“I learned so much I don’t know where to begin! Although, overall, I learned that I (yes, me) and anyone else can do anything! Follow your dreams and believe in yourself.”

That’s what Maggie from Bar Harbor, had to say about the March day she spent at the Legislature last year.

This year more than 100 girls gained confidence that they too belong in the State House.

Maine’s young women leaders arrived in Augusta on March 24 to learn about state government, develop their advocacy skills and envision themselves as leaders in their communities.

Eighth-grade girls from schools across Maine — some traveling more than five hours to attend, others boarding early morning ferries — participated in Girls’ Day at the State House.

This event, now in its 15th year, was created in connection with National Women’s History Month as an opportunity for young women to see the strides women have made in the political process, and engage them as active participants for the future.

When the girls looked around the halls of the Legislature, they saw many women in positions of influence. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman and House Minority Leader Emily Cain are highly respected by their colleagues as policy experts and persuasive leaders.

The girls saw women in such diverse roles as legislator, cabinet appointee, State House staff, reporter, lobbyist and mentor.

Importantly, they learned that there is no single leadership path.

Rather, there are multiple ways to exert influence and to make a difference.

And they learned that the skills and experiences they have right now as young women can be applied toward the roles they seek in the future. T

hey learned that leadership doesn’t require special talents, credentials, or family history; it takes courage, commitment and the ability to work effectively with others.

They learned “You can do anything you want if you work hard,” as Hannah from Industry expressed last year

The young women experienced the important role women have played and are continuing to play in Maine. They learned about the great contributions women such as Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Chellie Pingree are making to the state and the country as representatives to Congress, and the pioneering efforts of Margaret Chase Smith and Elizabeth Mitchell, Maine’s first woman speaker of the House and Senate president.

They didn’t, however, see as many women serving as men.

Although Maine ranks among the highest — 12th in the country — for the percentage of women serving in the state Legislature, that number actually has decreased over the past few years. Representation was at an all-time high in 1991, when the Legislature was 33 percent women. Women make up just 28 percent women in the current Legislature.

Maine continues to need a rich, diverse cadre of women to ensure the Legislature, and all of our institutions, are truly representative.

That’s why Girls’ Day at the State House is so important.

This year, the Maine Women’s Policy Center hosted this leadership training opportunity, thanks to the generous financial support of AT&T and more than a dozen corporations, organizations, individuals and foundations.

Now is the time to cultivate the political leadership of the future. Programs to train and recruit any and all candidates are to be celebrated and expanded.

We hope that some of the 100 young women who entered the halls of the State House on March 24 will become the political leaders of the future.

Sarah Standiford is the executive director of the Maine Women’s Policy Center. Owen Smith is regional vice president in Maine for AT&T.

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