‘Life-changing week’ for NB Girls State citizen

Sara Schreder-Gomes

Sara Schreder-Gomes

Sara Schreder-Gomes enjoyed a real-world experience in representing North Branch during this year’s American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program.

Sponsored by North Branch American Legion Auxiliary Unit 85, Schreder-Gomes joined girls from across Minnesota June 15-20 at St. Thomas University, St. Paul, for a week of learning about government. The girls, who finished their junior year in high school last spring, ran for city, county and state offices; voted for the candidates; listened to speakers on many aspects of government; and visited the state Capitol.

“It was an experience that I’ll never forget and will always cherish,” Schreder-Gomes said. “All week, I felt so lucky and incomprehensibly honored to be representing Unit 85 among so many other extraordinary young women.”

Schreder-Gomes, in thanking North Branch Auxiliary member Beverly Otterness for the opportunity, reflected back on the experience in the following essay:

During my week at Girls State, I tried to participate as much as I could. I was the recorder for the city of Tee-Bee-Cut, a county party delegate for the Federalists, chairman of the credentials committee, defense lawyer in the mock trial, and a campaign manager for a friend from my city that ended up winning chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Every day was full of valuable experiences. …

On Monday … we started out by planning our city government and electing our city officials. To run for office, we gave short impromptu speeches and then went through our city voting procedure. I think one of the things I struggled with is that I usually want to “know the ropes” and know what’s expected of me before I apply or run for a position. With this experience at Girls State, I had to dive right in and many times just learn by asking questions along the way. Even though I’d done research about Girls’ State and talked to other citizens from previous sessions, the first day or two were a tad overwhelming. …

We had two general assemblies that day, focusing on Americanism and later a law and order panel. In the law and order panel, we talked to several inspirational women who had found their rightful place as police chief, county sheriff, highway patrol officer and the county attorney. Many of the women who spoke this day and throughout the week were trailblazers in their area. … One of my favorite quotes from the week was given by one of these women, “A woman’s place is in the House … in the Senate, in the judiciary, in the executive, or wherever she wants to be!”

This panel struck a chord with me because my mom was just like these women when she was a corrections officer. She was one of the first female sergeants in her facility, back in the day, and she had to fight for her place in a male dominated environment, and eventually earn their respect. As women in general, we have to have that “pioneering spirit,” as speaker Betty Strohfus called it, and with that, we can do anything.

One of the things that really impacted me was the flag folding ceremony. … The ceremony was very reverent and touching, and every small motion represented something our nation values. Seeing these ideas and values made me forget all of the “politics” that have distorted most people’s view of America. …

The emphasis on “In God We Trust” was eye-opening for me too. The ceremony touched on the role God plays in our founding and our government. Yes, we have freedom of religion, as stated in the Bill of Rights, but we should also respect each others’ choices and our country’s religious history the same way. In the ceremony, we recognize a Christian God, as well as our other brothers and sisters, with the same respect and reverence. This gave me a new appreciation for the values, sacrifices, and commitment others have shown to our country. …

On Tuesday we had our county party conventions, and I was elected from my city to be a delegate. I was elected the chairman of the credentials committee, and our job was to make sure all of the delegates had the necessary paperwork. In the party convention, we came up with ideas for our party platform in our cities, and then the delegates brought them up to the county level. …

When I learned more about this, it made me want to get more involved in local county politics because this is where there may be a disconnect between what the people want and what is getting passed up the chain, so to speak. …

On Wednesday we were busy with state party conventions, state primaries and state general elections. It was an enlightening experience that made me more aware of the processes that take place in our well-designed, though commonly criticized, political system.

On Thursday we got the chance to talk to a panel of lawyers and ask them any questions regarding their experience, the law or our upcoming mock trials. …

During the inauguration Thursday night, I was honestly overwhelmed with the reality of this whole experience. I had changed and grown so much, in even that short period of time, and made so many friends that I know will be there for me for a long time. …

Friday was one of the best days at Girls State. We spent the day at the Capitol and got to observe our House and Senate in session and do the mock trials after lunch. The mock trial was a blast. … I was a defense lawyer, and it was a great exercise in teamwork and critical thinking. …

On Friday night, it was so hard to say goodbye, but we called it a “see you later” because we will all see each other again. I made so many lifelong friends, just as everyone said I would. … I was truly honored and humbled to be in the presence of such strong, inspiring young ladies that I can now call my friends.

It is hard for me to explain all that my week at Girls State has meant to me. … In civics class we learned everything in theory, trying to condense our larger-than-life government into one brief year that was nowhere near long enough. At Girls State, I got to take my limited background and delve into the inner-workings of city, county, and state governments to gain a much greater appreciation of their role in our day-to-day lives.

… Even though I am in speech (class), making impromptu speeches running for office, communicating ideas and coming to a group consensus have stretched my abilities and made me more comfortable in my leadership abilities and confident in my ambitions.

Being a leader, you have the chance to make a difference. A question was posed to us: Where do you want to make a difference? I realized that by being a leader in my school, I already was making a difference, and that I want to continue to do that.

… The experiences I have now through leading in high school and at Girls State will become a part of who I am; they are not just experiences. … I also learned things about myself and what I want to do in my life. … I know I want to make a difference with what I do. One speaker said, “The only way you can change something is by doing something.”

Coming out of Girls State, there are some things I want to do to share the amazing experience I was so lucky to have. I want to participate in some of the programs the American Legion Auxiliary brought to our attention toward the end of the week.

I would like to work with my Student Council adviser to plan a program for the seniors and juniors about Americanism and government. I think it’s important that my generation is appreciative of our government and its process, because there seems to be more criticism than praise for our country nowadays, especially on social media. … Since I am a leader in Student Council, I have the ability to really bring this to my high school and hopefully inspire my class to be the great patriots of our generation.

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