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Screenshot of a zoom meeting.

Members of the Emma Willard School chapter of Democracy Matters recently met virtually with Senator Toni Atkins, who announced her campaign for California governor in January. 

Democracy Matters co-heads Charlotte L. ’24 and Nadia M. ’25 introduced the senator to a group over Zoom, noting that “she started out as a San Diego City Council member and has worked her way up to being the 51st and current president pro tempore of the California State Senate.” Senator Atkins is the first woman and the first openly LGBTQ+ person to lead the California State Senate and the first Woman and LGBTQ+ Person to lead both chambers of the state legislature.

In her greeting to the audience, Senator Atkins noted the importance of engaging with democracy at a young age, underscoring that regardless of political party, engaging in community through politics or government at every level (not just elected offices) is important. 

Having solicited questions from the Emma community, the club co-heads asked several questions that spanned a wide breadth of the senator’s career: When did you know you wanted to get into politics? What are some of the ways you advocate for affordable housing, the environment, healthcare, services for veterans, etc.? What have you been doing to prepare for your campaign, and how does that differ from your previous campaigns for Senator? These questions were accompanied by others about how being a woman has influenced or affected her time in office and what challenges she’s faced being in office as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. 


A screenshot of an instagram story from Senator Atkins about speaking to the students.


In answering, Senator Atkins detailed how she didn’t necessarily plan to follow a political path—interest and passion led her there. For her, politics is the means by which policy changes and the way in which her personal story shapes the work she does; similarly, students in Democracy Matters bring their own stories to the work of the organization and other efforts they’re engaged in. 

The senator also noted her mentor, Senator Christine Kehoe (a Troy, NY native!), as being integral to her path. Mentors, especially teachers and school counselors, came up several times as critically important support structures, particularly in answers to questions about growing up as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, being a woman in a political field, and how those experiences impact the senator’s current work. The thread that ran through the conversation was one focused on passion and interest: anyone interested in helping make a world everyone can be a part of will find their path by getting involved and encouraging those interests. 

“The Senator was a very engaging speaker,” said Charlotte L. ’24. “She did a good job tailoring what she had to say to her audience, especially teenagers, and explaining how we can get more involved in policy and government by sharing her experiences throughout her life, even from when she was just a few years older than us!”

Thank you, Senator Atkins, for taking the time to speak with our students and to Democracy Matters for hosting this event! 


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