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Tar Heel Girls State gives girls knowledge, confidence and a lifetime of memories

By Savannah Morgan 

intern@salisburypost.com

Tar Heel Girls State, a weeklong mock government workshop, was back in session this week for its 79th year. The program is held at Catawba College and is sponsored by the North Carolina American Legion Auxiliary.

From last Sunday through today, more than 200 rising-senior girls from across the state learned about the inner workings of state government. From running for mayor, to campaigning for governor, to participating in debates, the girls experienced the full depth of state and local government.

“It’s awesome to see how supportive everyone is here,” said Tabatha Landy, a participant from Salisbury. “Girls State is a remarkable program.”

When they weren’t campaigning or passing legislation, the girls enjoyed activities such as “Manhunt,” which Landy described as a large game of “hide and seek in the dark.” Another of Landy’s favorite memories was a birthday party for all the girls celebrating birthdays this week.

“We all bonded even more at the party. It was probably my best night,” said Landy.

Emma Shadduck, a participant from Jacksonville, said one of her favorite memories was “recognizing the intelligence and creativity” of the group. She paused to listen to the spirited sound of girls chanting in the next room. The girls created their own cheers as well as revamped some familiar songs to fit their agendas, Shadduck said.

“It’s really incredible — women’s power. Women are incredible,” Shadduck said.

Through activities and ceremonies, the girls learned about patriotism to a higher degree.

“Girls State also allowed us to recognize and acknowledge patriotic sacrifices,” said Brooke Gruber of Jacksonville. “That was especially special because a lot of us have veterans in our family. For example, I am the daughter of a fallen soldier.”

Gruber will go on to American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation in July as a representative of North Carolina.

In addition to learning about government and politics, the girls made new friends and memories and gained confidence.

“Girls State taught me about politics, but it also taught me how to be more confident and outspoken. I made a ton of friends and learned how to break out of my shell,” said Landy.

Gruber and Shadduck nodded in agreement.

The program’s gubernatorial debate was held Friday with an election following. Candidates were Caroline Collins of Hickory, who represented the Federalist Party, and Brianna Hernandez of Wake Forest, who represented the Nationalist Party.

The debate presented candidates with questions about the growing number of uninsured people, legislation requiring voter ID, how to bring more jobs to Girls State and the Second Amendment. Each candidate was given two minutes to respond to a question.

The girls were assigned to a party and a city at the beginning of the week. Each party acted as a “blank slate” upon which the girls had the chance to write their own platforms and ideas, said Ashley Cox, program director.

Some of the Federalist Party’s platform points included the removal of the wage gap, regulation of prison populations and mental health programs. A few of the Nationalist Party’s platform points were standardized testing reform, instruction about mental health in public schools and introduction of a more comprehensive sex education section in health classes.

Overall, the program was an opportunity for girls to come together to learn about government, support each other and create memories for a lifetime.

“At the beginning of the week, I shed a few tears because I missed home. But now I’m going to be sad to leave,” Gruber said.

“It’s a program dedicated to tenacious and motivated women,” Shadduck said. “My experience was incredible.”

Landy, who will be a flag bearer at the closing ceremony, also offered a bit of advice for rising juniors who may be interested in participating in Tar Heel Girls State next year: “Give it a shot. You never know.”

Tar Heel Boys State will be held next week.

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