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During my last few days in Orange County I finally began to realize that wow, I have been here for two months, and now it’s over.

I had an amazing time working for Girls Inc. My weeks were full of surprises, ups and downs, and new experiences. I’m going to go ahead and say that it was life-changing, because it is hard for an experience like this not to be. I want to write about a few of the things I learned this summer, and why they were so impactful.

First of all, I learned that I can connect with people better now than I have ever been able to. I have never considered myself a very social person, and I was worried that being an introvert would get in the way of what I was trying to accomplish at camp. What I realized, though, was that somewhere along the way I picked up the social skills to quickly feel really comfortable in my cohort and at camp. Spending the summer getting to know the campers was amazing because so many of the conversations I had and things I learned from them were really meaningful, and I’m happy that I was able to teach them, have fun with them, and let myself connect with them.

The next thing that really cemented itself in my mind from observing a group of almost a hundred girls from different, diverse backgrounds from the perspective of an adult is that everyone, no matter their circumstances or actions, is deserving of respect and equitable treatment. I think that this lesson is a lot harder to learn while in a group of peers, which is why it was so much easier to see as a semi-outsider. Every single girl at camp was going through their own struggles, their own trials and tribulations. No matter how this affected their behavior and their personalities, they still deserved to receive equal education and treatment from the teachers and respect from each other (though they are children, and therefore don’t quite realize that yet). This lesson is something that I tried to help the girls understand by reminding them when I could of how amazing they are, and that I’m going to keep reminding myself of in my own life.

Finally, I learned a very fitting lesson about woman empowerment from working with the girls. That lesson is that we live in a society that teaches girls from a very young age to constantly disparage themselves, to think of themselves as lesser, to think they are somehow biologically restricted from doing certain things, and to try to fit themselves into pre-set rules and boxes provided to them by everyone else. If a girl dares to defy one of these expectations, she is not modest enough, not nice enough, not good enough. Throughout camp, I was constantly picking up on things the girls said in normal conversation that are actually deeply concerning – they were constantly insinuating that they are not pretty, not beautiful, not smart, not good at math, not interesting, not cut out for great things. I wanted to scream at times that they were wrong, that society has failed them for even making them think such things, but then I took a look inwards and realized that I have thought every single one of those things about myself. What I learned, from all of this: something needs to change. We need stop subconsciously telling young girls that they are not good enough and start telling them that they deserve the world just because they exist, just by virtue of being born in this world. We need to start creating a society that is good enough for these girls, not the other way around.

I’m about to start my next semester at Duke, and it is really hard to realize that I will probably never see most of these girls again and that I won’t be going back to Eureka. I will forever be grateful, though, for everything Eureka has taught me.