Would Leslie Lomax please come to the guidance counselor’s office? The words I heard spring of sophomore year while sitting in class. I knew I wasn’t in trouble, but I was curious and oddly a bit excited. There were 6 of us gathered there and we all tried to speculate the reason why. The guidance counselor came in and explained that 4 of us were selected for girls state and 2 were alternates (they only had a budget to pay for 4 spots). For those who may not know, girls state is a summer leadership and citizenship program offered in most states. This is a highly competitive program, in which participants are chosen by guidance counselors and principals based on leadership, grades and conduct. The participants spend a week at a college in their state, along with other girls from other high schools participating in mock elections and passing bills in the legislature. Basically learning about government and elected office by participating.
I was informed that I was an alternate, but first alternate. Yes, I was slightly disappointed, but honored to be chosen out of all the girls in my class. So it was basically a wait and see if anyone had to dropout due to summer plans, sports or whatever reason. The next day my Mom gets a call from a local organization saying they wanted to sponsor me. First alternate, moved up to the selection group. I was honored as I had never participated in anything like this outside of my school or little county. While growing up in a rural setting, where the two closest towns were both 30 minutes away, allowed us to really become a tight knit community, there wasn’t much talk in terms of local politics or options outside of the community.
Here’s the thing about girls state, not only did you have to act like a politician, but you also had to dress like one too. My Mom and I began to plan when we would be able to shop and what I would be able to get. With a single income things were tight and had to be carefully budgeted. A few weeks went by and my Mom once again got a call from the same man and he had bad news. They messed up the registration and didn’t get the money in on time. To add insult to injury someone from the original list dropped out and they had already chosen the second alternate. The funny thing is that I remember being bummed, but really wasn’t crazy disappointed. Something like this already seemed so far out of my reach that it really didn’t seem like a huge loss.
It’s summer break and the Sunday before girls state and you guessed it, the same man called saying that a spot opened and they would accept me if I could get to Longwood College Monday morning. I took one look at my Mom and knew it couldn’t happen. I didn’t have any business attire outfits or any last minute money to buy some. The poor man felt so bad, but it was a lesson learned for sure.
I had never really thought about that memory until yesterday. I had the pleasure of spending the day with about 40 young women attending Davidson College facilitating a training offered by a wonderful organization, Running Start. This particular event (Elect Her) trains young women on college campuses on how to run for student government. Their energy was amazing and they soaked in every bit and took copious notes. As I drove home last evening I wondered what would have happened if I had made it to girls state. Would I have run for student government in college? Would I have run for a local office in my 20’s?
I say all that to bring me to my final points. Even though I didn’t make it girls state in 1987, I learned that it is never too late to live a new dream. I found myself 27 years later an elected official, a position that I never even considered before 2014. I have also come to realize that it is my calling to empower, inspire and share opportunities with others so that they have a real chance to live out their dreams. Especially the ones that they don’t even know they want.