An Elkins High School senior had an experience of a lifetime this summer and used this opportunity to travel to new places, learn about all levels of government, meet people from different walks of life and make many new friendships. She even met and talked with President Barack Obama.
Delaney Johnson, daughter of Michael and Peggy Johnson, said her journey began toward the end of her junior year when she learned she had been chosen to attend Rhododendron Girls State. Each year, girls from all counties in West Virginia are selected to attend this camp by school representatives.
"I was very excited to learn I had been selected to attend Girls State," Delaney said. "I was honored that my teachers at Elkins High School selected me as one of the candidates."
Delaney Johnson meets with President Barack Obama during her trip to Girls Nation in Washington, D.C. Johnson, a senior at Elkins High School, was selected as one of 30 girls from the Mountain State eligible for the event and was one of only two chosen to attend.
Delaney said she did not know what to expect when she arrived at Girls State in June. The camp was held at Wheeling Jesuit College, and while there, girls learn about and participate in campaigns and elections. Elected officials speak with the girls. They set up their own government and learn about city, county and state government.
The Monroe Community was home to Delaney during her stay at Rhododendron Girls State and she said she was voted the mayor of her community of 30 girls.
"I also was the spirit leader for the Nationalist Party," Delaney said. "I enjoyed the classes where I learned to register to vote and actually went through the process of setting up and voting during a mock primary and general election. We even learned to use the electronic voting machines."
During the week, the girls listened to many speakers from West Virginia.
"My favorite speakers were (Secretary of State) Natalie Tennant and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblyn," Delaney said. "I especially enjoyed hearing Natalie Tennant. She was very inspiring."
About 30 of the approximately 400 girls attending Rhododendron Girls State were tapped to be interviewed for outstanding citizen.
"Those 30 girls were chosen by all the girls at Girls State," Delaney said. "I was selected and we were interviewed by a panel before we left."
Delaney said she felt sad on the day of departure.
"I had met so many new friends and had such a wonderful time," she said. "We were all together, hugging and saying goodbye when they announced the two winners for Girls Nation, chosen from the 30 outstanding citizens. I could not believe when they called my name as a winner."
Delaney said she cried and hugged everyone.
"It was just a bit overwhelming," she said.
Girls Nation is held at the end of July in Washington. Each state, except Hawaii, sends two girls to participate in the program.
Delaney said Girls Nation participants learn about the federal government and its inner workings.
"We had mock Senate sessions and we write bills or resolutions to present," she said. "I worked with the other Girls Nation delegate from West Virginia. Our bill was number 60, so we did not get to it, but it was eye-opening to learn the process."
While in Washington, Delaney said they visited Arlington National Cemetery, Walter Reed Veterans Hospital and all of the sights.
"We were able to explore Capitol Hill and sit in on U.S. Senate sessions," Delaney said. "We also met with Sen. (Jay) Rockefeller and Sen. (Joe) Manchin."
Delaney said they went on a picnic one day with wounded warriors.
"It was fun," she said. "I was sad as I listened to their stories."
Another speaker Delaney said she enjoyed listening to is Nesse Godin.
"She was a holocaust survivor and she told us about her experience," Delaney said. "It was an inspiration to hear of her plight and how she lived through this."
The highlight of Delaney's Girls Nation experience was going to the White House.
"We went to the West Wing Room and I met President Barack Obama," she said. "This was the coolest experience I ever had. He shook our hands and talked to each one of us. It is such a wonderful thing to meet the President of the United States."
Delaney said she had a great experience and it has impacted her life.
"While I have no desire to run for public office, I did learn about and have a better understanding about politics and the political workings of government," she said. "I keep up to date on current events and pay attention to things going on around me.
"I also realize I want to travel more," Delaney said. "I also want to participate in more leadership activities and learn all I can. During Girls State and Girls Nation, I got to meet some amazing girls from across the nation. And we all keep in touch with Facebook, letters and texting."
Elkins resident Alice Detore, a member of the Elkins American Legion Auxiliary, has been helping with Rhododendron Girls State for more than 25 years.
"I was very excited to learn that Delaney Johnson was selected for and attended Girls Nation," Detore said. "We have had three girls who served as governor during Rhododendron Girls State, but to my knowledge, Delaney was the first Randolph County girl to attend Girls Nation. She shared her experience at Girls Nation during the Elkins Veterans Day Dinner held the beginning of November."
Delaney said she is passing on what she learned with girls at Elkins High School and letting them know what a good experience Rhododendron Girls State can be.
"I tell them it is an honor to be selected and it's a blast," Delaney said. "You just need to be positive, keep an open mind, learn, participate and have fun."