I hope you have all read the marvelous news in “Girl Scouting Works: The Alumnae Impact Study,” by the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. It has justifiably garnered quite a bit of publicity. In brief, the research found, as the GSUSA website puts it, “Girl Scouting works. Women who were Girl Scouts as girls display positive life outcomes to a greater degree than women who were not Girl Scouts. These outcomes are regarding sense of self, community service, civic engagement, education and income. And this is the case for all Girl Scout alumnae, across age/generations, social class, race, and engagement in other extracurricular activities.”
Recently I had the good fortune to spend an hour with nine Girl Scout Ambassadors. That’s the name for Girl Scouts in their junior and senior years of high school. They were on my Monmouth College campus as part of a Raise Your Voice weekend, sponsored by the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. What a tremendous honor! It is clear to me that the genesis of the “positive life outcomes” identified by the Alumnae Impact Study resides in today’s Girl Scouts.
Despite the summer 2012 heatwave, we had a good time talking about the importance of “dreaming big.” I asked the nine girls to write down their one big dream on a notecard. I put their dreams anonymously (at first) on the board. We discussed these dreams, trying to categorize them into (1) “big, wonderful, crazy, incredible dreams,” (2) “you could totally do that!” or (3) “ummm, good but is there no bigger dream in your life?” I was fascinated to learn about what these life-long Girl Scouts were setting out to do and what they would think of each other’s dreams.
Not surprisingly, given what we know about the percentage of congresswomen, businesswomen, scientists, and other high achievers with Girl Scout backgrounds, two of the girls aspire to medical careers, one hoping to “become a doctor and find the cure for cancer” and the other to “find a cure for diseases currently without a cure.” These, we all agreed, were commendable and inspirational “big, wonderful, crazy, incredible dreams.” The two girls did say that if they did not attain their goals in their lifetimes, they’d be happy knowing that their research would assist the work of others.
Two girls want (eventually) “to be good mothers”–not, you’ll surely agree, an easy task. I suggested that the very fact that these young women were worried about being good mothers was a positive indication that they probably would achieve that goal. We did distinguish between “being a mother” which was obtainable (barring medical difficulties) and being “a good mother.”
One Ambassador wants to travel across Europe. Her colleagues thought that was a fairly easily achievable goal, so we brainstormed some ways to turn that into a “big, wonderful, crazy, incredible dream.” “Learn the language spoken in every country you travel,” one girl suggested. “Do a good turn in every country,” was another idea. “Do volunteer work along the way,” a third girl offered. “Make a difference!” they all agreed.
One girl dreams of running faster than her brother. This seemed like a potentially impossible objective, and we talked a bit about setting unachievable goals versus setting goals that inspire one to reach one’s potential. Another young woman wants to qualify for the Olympics. She loves to run and has set herself that lofty goal. Many of the nine Girl Scouts are extremely athletic and could easily understand the siren call of Olympic success.
The thoughtful poet among us longs to become a professional actor and playwright. Her colleagues turned this into a “big, wonderful, crazy, incredible dream” by suggesting that she should shoot for acting on or writing for Broadway–to aim, that is, for the top right from the start.
And one Girl Scout delivered a passionate oration on the importance of women being able to take care of themselves. Her goal is to open and run her own dojo. She wants to teach young people how martial arts can aid them in ways large and small. When we suggested that she could ratchet up her dream by taking her experience to a women’s shelter and instruct battered women or abused children how to defend themselves she said that she already did that! Amazing!
We discussed what we all need to achieve our goals. The girls threw out great ideas: a plan; patience; tenacity; support; bravery; a network; understanding what you’re facing; people who can provide knowledge, wisdom, experience; supporters and cheerleaders; faith. I told them a little about the setbacks in my career as a writer–particularly of the biography of Juliette Gordon Low. And I spent a bit more time explaining Juliette Gordon Low’s dream of bringing Girl Scouting to the girls of the United States and beyond–to the whole world. We recalled her setbacks, including her deafness and her culture’s strictures against girls engaging in any activity that seemed remotely “unfeminine.”
And, because Juliette Gordon Low always told her troop leaders to be sure to feed the girls, I left them with my homemade brownies. 🙂
It was just one hour–but it was instructive for me. At Monmouth College I teach women only a year older than some of these Ambassadors, but in my History classes we don’t often discuss our own dreams (that’s more likely to happen with a student advisee). I really enjoyed my brief encounter with these nine motivated, cheerful, chatty, accomplished Girl Scouts. I hope that our conversation helped them reflect on goal setting in light of their colleagues’ advice. I hope that each young woman will achieve her dream and set many more laudable goals. I know–from this night, from my book-related travels meeting other Girl Scouts, from my own experience, and from the Alumnae Impact Study–that Girl Scouting is an essential part of the development of girls and women who truly do make a positive difference–in their own lives, their communities, and the larger world.