Young women of influence
ISLIP—Last Monday night, members of the Rusy-Bohm American Legion Auxiliary gathered at its facility on Nassau Avenue to commemorate the accomplishments of sponsored Islip High School students Amber Yildizel and Lauren Schadt. The girls completed the weeklong New York Empire State Girls program this past June at SUNY Brockport.
Empire State Girls is an educational Americanism program developed to offer an insight of government operations and to emphasize the importance that each individual has within a democratic government. Qualified high school juniors are selected to participate in a weeklong, educational experience with hands-on workshops on government and the political process designed to create a government from the county to the state level.
This mythical 51st state allows students to learn the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society. The program is divided into 11 counties named after famous women with two political parties—the Nationalists and Federalists. Political campaigns, debates and bills are crafted as the government begins to take shape. The 360 high school juniors from across the state learned proper flag etiquette and participated in the creation and execution of a flag-lowering/raising ceremony. There is also a Samsung Scholarship that is offered to eligible participants every year.
After a special slideshow presentation showcasing the girls’ experience, both girls came forward to describe the impact that the program had on them.
“I got there and I loved it,” said Yildizel, who ran for attorney general. “It was nice being part of a group where even if we had different ideas, we could have debates and discussions. We ended up with a bill that we were all very proud of, and we still keep in touch.
“Thank you so much for the opportunity,” she added. “I’m looking forward to talking to the next group of girls and telling them how much fun they’re going to have.”
Yildizel noted that her time at Girls State inspired her to vote in the upcoming 2016 Presidential election.
“At first I wasn’t going to vote, but after going to Girls State I decided it’s my civic duty and that I have to do this,” she said. “After running a state, I definitely have a lot more respect for everybody in politics and the government now. Even though politics isn’t specifically something I want to go into, I realized that it’s something I want to participate more actively in.”
Schadt, who served as majority leader of the U.S. Senate and is now the newest member of Rusy-Bohm Post 411, was next to address the crowd.
“Personally, as someone who aspires to work in politics someday, this was incredibly educational and rewarding,” she said. “Honestly, how many 16-year-old girls can say that they wrote a bill, presented it in front of the best and brightest of their peers, and had it passed by both houses of the Congress? Not many.”
Schadt stated that she formed great friendships during her time at Girls State and still talks to those she met there every day.
“Everyone I met at Girls State was amazing,” said Schadt. “It was very different to be in an environment where smart, talented and beautiful women worked so hard to build each other up, rather than tear each other down.
“Overall, the female empowerment theme was one of the best parts of the entire experience,” continued Schadt. “On my second day there, hearing the Pledge of Allegiance being said simultaneously by only female voices was so empowering and mind-blowing, it gave me hope for my generation of strong, patriotic and powerful women.
“We have a bond that can’t be broken, because this program brought together girls with similar goals, values and traits, but also with amazing, unique differences,” she added. “We became friends for life. Our goodbyes were full of hugs, and were not ‘goodbyes’ at all, but ‘see you laters,’ because we all knew that we’d meet again in Washington someday.”
Unit President Kimberly Valdes commended the girls for their efforts and achievements, and encouraged them to utilize the values they learned as they move forward in their lives.
“We are working very hard towards trying to encourage women and veterans to be a part of the Auxiliary and learn so much about how the history of America came to be and how Americanism is so important in our lives,” she said “You can see how the ties that bind us are not just in the past, but in the future, and your ability to recognize that you’ve learned something very useful is going to take you a long way.”
Islip Superintendent of Schools Susan Schnebel thanked the American Legion Auxiliary and stated how proud she was to commend such exceptional young women from her district.
“From a woman’s perspective, it’s not always common that women of excellence get recognized,” said Schnebel. “I’m very delighted to say that the two women who are here I happen to know for quite a long time, and I know Islip does produce the best of the best. Sitting with you here tonight are two of the most outstanding young women I have ever known, and I know that they’re going to make the world a better place.”
The Auxiliary is currently in the process of sending letters out for 2016 Empire Girls State applicants. They are looking for junior girls who are in the upper third of their academic class, are interested in the program, and willing to participate in all of its phases, including the flag ceremonies.
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