"Almost 20 years ago, 19 years ago to be exact, I was elected governor at Girls State," she said. "The friends I made during Girls State were some of the closest relationships I have ever made. As a matter of fact, when I first ran for public office in 2001, those were the people I called first for advice and support."
Herseth Sandlin said Girls State taught her the significance of committing herself to something she really cared about.
"Those who make that commitment themselves are most likely to make a difference," she said. "For the last three years, I have had the honor of representing the people of South Dakota in Congress, and Girls State was one of the events in my life that prepared me to take action. I hope you appreciate the journey as much as I did."
Herseth Sandlin said she has met many people in her role as U.S. representative who have chosen to make a commitment and take action to improve life in South Dakota.
"There are women all over South Dakota who care about the lives of other women, who take action and set up shelters to improve the lives of women and children who are being victimized by abuse and rape," she said. "It is South Dakota farmers who believed that South Dakota cannot just feed the world but also fuel the nation. They found an issue they cared about and invested their time and money to create the growing ethanol industry in this state. They took action and made a difference."
Herseth Sandlin said that kind of commitment and compassion can be found all over the state, including Yankton.
"The community of Yankton has decided they care about the quality of life of (Sgt.) Corey Briest and his family, and they are taking action to make sure there is a new home waiting for them when they return from California where he is rehabilitating (after being injured in Iraq)," she said. "It is tremendous that they care so much about that family and their sacrifices."
Herseth Sandlin said she hopes that as the Girls State delegates prepare for their senior year in high school, they look inside themselves and discover what they truly care about.
"You are going to make decisions – what college to go to, what career path you want to follow – but I also ask you to think about what you really care about," she said. "Then ask yourself: 'How am I going to make a dif-ference?' "
Herseth Sandlin asked the delegates to include public service in their plans for the future.
"Each of you have been chosen to attend this event because you show great leadership potential," she said. "I urge you to seek out opportunities for public service. Whether you serve as an elected official, in an appointed role or as part of a service organization, I hope you take what you have learned here at Girls State to make a commitment and make a difference."