Last evening, Missouri Girls State had the honor of joining with the program of Missouri Boys State to listen to keynote speaker Claire McCaskill. The special program took place in Hyland Arena and after a day filled with important government actions from over one thousand delegates, they were eager to hear her words. I had the honor of meeting with Senator McCaskill to discuss her advice for young leaders like us here at Girls State. Beginning with her speech to all, McCaskill had three main points that she was eager to address. She began with discussing the common ideal of creating a “successful future” and the pressure that young leaders often face in this topic. However she outlined what she believed was more important by stating, “Success is not what you own, but it’s loving what you do.” She called delegates to find a future in being a public servant while growing as an individual. She was adamant about how she felt her personal success came from finding a job that she loved. While Senator McCaskill has had outstanding success in politics, she was quick to tell delegates about the importance that she finds in failure. While this is something many candidates must face at Girls State, McCaskill’s was clearly on a much bigger scale. After fighting a strong campaign to become the first female governor of Missouri in 2004, she simply lost. However, she was passionate to share that in her failure is where she found the strongest lessons that contributed to her personal story. She shared that although our struggles can be extremely difficult in the moment, if we choose to move on and learn, we can often find another door opened for us. It is up to us to use our anger and frustration and channel that into the change that we seeked in the first place. Finally, Senator McCaskill placed a strong emphasis on the media surrounding our country and society. She shared that when she was a young woman, she found news from true conversation with others and trusted news. However, it is not hard for us to recognize how this has changed. When we have chosen to pick up our phones and surf the internet with an algorithm programmed for us to come back, that creates true danger for our democracy. It is our responsibility to seek out and advocate for true conversation and in turn, true news.
When I met with Senator McCaskill, I was eager to discuss her leadership roles both as a woman and as a past politician. She shared that the biggest regret when dealing with the sexism surrounding her position was simply not addressing it or seeking change. While she regrets this, she uses it to inspire women to create a difference in the gender barriers often surrounding us as women. Senator McCaskill is proudly the first female elected to the US Senate, but when I asked her about female voice and power, she had an interesting answer. Here at Girls State we heard about embracing our minority in feminism, but McCaskill says, “I knew it was more important to be prepared than it was to even think about being a woman… I wanted to know more than everyone else.” Delegates must be inspired to fight for knowledge and not be afraid to create a specialty (for McCaskill this was criminal law). As women we must understand that we can grow ourselves and each other to build our confidence and promotion. She continued to show her passion for this idea in her story specifically by speaking about growth, suggesting that, “Before you know it, you’ll be looked at as somebody who has credibility and respect, not just a young woman.”
Women must choose to insert themselves into the places we belong. We must seek power and knowledge to turn into change. We must seek being a public servant for the things we care about. Senator McCaskill has used these ideals to become a symbol of influence for individuals all across Missouri and America. How will you?