WASHINGTON, D.C. — Diya Mehra, a 17-year-old Prairie School student, was one of two girls in Wisconsin chosen to attend American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation.
“It was amazing to know that I was chosen out of almost 700 girls because the selection process was quite intensive,” Mehra said of the event that took place in the nation’s capital July 20-27.
Mehra, an incoming senior at The Prairie School in Wind Point, was recommended for the precursor to the ALA Girls Nation — ALA Badger State — by her history teacher because of Mehra’s interest in history and politics.
The state event, held in June, brought together 700 girls from across Wisconsin to form mock county, city and state-level governments.
During the state event, two girls from each Wisconsin county were chosen to interview with ALA representatives for a spot at the national event. Then the girls were asked: “What do you think is the greatest national need?” in front of their nearly 700 peers and had two minutes to answer. The crowd voted for their favorite answers.
“I talked about rising health care prices and how it is totally unacceptable that people cannot afford to call an ambulance or to go to the hospital because their insurance doesn’t cover it,” Mehra said. “We need to have a publicly funded option as well as private insurance to cover health care.”
Mehra said she learned a lesson about taking chances during the state event, as she didn’t think she would be chosen to attend ALA Girls Nation.
“For me the biggest learning experience was just take all the opportunities you get and make the most out of them,” she said.
During ALA Girls Nation, the high school students were divided into two “political parties,” and then chose presidential and vice presidential candidates.
They also took part in mock Senate sessions where they wrote bills, presented and debated them and passed or shot them down.
The week ended with mock presidential campaigns and an election.
“I think what I’ll take away the most is that it’s really important to listen to other people and to hear what they have to say and to understand that everyone comes from different backgrounds and that you have to factor that in when you are talking to someone,” Mehra said. “Because we have such a diverse country and I really got to see that.”
Mehra said she met girls from large cities like Tampa, Florida, and others from small towns in Nevada and Louisiana.
“It’s just crazy how different everyone’s lives are and how much that affects the way they view the world,” Mehra said.
In addition to their mock political work, the girls met with Vice President Mike Pence for a question-and-answer session, and the girls from Wisconsin met briefly with Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
“ALA Girls Nation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our nation’s future leaders to learn about the inner workings of the federal government before they are of voting age,” Norma Tramm, ALA Girls Nation Committee chairman, said in a press release. “After attending their local ALA Girls State program and then ALA Girls Nation, the girls return home ready to be engaged citizens at all levels of government.”
Mehra is not yet set on a particular career, but is interested in public policy, law and business.
“Nothing’s off the table yet for me,” she said.