For almost 100 years one of the best annual events for young Alabama high school leaders in Alabama has been the Boys State and Girls State programs sponsored by the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary.

The programs epitomize the American Legion’s mission to honor those who have bought us our American freedom. The Girls State and Boys State programs bring the brightest high school leaders together every June. They’ll be Alabama’s governmental leaders in the future.

During the weeklong session these rising high school seniors develop leadership skills and action-based understanding of the governmental process that gives them a lasting foundation for success professionally and personally.

Boys State has spawned Alabama’s governmental leaders for decades. I attended Boys State 50 years ago this month and I remember it like it was yesterday. It is a lifetime memory. You make friends that last throughout life and have resurfaced my entire life. One of my contemporaries from Boys State who became a lifetime friend is current Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker.

Now that women have taken their rightful place in Alabama governmental positions, it is appropriate our top two female leaders in Alabama got their start at Girls State — Gov. Kay Ivey and Business Council of Alabama CEO Katie Britt, who was governor of Girls State.   

Ivey has stayed extremely active as a board member and director of Girls State ever since her years at Auburn University. She loves Girls State and has volunteered as a counselor for more than 50 years. In fact, when these young female leaders meet next week at the University of Alabama for the 79th time, Ivey will address them as their governor and fellow Girls Stater.

These young women leaders will organize and assume the roles of government leaders. They will campaign in mock parties called the “Federalists” and “Nationalists.” They will divide up in cities and become mayors and county officials. Then others will have bigger roles as state constitutional officers and Supreme Court judges. One will become governor. She and the lieutenant governor will go to Washington, D.C., to attend Girls Nation. They may even run for president of Girls Nation.  

Ivey has mentored several Girls State leaders over the years, including Lee Grant Sellers, who for 18 years has been the director of Girls State. Lee’s husband, Will Sellers, is on the Alabama Supreme Court. The Sellers are among Ivey’s closest friends and confidants.

We have had a president of Girls Nation mentored by Ivey. Cathy Johnson Randall bonded with Ivey through Girls State and has been one of the most outstanding leaders in Alabama over the past 50 years. She headed Ivey’s gubernatorial inauguration committee.

After graduating from Alabama, she married Pettus Randall from Tuscaloosa and upon his death became chairman of the board of Randall Holdings. She is also on the boards of Alabama Power Company and Mercedes Benz.

While in high School, Cathy Johnson Randall was elected governor of Girls State and went on to become president of Girls Nation. Her husband was Boys State governor and Boys Nation president. And their daughter was governor of Girls State and president of Girls Nation.