Guest post by Margeaux Graham, the Catholic teen who refused to miss Mass for a rare academic honor
Desire, doubt, honor, excitement, shock, and disappointment are the emotions preceding discrimination in the modern world. I have felt all of these towards a very unsuspecting organization, the Florida Girls State program sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary.
The Girls State program is a once in a life time opportunity that is only available to high school juniors. Three girls from my school are nominated each year for the opportunity to become delegate.
The previous year’s delegate came to my AP American History class and told us about her experience in the Girls State program. She made it sound very appealing, talking about the friends she made and the various things she learned. She also told us about the a variety of college opportunities that the delegates would get, such as ten points added to scholarship applications, special considerations when applying to colleges, and three credit hours for American government. I knew I wouldn’t be chosen, I am the quiet kid in class, do my work and only answer aloud when called upon. I was certain I would not be chosen.
Well, I got the surprise of my life, my teacher chose me as one of the three candidates for delegate. Though confused as to why she would find me outstanding, I was completely stoked. The next step was an interview with the American Legion Auxiliary.
When it came time for our interview I was very nervous. I arrived at the post with my parents. I knew I wasn’t going to be chosen, I felt completely unprepared, whereas my class mates looked completely ready to face what lay ahead. The first girl to go in was, in my opinion, most likely to be chosen. She is tall, pretty, outgoing, personable, and she had a folder — I didn’t have a folder, I didn’t know we needed a folder, and that alone made me all the more nervous. Next, it was my turn. As I went in I was self-conscious of the fact that my dress had gotten wrinkly during dinner, I felt slightly frumpy (as is normal), and that my voice was a little shaky because I was alone in a room full of strangers. I mustered up all I could to be charming, witty, and above all, worthy to be delegate. They asked me questions and I felt as if I were babbling. I talked about 4-H and the camps I go to, my cows, my dog, my family and my friends. Somehow I made unrelated subjects fit and my words segued into each other, I felt like a slightly eloquent speaker for the first time in my life. The awkwardness eventually returned and my time was done. The next girl went in and I knew she stood a better chance than I did of getting chosen; she is friendly and knows how to strike up a conversation with anyone about anything. Of the three girls there, I knew I was the least likely to be chosen.
When all of the interviews were done we stood in a line as we waited for them to announce who would be delegate. I stood there calmly waiting to congratulate whoever the winner was since it wasn’t going to be me. They started with the alternate. So it was clear who the delegate was going to be and I was perfectly content with that. Our auxiliary leader read out the name “and our delegate is going to be Margeaux Graham!” I was shocked; they said my name, not the name of my class mate, I couldn’t help but smile, it was completely unexpected. The other girls congratulated me while I was still slightly convinced that they had made some sort of mistake and gotten our names mixed up.
I received a packet of information in the mail that told me that the program would last nine days, from a Friday to a Saturday; this of course presented a problem because they said nothing about how we would be accommodated for Sunday worship. I immediately sent an email to which I got no response. The packet also said that I would have to attend an orientation, so I decided to ask whether or not I would be allowed to attend Mass at the orientation.
I learned there would be a “non-denominational, non-offensive” service offered to all of the girls. This immediately raised a red flag so I chose to approach the speaker to inquire what kind of arrangements could be made for Mass. As I approached a girl was already there asking a question so I stood and waited my turn while the Girls State representative very politely answered her. When it was my turn I asked her if there would be accommodations for Catholics to attend Mass. She replied with a very un-apologetic, “No.” I then told my mother and she approached to emphasize missing Mass was not an option, and was met with a very cold and unfriendly response. The representative made it quite clear that I would have to choose between attending Mass and Girls State.
I was shocked and puzzled as to why they would not even discuss a solution to this issue. They were providing a non-denominational service but not making any move to accommodate other religions. I felt that this was discrimination.
We called our local post leader when we got home and informed him of the dilemma. He called the Girls State headquarters and offered to make the arrangements to have a priest brought in during their service and they told him that it was not allowed.
I regretfully typed a letter of resignation, sent it to whomever I thought should receive it, and explained what was wrong with this injustice and how I saw it as discrimination.
I wouldn’t miss Mass for the world, it is that important to me. I am grateful for the all of the people that have shown support towards the issue of honoring the gift of the Eucharist. I can only pray that this means others will have the courage to stand up for their faith and not let the secular society impede on religious practices, no matter what they are.
Another delegate has been appointed and Margeaux has no plans to attend at this time. If an invitation is again extended to her, she has said she will only accept if the other girl can still attend too. The 9-day conference begins June 15, 2012.
To read the coverage of Margeaux’s stand, see these articles at The American Catholic:
Image credit: iCLIPART