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Collingswood’s 17-year-old Sarah Buffaloboy was shaking President Barack Obama’s hand when he said, “Wow. What an awesome name.”

Having always been bullied about her last name, his comment meant a lot.

Buffaloboy had made it to the White House because of her work with American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation, a leadership group for girls offering firsthand experiences within the federal government. The high school senior was one of two young women – elected by their peers as “senators” – who represented New Jersey in Washington, D.C., where they attended senate sessions, created mock laws, visited various national monuments and, of course, met the President.

Buffaloboy joined Girls Nation a year ago, but never expected to become so involved. Before Girls Nation, Buffaloboy says she was so shy she couldn’t do some of the simplest things. (She tells a story of panicking when she had to go into a McDonald’s to get a packet of ketchup – because she felt too uncomfortable to do it herself.) But now she says her fear of public speaking has been conquered, and she has learned the importance of political office.

sarah pic 3“We’re learning that when we see there is something that needs to be changed, we can change it,” she says.

Buffaloboy plans to major in political science and minor in criminology at the University of Maryland this fall. Eventually, she wants to attend law school and run for political office. She says creating new laws that help the community is most important to her.

“We are the people of America,” she says. “We should always look out for each other, because we’re a big community. If we can do something right and make a small change today that contributes to an overall bigger change, then everyone should do it. Everyone should help out.”

Part of her Washington experience included writing mock legislation, which Buffaloboy says brought out a new passion. As a Native American, she focused her law on helping that community. Her new bill provided federal funding, healthcare and addiction services to reservations throughout the country. She presented the bill to 400 members of Girls Nation. (She is quick to note she did this without any fear of speaking to the large group.)

“I was so passionate about my bill that I wasn’t scared, which was so weird,” she says. “I’m passionate about helping people, and I found my way to do that is through politics.”

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