Mom, daughter both reflect on experiences at ALA Girls Nation

Posted On: Monday, 01 August 2022

Since the inception of American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation in 1947, thousands of young women have participated in the program. 
Participants leave ALA Girls Nation with leadership lessons for life and an understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. government, along with the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of citizens. 
For some participants, attending this event is a family affair. Lauren Pederson and her daughter, Courtney, have both had the honor of going to D.C. for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young women. 
Both shared more about their unique experiences with ALA National Headquarters:
Lauren Pederson
What year did you attend ALA Girls Nation and what state did you represent?
State of New Hampshire/ALA Granite Girls State 1986. (In photo, Lauren is at the far right). 
How did you feel when you found out you were chosen to go?
When I found out I was going to ALA Girls Nation, it was an honor that I still feel rise up in me today. My experience at ALA Girls State brought out all of the best parts of me. It was the truest affirmation of what I was good at, what I cared about, and what I could become. 
Do you have any favorite memories of your time at ALA Girls Nation?
So many memories! I remember one of the first few days when senators presented bills that they wanted to bring to the floor. I sat listening, realizing the incredible talent that was around me. It is a moment I can put myself into to this day. I was so impressed with my fellow senators. I know this will sound corny, but I think it was the first moment I realized how incredible we as young women truly were. I think it was a grow-up moment when I saw myself as a young woman with lots of potential and abilities versus just another kid waiting for the future. 
But I have to add touring around town was spectacular. To get an insider’s glimpse of Washington, D.C. with an incredibly fun group of other young women was wonderful. In those days, we had to wear gloves, dresses, and pantyhose everywhere! People stopped us to talk, to take pictures, and of course to hear us sing. I felt like a celebrity tourist and the main attraction all at the same time. 
What do you think is the importance of having a program like this for young women? 
In school, we teach our kids the words to songs, the history of our nation, and how our country works. At ALA Girls Nation, you experience how our country works, you touch and visit our nation’s history, and when you sing, you now do it from the bottom of your heart with pride and gratefulness. ALA Girls Nation puts knowledge into action. Government, legislation, public service, sacrifice, and history all become tangible and real. And that is what seals a love for your country into your heart. 
What does it mean to you to have your daughter attend the same program you did?
Having my daughter Courtney attend was maybe a bigger thrill than going myself. I knew the intelligence and incredible heart Courtney would bring to the experience and the other young women. She is truly a light in this world. I knew she would take the opportunity to learn and grow which would only expand her compassion for others. I’ll also say it meant a great deal to have somebody else “see me” — to see an experience that deeply touched me. ALA Girls Nation is an incredibly unique and transformative experience. It is hard to explain if you haven’t lived it. Sharing moments with Courtney made parts of me real to another person. 
What was it like swapping stories of your ALA Girls Nation experiences? 
Swapping stories about visiting President Reagan and President Obama was really fun between Courtney and me. Going through the whole process in order to spend time one on one with the president of the United States is a unique experience. It was fun realizing we both have these huge smiles on our face as we talked about it. Hard to explain, but I’m smiling now just thinking about it. 
Is there anything else you’d like to add? 
I want to express my deep gratitude for every woman who has volunteered for the ALA Girls State/Girls Nation program — for the time and work that was put in for our benefit, for the willingness to share their stories and life experiences, for the late nights learning parliamentary procedure, for making sure the planks in our platforms were well communicated, for listening to our ideas, and for providing a space for girls to become young women. Thank you ALL! 
Courtney Pederson
What year did you attend ALA Girls Nation and what state did you represent?
2014, New Hampshire
How did you feel when you found out you were chosen to go?
I was simply in shock. I attended ALA Granite Girls State with many incredible, inspiring young ladies who were all bright and deserving of the opportunity to attend ALA Girls Nation. There may or may not have been an ugly-cry moment — I remember feeling so full of joy, pride, and gratitude.
Do you have any favorite memories of your time at ALA Girls Nation?
As much as meeting President Obama in the East Wing of the White House was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, my favorite memory was talking to some of the servicemembers during our volunteer day at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. We heard about some of the challenges they and their families face; it gave me a humbling perspective on my privilege. One of the senior facilitators commented before our arrival that “not all injuries are visible.” I hear that quote in my mind on a daily basis; it helps me to be a more empathetic human.  
What do you think is the importance of having a program like this for young women?
ALA Girls Nation teaches young women the power they hold within themselves. I left feeling empowered and knowing that if I wanted to, I could make real, lasting change in my community. I left Nation feeling that the future was mine for the taking. Girls Nation gave me a deep appreciation for our government, our military, our history, and our freedom. Young women today are drowning in messaging from a variety of outlets that they are not enough, and that the world is against them. This program proves those messages wrong: Young women are shown the power of sisterhood, friendship, hard work, and devotion in their week at ALA Girls State and/or Girls Nation. 
How did it feel to be chosen for ALA Girls Nation like your mom?
Being able to share this experience with my mom is precious to me; so few people are able to deeply appreciate the wonder that is the ALA Girls Nation experience. It is a week full of fun and rigorous work and is loaded with new material to learn and act upon. Before leaving for Girls Nation, my mom’s advice was to “go and just have fun!” It is the best advice I could have gotten. While I grew intellectually, her comment gave me permission to let myself breathe in the majesty of each moment in D.C. Before even attending ALA Girls State, I had heard about my mom’s time at Girls Nation and had seen the pictures. The fact that my high school chose me to go to Girls State was accomplishment enough in my mind; I cannot thank the women of the New Hampshire American Legion Auxiliary enough for their belief in my ability to also represent our great state.  
What was it like swapping stories of your ALA Girls Nation experiences?
I love getting to connect with that younger, motivated, inspired part of my mom that went to Girls Nation as well. She talks about her time meeting President Regan in the Presidential Rose Garden, and I will note how we sang President Obama “Happy Birthday.” She talks about how she was postmaster general during her experience (and how she met the postmaster general at the time), and I was secretary of Health and Human Services. More than anything, the best part was how my mom was really able to appreciate the wonder of the trip and the weight of what it all meant to me. Most Girls Nation senators don’t get that opportunity when they return home, and for that I am particularly thankful. 
Is there anything else you’d like to add? 
I can easily say that ALA Girls Nation changed my life and helped to make me the woman (and citizen) I am today. I cannot thank the American Legion Auxiliary enough!

ALA Mission

In the spirit of Service, Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.