Darby High School senior Hadassah Wilson attended Montana Girls State in Helena and was selected to attend Girls Nation last summer.
Wilson is the first DHS student to receive the award of attending Girls Nation.
“Going into Girls State I didn’t think I would put myself out there that much but towards the end, I wrote a bill, got interviewed, wrote a speech and ran for senator,” Wilson said.
She was elected senator which is a special honor, and rare for the Bitterroot Valley. In the past 20 years, local Girls Nation delegates have included, Hamilton High School’s Tess Gallagher Clancy (2014) and Rebecca Poliquin (2013) and Corvallis High School’s Lauran Quinsland (2001).
Girls Nation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity provided by the American Legion Auxiliary.
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According to the website legion-aux.org/ala-girls-nation, “This weeklong event gives participants a firsthand experience with practical insight into how the federal government works. More than 7,000 young women have participated in ALA Girls Nation since it was founded in 1947.”
During the week in Washington, D. C., Girls Nation senators write, caucus and debate bills. They also run for an elected office including president and vice president. They also work together to pass legislation.
“Girls Nation is two delegates from every state and we each had to submit a piece of legislation,” Wilson said. “The people higher up on the docket list got to talk about their bills at [the Girls Nation] senate meeting.”
At Girls Nation the delegates were divided into two parties, the Nationalists and the Federalists, and each selected candidates to run for top offices.
“There were more positions that you could run for like the keynote speaker and commander at arms,” Wilson said. “There were many other jobs to hold.”
Although this year the delegates didn’t meet the president or vice president, they did meet a few senators.
Wilson said an added benefit was touring the nation’s capital.
“It was really cool,” she said. “We saw all the monuments and got to tour Mount Vernon and Arlington National Cemetery.”
She said the best part of Girls State and Girls Nation was learning how the government works and making friends.
“I got to meet people from across the nation and hear the different accents,” Wilson said. “Just within a week I really got to know them well. I still am in contact with them through social media. It’s really cool that we could form such a good bond within one week. It was cool to watch people break out of their shells and share their bills, opinions and everything.”
She said that going into Girls Nation she felt less knowledgeable than her peers as others had participated in Youth Legislatures and Model United Nations.
“But I definitely learned a lot it was a very good experience,” Wilson said. “Everyone was really accepting especially the counselors and junior counselors. It made me less shy. It was definitely out of my comfort zone.”
Wilson moved to Darby nine months ago from Waldport, Oregon.
“Geographically, it is quite different because I was right on the coast,” she said. “The biggest differences are cultural differences like what people do there on a Saturday versus what they do here. I like Darby, it is very different, but I’ve come to get used to it. My friends in Waldport, Oregon, are still wearing masks and have certain days they can go to school, the rest is distance learning.”
Her favorite subjects are English, history and government. She participates in sports of cross country, basketball and track. After school, she plans to be a physical therapist, radiation therapy or dental hygienist.
DHS Counselor Kurt Kohn said Wilson contacted him a year and a half ago with questions about DHS classes, dual credit options, and other opportunities and programs.
“I often don’t get a call from a student and knew we would be lucky to get her,” Kohn said. “She is very motivated, understands goals for her future and is an outstanding athlete. Wilson is the first Darby student to receive the award of attending Girls Nation. It is a neat honor that shows it doesn’t matter how small the school is or how rural it is, amazing students can be found there.”