Mary Dooley admits she did not know much about politics.
But that has changed for the senior-to-be.
She and 13 classmates recently attended Illini Girls State — a weeklong political simulation conference for high school females. Through hands-on participation, the girls were introduced to the American political system.
Beyond gaining experience in leadership roles, many, like Dooley, expanded their political views in ways they didn’t expect.
“I kind of brushed politics off before, but now I will be much more active as a voter,” Dooley said.
Dooley gained a greater respect for politics by playing the role of a city mayor. Upon arrival, the conference attendees were divided between the Nationalist and Federalist parties. They then had the option of running for a political position in their designated city or county.
When running for a specific government role, the girls began by campaigning. Dooley found herself placing campaign signs all over the Eastern Illinois University campus in Charleston, where the conference was held. She continued to campaign by talking to the other girls in her city about why she wanted to be mayor.
“I wanted to help them out as much as possible,” said Dooley.
Once Dooley succeeded, she, like many other girls at the conference, had several duties to fulfill, including orchestrating meetings and assisting other girls in her city.
“My job also entailed helping my counselor run meetings and appointing positions, such as policemen and the city superintendant of schools,” she explained.
Other roles at the conference were secretary of state, senators, and a governor.
“The mayor wasn’t a huge role but was a position that required enough responsibility to keep me occupied,” Dooley said. “But it was also easy-going enough to allow me to help other girls in my city campaign and have a blast the whole time.”
Joining Dooley at the political simulation from LFHS were: Jennifer Alaimo, Adrianna Giannelli, Emma Nowicki, Rachel Penn, Jennifer Poth, Rebecca Scribner and Laura Sinclair, all of Lake Forest; and Kaitlyn Anson, Sarah Burkhardt, Hannah Gersten, Meredith Huszagh, Katie Mahoney and Martha Walker, all of Lake Bluff.
The conference trip is funded by the Lake Forest American Legion Post 264 Auxiliary Unit and . According to the unit’s president, Sharon Krawiec, the mock political system sets the tone for the girls to go on and participate as real voting citizens.
“We feel that it is important to learn about the constitution, and many students miss this understanding,” said Krawiec.
The conference also provides the girls the essence of Americanism, according to Girls State Chairwoman Dorothy Thomas, who is responsible for selecting the attendees from LFHS.
“It’s understanding that freedom is not free, and having respect for the men who have fought for our nation,” said Thomas. “Because we are a military organization, it is important the conference teach them flag etiquette and to generally love the United States.”
The girls will have the opportunity to share their experiences at their respective units’ meetings in the fall, and two girls who play the roles of senators at the conference are selected to attend Girls Nation in Washington, D.C. The girls are nominated by their peers, as well as the conference’s American Legion staff members, to tour the nation's capital and meet with Illinois state senators and congressmen.
According to Sarah Wyckoff, the director for Illini Girls State, 49 states host the mock political conference each summer. The programs vary in size, but about 425 girls attend the Illinois conference each year.