At a recent GSCI special event we asked a long-time Girl Scout to share her Girl Scout experience.
Hi, my name is Amanda and I’m a gender studies and sociology double major at Illinois Wesleyan University. I currently work as a prevention educator and crisis hotline volunteer at YWCA McLean County. I would first like to say that I am excited to be asked to speak here about my experiences as a Girl Scout. This organization has become such a big part of my life, and it holds a special place in my heart.
When my parents registered me as a Daisy Girl Scout at five years old, I never could have anticipated how much donning a patch-adorned vest and selling Thin Mints could transform me as a person. Being a Girl Scout has given me a plethora of experiences, big and small, for which I am extremely grateful. It has helped shape me into the feminist, leader, and person I am today. Through my sixteen-year journey from a Daisy to a lifetime member, I have learned that this is a life-changing, world-changing program that brings out the best in its members by encouraging leadership, diversity, courage, confidence, and character.
I could take this speech in many different directions; a lot happens when you’re part of an organization for sixteen years. Through Girl Scouts I’ve been able to attend and work at camp; strengthen my financial literacy skills by selling cookies; earn my Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards; lead younger troops; serve on my council’s board of directors and teen leadership board; film a public service announcement acknowledged by former president Barack Obama; attend the Girls’ World Forum and GSUSA National Convention; and meet inspiring people from every corner of the earth. I never could have imagined being exposed to so many different people and opportunities before even graduating from high school. But I think that, for today, I will start with a single anecdote from seven years ago, and finish with a realization I had when I studied abroad last year.
Being a Girl Scout helped me to see myself as a global citizen, and my participation in the 2012 Girls’ World Forum in Chicago was a turning point in my life. I was selected to represent my state in a conference of over three hundred girls from ninety different countries; we gathered for a week to discuss the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and create related projects to bring back to our own communities. I quickly found myself in the company of Girl Scouts from every corner of the earth– from Argentina, to Finland, to Japan, to Zimbabwe. During the day we discussed global humanitarian crises, and at night we participated in cultural exchanges, celebrating a wide range of international food, dance, and art. I can now say I’ve explored Chicago and learned to dance with girls from Uganda, shared late-night stories and discussions with my roommate from Bangladesh, planted crops with girls from Bolivia and Peru, and have stayed in contact with many of the people I met over six years ago!
To say I felt empowered by the experience would be an extreme understatement; I was surrounded by hundreds of young women who were equally committed to bettering our surroundings. Endlessly diverse, we drove each other to question our views and embrace new ways of thinking; none of us had known each other before the forum, but we were united in our unwavering desired to leave a positive impact on the world. Because of this sisterhood, the forum was the first time I truly began to believe I could create substantial change in my community – and in the world. I didn’t see myself as just a girl in the United States anymore. I was a feminist, a leader, and someone who was forever learning; I was one global citizen in a world of seven billion endlessly interesting people, and I’ll never forget the beginning of that feeling.
I believe that this experience helped me prepare to study abroad because it was my first substantial exposure to the complexity and humanity of various global societies. Each individual transcended stereotypes attributed to her culture, and was interested in exchanging information and knowledge with her international peers. The Forum was a platform not only for multicultural education, but also for the discussion of complex and sometimes uncomfortable topics facing our world. I learned not to tokenize or trivialize people with different experiences from mine; instead, I learned to appreciate each of them for their uniqueness and our connectedness. Much can be gained from seeking authentic immersion into other cultures and taking the time to truly understand their inner workings and histories.
Today, as an adult woman, I am particularly struck by the fact that I witness the impact of Girl Scouts wherever I go. I see it in the service work of the Kappa Delta sorority at Illinois Wesleyan. I see it in the old Girl Scout campsite down the street from my Danish host mother’s home. I see it written on the walls of the food bank I volunteered with in Tokyo. I hear it in the voices of women I interviewed for my senior research this semester. I feel it in the nostalgia that strikes me every time I set foot on the grounds of Camp Tapawingo. I feel it in the confidence that drove me to single-handedly collect over 2,000 signatures demanding the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in Illinois, which finally passed while I was studying in Japan last summer.
I want as many girls as possible to have access to experiences and opportunities like these. I am a product of this organization, and there are many stories out there like mine.
Amanda Breeden is a senior gender studies and sociology double major at Illinois Wesleyan University. She has been a Girl Scout since Kindergarten and, upon earning her Gold Award in 2015, became a lifetime member. Through Girl Scouts, Amanda has fostered a love for camping, served on the GSCI board of directors, filmed a public service announcement recognized by former president Barack Obama, and cultivated a sense of global citizenship that prepared her to study abroad in Denmark and Japan during college.
Amanda currently works as a prevention educator and crisis hotline volunteer at YWCA McLean County; in the past, she has been a camp counselor at GSCI’s Camp Tapawingo and a campus organizer for NARAL Pro-Choice America. She has also been a part of a number of activist organizations, including the Illinois Wesleyan University Pride Alliance and the Equal Rights Amendment Illinois Coalition of Bloomington-Normal.
She will be graduating summa cum laude and with research honors in May.