By the end of the summer, Couch had attended Girls State in Nashville, Girls Nation in Washington, D.C., the Roosevelt Summer Scholars Program in New York, and the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs in North Carolina. Not only was she elected as a senator at Girls State, but she was one of two Tennessee girls selected to go to Girls Nation, where, out of 100 girls she was elected vice president.
The summer’s events have helped Couch solidify her plans for college. She plans on studying policy analysis and program management in college with a minor in Chinese. She said she wants to focus on domestic issues. “I want to help raise the voices of those who aren’t heard and target it through policy,” Couch said. “Policy brings immediate change and long-standing benefit for a community.”
Couch was nominated to go to Girls State by Clay Francis, one of Hutchison’s upper school history teachers. Along with classmates Jane Dodge ’20 and Anna Margaret Burnett ’20, she traveled to Lipscomb University in Nashville at the end of May for the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Volunteer Girls State. The event brings more than 575 girls from all over the state of Tennessee together to learn about state government, active citizenship, and informed voting. The “citizens,” as participants are called, elect city, county, and state officials, engage in party politics, debate legislation, and collaborate in other team activities.
Couch summed up the experience perfectly: “It was learning with the backdrop of also doing,” she said. There was classroom time, where they dissected the structures of municipal, county, and state governments, but Couch admitted that she already felt well versed in these concepts from her classes at Hutchison.
She said she became most engaged when they separated into cities and elected people to county government, and house of representatives and senate for the model Tennessee general assembly. After a lot of hard work, Couch was elected to one of four Senate seats in her District. The only part that made her nervous is that Couch lives in Mississippi. During the final interviews for Senate, they asked: “Do you see yourself more as a Mississippian or Tennessean?” Couch answered swiftly: “I see myself as a Tennessean on the weekdays and a Mississippian on the weekends!”
While the excitement of being elected Senator was still percolating for Couch, she was bowled over when she found out she was one of “two outstanding citizens chosen to represent their state at ALA Girls Nation,” as the ALA says.
In mid-July, Couch packed her bags and headed to Washington. The Girls Nation program, founded in 1947, focuses on how the federal government operates. Girls engage in mock senate sessions, as well as the caucusing and debating of bills. They also campaign to elect party officials, including an ALA Girls Nation president and vice president. Interspersed throughout the experience, students hear from guest speakers and meet with their states’ senators and representatives on Capitol Hill. They also take a number of field trips. Couch said they visited Arlington National Cemetery, laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, toured the monuments in Washington, saw a military parade at a base, and even met the vice president of the United States.
“I probably got less than four hours of sleep a night!” Couch admitted.
“The Girls Nation experience culminates in the presidential and vice-presidential election,” Couch said. “There are two parties – Federalists and Nationalists, which are completely arbitrary. We create our own platforms and then write policy. I was on the economic committee for the Federalist Party, and I created a comprehensive debt plan, which was one of our key party platforms. I’d say that that was one of the things that helped me secure the vice-presidential nomination.”
After going through three intense rounds of speeches and questioning, Couch successfully secured her party’s nomination for vice president.
“There’s a photo they took the second we figured out we won,” Couch remembered. “We’re screaming. Everyone in the background is like, ‘oh my gosh, we won.’ It was amazing because I never thought that I would be able to do something like that.”
Their inauguration took place in the Hart Senate Office Building where Couch gave an address. Because she was elected vice president, she will receive a scholarship from the American Legion Auxiliary and will speak at an ALA post and at Girls State in May 2020.
As if she weren’t busy enough, Couch was involved in several other programs this past summer. She received a scholarship to the Roosevelt Summer Scholars Program at Long Island University (LIU). “I actually got accepted to the Roosevelt Scholars Program the same day that I got nominated to Girls Nation,” Couch said.
The program, part of the Theodore Roosevelt Institute at LIU, is for students interested in politics, international relations, history, or environmental conservation. It features classroom instruction along with field trips to Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill home and the American Museum of Natural History.
“Tweed Roosevelt, the great-grandson of Teddy Roosevelt, was a guest speaker and also gave us the tour of Sagamore Hill, where he had spent time as a child,” Couch added.
Previous to that, Couch also attended the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs, or CONA, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Started in 1968, the conference seeks to create awareness of national issues and improve the understanding of the federal government and its relation to state, national, and international matters. Couch’s interest in all-things government isn’t new. She’s has participated in Model UN and Youth-in-Government for several years.
She admitted that giving speeches at Girls State and Girls Nation wasn’t too hard for her because of all her work in the theater program at Hutchison. Starting with To Kill a Mockingbird in 2016, Couch has been involved with every winter production since and has also assisted in set design and construction for the musicals and middle school shows.
“Theater at Hutchison has helped me master the performative side of public speaking,” Couch said. “Every speech is a performance. You’re playing the character of who you want to present to your audience. I’m not saying that is being duplicitous, but it definitely helps to have a strong sense of will and who you are and how you want to carry yourself in a speech.” She’s been able to practice public speaking as part of Hutchison’s Knowledge Bowl team as well.
Couch loves filmmaking too. Last year, two of her films screened at the 2018 Indie Memphis Youth Film Fest. This summer, during her relative “free time,” she took part in the Indie Memphis CrewUp Youth Filmmaking Mentorship Program. “I was paired with a mentor and two other girls from the Memphis area to create a short film,” Couch explained. “We were given a grant to aid in our production, and it will screen at the Youth Indie Memphis Film fest this September.”
Couch gives thanks to Hutchison’s upper school history faculty. “I’ve had such a great support system. I’m proud that I’m making them proud.
“The history and government classes that I’ve taken here at Hutchison have helped strengthen my background and allowed me to explore and branch out into my own personal thoughts and beliefs. I’ve been set on the path and it’s my chance to explore it.”