty of red and blue to represent the Whig and Tory political parties. They were also required to prepare a bill that they would try to pass in the Senate or Assembly. “I researched some hot button issues and wrote my bill on early education,” Banerje said. “It got killed on the Senate floor but I’m proud it even made it that far.” The delegates were split into different cities and had to come up with city themes that were then incorporated into their hats, code of conduct and dorm decorations. The political aspects included running for elected positions at the city, county and state level. “I was a part of the mock trial as one of the witnesses and had to act based on the biography I was given,” said Granite Bay delegate Devon Lilley. “I was also part of the city council and was involved in making decisions for our city.” Banerje sought a county position after losing a run for assemblywoman. “I ran to be on the county school board. I made posters with my name and talked to people before the election,” Banerje said. “I also gave a speech on what I would bring to the table.” For their community service project, the girls participated in Operation Military Kids and brought supplies to stuff backpacks of kids whose parents are in active duty. They were also given the opportunity to take a stuffed pack home to give to such a child and help bring awareness to the cause. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen also spoke at the Inaugural Ceremony and offered girls advice on making the necessary changes in their community. “It is never wrong to stand up for what is right,” Bowen said. There was also a talent show featuring a wide variety of acts, musical, theatrical and more. “My favorite part was the talent show,” Lilley said. “It was cool to see the diverse talents from the opera singer to the harp player.” But the most standout memories the delegates had were not ones of elections and speeches. “I loved all the girls in our city. We all got along from day one,” Etulle said. “I made a lot of long lasting friendships.” Banerje agreed. “I liked meeting the girls from different places and learning what they were passionate about,” she said. The sessions exceeded the expectations of all with its unlimited options. “I thought it’d be like a class, listening to lectures but it was a hands-on experience,” Etulle said. “It was a you-have-to-do-it-to-learn-it type of thing. As I helped count votes I could see how just one vote made a difference.” Jency James can be reached at