The Saratoga Sun -

Flying with the Governor

Saratoga Girls’ State winner joins Wyoming jet set (for a day)

 


The thing that surprised Saratoga High School (SHS)Senior Alicia Zaragoza the most about Wyoming’s Governor Matt Mead and his staff were how much like regular old Wyoming folk they seemed, she said.

“All of his counselors, or the people that give him advice, are just normal people who grew up in Wyoming and they’re no different than the people that I grew up with in Saratoga,” Zaragoza said.

Zaragoza, winner of Girls State earlier this year, traveled to Cheyenne early one morning in August and shadowed the governor all day, but only after checking in at the Governor’s residence and getting to know Mead’s security people at 5:40 a.m. Once she had become familiar with the security people, she got to meet with Mead and his two secretaries for the morning.

Then, it was time to take the state Jet to Casper to attend the Boys’ and Girls’ Club benefit breakfast, and pick up two other Girls State winner from northern Wyoming. After the breakfast, Zaragoza, the governor, and the other two Girls State winners flew back to Cheyenne for a busy day of meetings and conferences.

“We attended a few more meetings with him, then we attended a news conference,” Zaragoza said. During the news conference, Jim O’Reilly of KTGA 99.3 radio in Saratoga and Rawlins called into the news conference to remind the governor that Carbon County now had representation at the presser, referring to Zaragoza.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” she said.

After the news conference, Zaragoza, the other girls and the governor all had lunch at the Governor’s residence. The residence, she said, is a kind of ceremonial house filled with works of art from Wyoming artists and other Wyoming-inspired decorative flourishes.

After lunch, the group traveled to the new Laramie County Community College building where the governor gave a speech, occasionally referencing the “three delegates” that were traveling with him.

“He kept talking about the youth of Wyoming and how greatly we represented them,” Zaragoza said.

* * *

Zaragoza, 17, will be graduating SHS this year and plans to go to college and enter the education field. She’s not sure which college she will attend, but says she is pretty certain about her plans on what to study.

“I plan to get a bachelor’s in education, a minor in Spanish and a master’s in administration so I can be either a high school or elementary school principal,” she said.

She said she had always planned to go into the educational field, but her time in Girls State helped her become even more focused on the things she wants to do in the future.

At Girls State, she was elected as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. While only a mock title, Zaragoza got to meet Jillian Balow, the actual Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction.

That, as it turned out, was a red-letter day for Zaragoza. “I love administration,” she said. “I can see myself taking that role (state superintendent) on later.

“I would never have thought of being superintendent of a district—much less a state—if I hadn’t gone to Girls State.”

Her experience at Girls State may have expanded Zaragoza’s horizons as a future educator, but her time with the governor and the other Girls State winners in Cheyenne also taught her a lot about the kinds of issues that would certainly face her one day were she state superintendent.

The differences in needs, interests and issues facing people in other areas of the state became quite evident after meeting the other two girls that day, she said. Because the other two girls were from more remote areas of Northern Wyoming, the kinds of things they were concerned with were different from the things Zaragoza came to see as issues here in Carbon County, she said.

“The biggest difference I saw was how much we’re separated,” Zaragoza said. “They have their main towns and they travel all the time.

“When we went to Cheyenne they saw so many new things they hadn’t seen before.”

Saratoga may seem remote, Zaragoza said, but its proximity to Laramie, Cheyenne and its relative closeness with front range cities in Colorado present an entirely different lifestyle than some of her counterparts from other areas of the state.

That can mean that for elected officials, such as the governor, it takes a bit more listening to everyone before considering what to do about policies affecting state residents, she said.

“You’d think he (Mead) was this really important guy who doesn’t understand high schoolers’ problems,” she said. “But he’ll ask you questions and your plans after high school and he has kids of his own so he really relates to a lot of things going on.”

The Governor, she said, also seems to take an interest in how issues might affect others in different ways.

“He’d ask us questions about our hometowns or our region of the state and ask what we thought about a certain subject or a certain problem,” she said. “I thought that was very interesting of him that most people probably don’t realize.”

The Governor’s thoughtfulness in involving Zaragoza and her fellow Girls State winners, the human face of his staff and getting to meet with people from all walks of life in the state were all things Zaragoza said were rewarding about her trip to meet the governor.

As for Mead and his advisers who are all “just regular Wyoming people,” she says that in her estimation, they are doing a great job.

“I was very grateful for the opportunity,” she said.

Perhaps most curiously though, the one thing Zaragoza learned that perhaps many in the state do not know is the Governor’s peculiar footwear.

“He just wears these cowboy boots with a giant State Seal of Wyoming on them,” she said.

“I just thought that was the coolest thing.”

 

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