Citizens of the 2021 session of American Legion Auxiliary West Virginia Rhododendron Girls State left their session Friday at Davis & Elkins College with three pieces of advice. An address by Girls State alumna Missy Armentrout McCollam provided keys to guide them through the future.

McCollam, who serves as coordinator of President’s Initiative on Community and Immersive Learning at D&E, executive director of The Old Brick Playhouse and executive director of The New School OBP, looked to her own future and experience from her past to offer the insight.

“One of my concerns is that our country and our world is divided, so my job for this year is to connect people to each other, connect countries to other countries, parties to other political parties,” McCollam explained.

Relaying two stories from her past that centered around trusting a person she had never met in person and another who she thought looked intimating, McCollam emphasized that it’s always important to give people the benefit of the doubt.

“At the Old Brick Playhouse where I’m the executive director, we have a saying, ‘everyone is different and everyone’s important,’” she said. “You might say, ‘I don’t like that person because of this or that.’ What I’d like to welcome you to do is say, ‘I bet we have something in common.’”

McCollam also reminded the citizens to be resilient and told them a story about her son, who in one of his first sporting contests, was knocked down by a larger athlete and got up to continue the game. The example, she said, applies to life.

“There will be days when nothing works,” she said. “What you need to do is get back up. I think some people believe that life is carefree and easy. It’s not. You have to be resilient enough to get back up, and if you can’t get back up, ask someone else to help you get back up.”

For her final piece of advice, McCollam encouraged the citizens to be a collective thinker and use collective intelligence.

“You have to count on a team and collective thinking is stronger than individual thinking,” she explained. “I think you’re amiss if you think that you have all the answers to something. You can reach out to someone and say, ‘I need your expertise I need your excellence’ and that doesn’t make you a bad leader. It makes you a smart leader.”

McCollam’s address was just one part of the only in-person event for this year’s Girls State. Throughout the week, citizens took part in various virtual activities including the traditional election process. On Friday, the successful candidates were sworn into office.

Administering the oath was 22nd Family Court Circuit Judge Lori Haynes. Elected officials are President of the Senate Grace Moore, Speaker of the House Ariana Rectenwald, Commissioner of Agriculture Molly Mazza, Auditor Morgan Baker, Treasurer Emma Grimes, Attorney General Annisa Molnar, Secretary of State Julia Leyden, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Jillian Griffin, Justices of the Supreme Court Lyndsay Bucklew, Sophia Putnam, Franki Shumate and Paige Van Meter, and Governor Sidney Megna. Selected as senators to represent West Virginia at the American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation are Olivia Turman and Maddie Alix. Alternates are Julia Leyden and Anissa Molnar.

Rhododendron Girls State made its debut at Davis & Elkins College in 2018. This year was the first virtual session.

West Virginia Girls State

American Legion Auxiliary West Virginia Rhododendron Girls State 2021 Governor Sidney Megna, right, of Marion County takes the oath of office from 22nd Family Court Circuit Judge Lori Haynes.