By Cecilia Chan
GSN Managing Editor

Audrey Landers isn’t old enough to vote yet, but she’s already drafted a bill, participated in a caucus and met with Arizona’s representatives at Capitol Hill.

The Gilbert teen is one of 100 young women selected from across the country to learn how the federal government works at the 73rd American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation session held last week in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve learned a ton off the bat because I never knew much about our state government and now our national government,” Audrey, 17, said. “The entire process is a learning curve.”

The 100 girls participated in a mock legislature and were responsible for submitting bills and resolutions, participating in senate sessions and electing officials such as president and vice president.                                                                                                                                           They met with their state senators and representatives and went on field trips to places like Arlington National Cemetery and the White House.

And, they placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and toured the D.C. monuments.

They were supposed to tour the White House and while didn’t take place, Audrey got the chance to meet Vice President Mike Pence.

Audrey’s path to the nation’s capital began in June as a participant at the Auxiliary’s Arizona Girls State, where high school girls learn about state government. The Auxiliary hosts the annual program in all 50 states.

Of the 300 participants at Girls State, 51 of them, including Audrey filed nomination papers to be elected as one of two “senators” to represent Arizona at Girls Nation.

“It was a pretty hard election,” recalled Audrey, a senior at Campo Verde High School.

The primary election weeded the number of candidates down to eight and from there in the general election Audrey and Paradise Valley resident Maeve Lomax from Chaparral High School were elected senators.

Audrey, who was a member of the Federalist Party, and Lomax, with the Nationalist Party, both worked on a bill submitted for senate consideration last week.

“We decided to focus on the VA hospital,” said Audrey, whose bill called for reform at the medical system for veterans.

“It’s a triage bill where veterans and people deployed come home and the VA in their region will have them come to the hospital and analyze their mental health state, PTSD is a big one,” Audrey explained.

Audrey said they wrote the bill and took it through the same process a real bill would.

The duo had to identify a funding source for their proposal and argued its merits on the senate floor.

“I’m passionate about veterans and serving our country,” said Audrey, who will be in her second year as corps commander of the Air Force JROTC at her high school. “I’ve wanted to serve our country since sixth grade and my heart is set on a military academy.

“My grandpa was in the military but that didn’t influence me. It was all self-motivated.”

Audrey said she didn’t know which branch of the military she will end up joining but that she was “meant for it and it’s in my blood to serve.”

“It’s really important to recognize everything veterans have done for us and to give back,” she said.

Audrey said she was initially behind most of the other participants when it came to the political process.

“A lot of these girls attending have participated in mock senate debates and trials,” she said. “And in my school, there was nothing like that. I focused on community service clubs and JROTC.”

She was at a loss when she heard the girls banter around the term “Parli Pro.”

“It was pretty intimidating,” she said. “I had no idea what it was and finally yesterday I asked.”

“Parli Pro,” she learned, is short for “parliamentary procedure.”

“It’s a special way on how you introduce your point and make your claim on the senate floor,” she said. “All these girls who participated in mock (debates) were well-versed. I was a little behind the ball but it didn’t stop me.”

More than 7,000 young women have participated in ALA Girls Nation since it was founded in 1947. 

The program is designed  to provide practical insight into how the federal government operates, instill a sense of pride in and loyalty to America and create friendships and memories that last a lifetime, according to the Auxiliary.

“I will say one thing,” Audrey said. “I would love people to understand and know ALA State and ALA Nation, before I came out to do this I had a lot of people say, ‘it will change your life, you will come back a different person.’

“I thought in the moment, ‘no way it will happen.’ But in the few short days at Girls Nation now I am a different person. I’ve matured a lot and learned so many things.

“I’m meeting someone from every state and learning about their lives and it’s an amazing opportunity and I hope more young women would learn about this great opportunity before them. It’s not a cliché when they say it’s going to change your life.”