North Dakota Girls State 2011
University of North Dakota
North Dakota Girls State is an annual tradition. The week long camp at The University of North Dakota teaches young women about government – state and local. What might initially sound stuffy or dry is anything but. As Lotte Scharfman of the League of Women Voters said, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”
It all starts on June 5, when 125 young women going into their senior year of high school converge at UND.
Kylie Oversen is UND’s Student Body President and was involved with Girls State for five years. “It’s not just the ‘learn about government’ stigma,” she said. “It is networking and learning about how to get involved with the government, being an involved citizen. For young women today that is such an important message.
“It really opened up my eyes to how you can get involved in every level of government from city on up.”
Girls State delegates are selected to come from all corners of North Dakota. Throughout the week delegates are “elected” to various governmental offices, take part in mock political party conventions, learn the ins and outs of how government functions, as well as some parliamentary procedures.
Beyond the fictional exercises, delegates also get to hear from real women working in government. This year’s “Women in Government Panel” includes former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, District 34 Representative RaeAnn Kelsch, District 43 Representative Lois Delmore, and District 42 Representative Stacey Dahl.
“Girls State holds a high standard for attendance. It’s still seen in universities and in the career world with prestige. It really builds attendees’ resumes,” said Dana Thoreson, ND Girls State Director.
A past Girls State participant herself, Thoreson chuckles thinking about the transformation participants have throughout the week. “They all come in quiet and unsure what to expect. They may have heard stories of years past and they think it will be very strict. But, they get here and find out that it’s light-hearted and we have fun with it. It’s not just sitting in lectures and studying.”
That light-heartedness includes a Skit Night (Wednesday, June 8 at 7 p.m. in the Chester Fritz Auditorium) where each “city” goes all out to perform.
Inauguration and Graduation ceremonies bookend the week and a few old traditions add to the ambiance of each. Delegates all wear white dresses, which has been a part of the ceremonies since North Dakota Girls State began in 1947. According to its website, “Each member of the ceremony wears a simple white dress with a Poppy flower pinned over her heart. The Poppy flower is a part of the American Legion and Auxiliary as a reminder of our veterans and the sacrifices made so we can remain free.”
University of North Dakota, "North Dakota Girls State 2011" (2011). UND News Archive. 70.