After her first day at Iowa Girls State in June, Ellen Mallory was not in the best of moods.
“I was down, so I talked to my mom and I said I didn’t know how it was going to go,” she said.
Mallory is the daughter of Bethany and Ted Mallory, of Charter Oak.
She will be a senior this year at MVAO-COU High School.
Iowa Girls State is a program sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary of Iowa.
Mallory was chosen by the American Legion Auxiliary in Charter Oak to be the local representative.
She received scholarships through United Bank of Iowa and Bank Iowa in Charter Oak to attend the program.
On the first day of Girls State, the attendees voted in “city” elections.
Mallory ran for city mayor and didn’t win.
The same result came when she ran for city reporter, city council and for the executive committee of the mythical state of “Hawkeye” in which Iowa Girls State takes place.
“I was putting myself out there and I didn’t get onto anything,” she said.
Mallory took encouragement from staff members who told the girls that they would only get out as much as they put in.
The event lasted from June 16 to 21, so she had time to turn things around.
The next day, the girls started on the state elections, which start with nominations and move to primary elections and then a general election.
“We listened to 182 speakers that day,” Mallory said.
She decided she would run for the office of Secretary of Agriculture.
“I was familiar with that field,” she said. “I thought I could write a good speech about it because I had been in FFA.”
She could also draw on FFA speeches she had given in the past.
One of the staff members encouraged her to give a speech to help familiarize herself with the crowd and get her face known to the attendees.
“I went up on stage and gave a speech based on the speech that I had given for the mayoral election - and somehow I got onto the ballot for the primary election,” Mallory said. “I was feeling thrilled. It was something I never thought would happen.”
Then it hit her that she would have to write another speech and prepare to give it.
At that point, she felt content with how far she had made it at Girls State.
“I didn’t feel like I had to win or prove anything or do it for anyone,” Mallory said. “I really was just doing it for fun so I could get something out of the experience.”
Her attitude carried her to a win in the primary election and getting her name on the ballot for the general election.
So she prepared yet another new speech.
“I talked on the phone with my parents and my sisters and was trying to get some inspiration,” she said.
“I wasn’t sure how to connect with the entire group. I needed to give a speech in front of 350 people, which was something I had never done before.”
Mallory got in some trouble for staying up after hours practicing in the hallways of the dormitory at Drake University where the girls were housed.
She worked to make her last speech a little more personal.
“I gave examples and stories from my life that were funny,” she said.
Mallory told jokes and used puns to make her points.
Her platform was about helping people get a better understanding of voting.
“Part of what the secretary of state does is connect the people and the politicians,” she said. “They are the person in charge of voting. I pushed for more education in high schools and towns because I think there is a lack of knowledge - in high schoolers, especially.”
She told the crowd that they needed to know they could vote in high school if they are 18 by Election Day.
“If you’re 18 years old, you can vote for your school board members,” Mallory said. “That was something I learned that is important.”
After she gave her speech, she didn’t think she would have much of a chance to win because students from the larger schools have more opportunities to participate on speech or political teams.
“I come from a 2A school where we don’t have those programs, so I didn’t feel like I had some of those skills,” she said.
To her surprise, when the voting was complete she was named the Hawkeye secretary of state.
“That was an amazing moment for me,” she said.
The Girls State experience taught her how to step outside of the box.
“I learned so many things that I had never experienced before, and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gotten up there on the stage,” she said.
Mallory said she probably gained the most from her experience with public speaking.
“I learned it’s not just being educated, knowing what you are talking about and having a strict agenda,” she said.
Connecting with the audience was just as important.
“I was with complete strangers there,” she said. “I think it really helped me get out of my comfort zone. Now I know that I can make new friends and meet new people and talk to new people.”
Mallory said she is not necessarily interested in politics in her future, but she might consider a school board or city council position - and doesn’t rule out more than that.
“In the future, if I find myself more invested in it and feeling that is something I have been called to do, I would not shut the door to it.”
She received a $500 scholarship for an essay she wrote about how Girls State influenced her.
“I wrote that it gave me a new perspective on politics, a new respect for politicians and a better understanding of the voting process,” she said.