While many of her fellow classmates were relaxing and enjoying their short summer vacations, Newton High School senior Imari Daniels was busy studying the inner workings of both the state and local government. Daniels participated in the annual Georgia Girls State and was later one of only 98 young women in the nation selected to participate in the prestigious American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation in Washington, D.C. This premier leadership conference is designed to provide practical insight into the workings of government. Daniels dedicated two weeks of her summer to the study of local, state, and national government and in the process met some of the most powerful people in the nation, including Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson and even President Barack Obama.
“I did cry when I met him,” Daniels said of meeting the president. “It was so surreal and exciting. I had to pull it together—I did not want to mess it up. I mean, how many times do you get to meet the president? I made sure I told him my mom said ‘hi’ from Georgia. He saw that I had been tearing up a little bit so he gave me a hug. He shook our hands and talked about the program and told us he was proud of us. We even got to watch Marine One take off from the White House lawn.”
In order to participate in Girls Nations, Daniels had to first be selected for the local Girls State program. Criteria for selection for Girls State include the following: students must have completed their junior year in high school; have an interest in government and current events; have high moral character and strong leadership abilities, and have above average scholastic standing. Daniels met all the criteria and was selected by the local American Legion Auxiliary (sponsors of Girls State and Girls Nation) to attend Georgia Girls State from June 10 through June 15 at Georgia Southern University.
At Girls State, the “citizens” study local, county and state governmental process. They do this by setting up their own miniature city, county and state governments and administer them according to the laws of their particular states. On arrival at Girls State, the citizens are divided into two political parties to allow them to gain a special knowledge of how a two-party system operates. Girls State citizens participate in these mock political parties and elections are held to fill city, county, and state positions. Activities include legislative sessions, campaigning, party rallies, debating and voting. The citizens also receive special instruction in Parliamentary Procedure.
“We had to decide at the beginning what office we wanted to run for,” said Daniels. “I’m definitely a person who is go big or go home so I knew from the beginning I wanted the US Senate position because that meant the opportunity to go to Girls Nation in (Washington) DC for the week. It was very intimidating because you are there with the top girls in Georgia.”
Instead of campaigning, Daniels said she focused on being genuine. It obviously worked as she was nominated by her party and later chosen by staff as one of two senators out of the more than three hundred girls at Girls State to represent Georgia in the nation’s capital.
As a result of her senatorial win, Daniels spent the week of July 21 in Chevy Chase, Maryland participating in mock senate sessions complete with caucusing and debating of bills that ranged in topic from personal to political interests. In addition to their legislative forums, the senators heard from many distinguished guest speakers and visited the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, the White House and other memorials in Washington, D.C.
“At Girls Nations, we had to write a bill before we got there and one of the highlights for me was that mine was one of the few bills that passed,” said Daniels. “Out of 47 bills only 6 passed and mine was one of them.”
Daniels said a lot of hard work and preparation went into her stay at Girls Nation.
“I made sure I stayed up-to-date on current issues,” she said. “We’d literally be at lunch debating issues. The girls there were very knowledgeable and very charismatic. Their values make them who they are and I found that there were a lot of girls that hadn’t been exposed to a lot—some had never even been north of their hometown. I just made sure I stayed true to my values. I had to remember that we are all from different places and people have their own views on a lot of things. I think one of my biggest things was not getting discouraged there. I had to listen and understand why they thought that way and help come to a consensus and find common ground. At the end of the day you can really get into a heated debate and sometimes you have to agree to disagree. ”
Daniels said she will never forget her experience at Girls Nation and would definitely recommend other girls participate in the Girls State and Girls Nation programs.
“You are with people who are just like you; they are just from different parts of the country. It’s a great experience and builds confidence and exposes you to a lot,” said Daniels. “We woke up at six with flag raising and the days were packed. I came home and slept for 17 hours! You basically are running on adrenaline the whole time you are there. I met some amazing people while I was there. These are people who I promise you will be the next something—the next first lady, the next senator. All the people I met there are going to make a difference in some way. I made lifelong friends from all over the country. You really have a friend in every state!”
Now that Daniels is back home and back in school, she’s just as busy. In addition to the four AP classes she’s taking as a student in the Academy of Liberal Arts at Newton High School, Daniels also serves as president of DECA and the Beta Club. She’s also chairperson of the National Honor Society and captain of the school volleyball team. Despite the heavy schedule of academic and extra-curricular activities, Daniels is in the top ten percent of her class at Newton High School.
“Imari Daniels is a brilliant young lady and a natural leader,” said Dr. Craig Lockhart, principal of Newton High School. “She is a member of the Academy of Liberal Arts, and she excels in her studies and extracurricular activities. Imari is a model student, and we are so proud of her accomplishments. She will go far in life.”
For more information, contact Ms. Sherri Davis-Viniard, director of public relations for Newton County Schools, at email@example.com.