Leading with Distinction

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 08:  CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA Anna Maria Chavez supports the world’s largest girl-led business d
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 08: CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA Anna Maria Chavez supports the world’s largest girl-led business during National Girl Scout Cookie Day on February 8, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Girl Scouts of the USA)

People always ask me why I love my job. I usually tell them that it's because I get to go to work every day in service to girls -- girls who inspire me to push on when the days get long; whose stories lift me up when challenges arise; whose passion for our movement could cut through even the darkest of moments. At this point, people usually smile politely and move on to another question. What else would the CEO of Girl Scouts say?

But every once in a while, I get an opportunity to showcase some of these extraordinary young women to the world -- to highlight their achievements and give them an opportunity to tell their own stories in their own voice. Without fail, the polite smiles fade; replaced with looks of awe, inspiration and wonder.

Last week, I was privileged to be joined in our nation's capitol by more than 20 Girl Scout Gold Award recipients and their council CEOs from across the United States. Together with the United States Mint, we hosted a leadership breakfast launching the Girl Scout's 2013 Centennial Silver Dollar, which celebrates the 100-year legacy of Girl Scouting in America.

More importantly, the breakfast brought these extraordinary young women together with some of the most remarkable female leaders from government, business and the media, creating a true meeting of the minds -- today's female leaders mixing with those of tomorrow, embodied by these incredible Gold Award recipients. Breakfast participants swapped stories, shared insight and inspiration poured forth.

To truly understand how amazing these girls are, you must realize that the Gold Award is the most prestigious honor a Girl Scout can earn. Received by fewer than 6 percent of Girl Scouts each year, it recognizes young women who have designed service projects that tackle community issues, locally or globally; such as poverty, literacy, environmentalism and other issues. It can take one to two years to earn a Gold Award, and, like an Eagle Scout, may make the recipient eligible for an advanced rank if she chooses to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces, or for exclusive scholarships at many universities and colleges.

Among the 22 Gold Award recipients were five of our National Young Women of Distinction -- a designation, and special honor, conferred upon ten Girl Scout Gold Award recipients each year whose final projects demonstrated extraordinary leadership, had a measurable and sustainable impact and addressed a local challenge that related to a national and/or global issue.

At just 16 or 17 years of age, these young women have already done things that most adults could not conceive of and accomplished things few would have the courage to even try. Some have overcome unbelievable hardships in their personal lives, rising above challenges that may have crippled someone without the iron will of a Girl Scout. It was fitting that the day of our breakfast, February 28th, was the same day that Congress finally came together to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act -- a law that has saved countless lives and helped victims of domestic violence recover to reach their fullest potential.

Listening to the stories these girls had to tell, watching as they shared them with their cohorts in government and business, seeing the looks of amazement cross the faces of the adults in the room, who may have known little of Girl Scouting, I was reminded once again why I have the greatest job in the world, and how important the work we are doing is for the future of our country.

At Girl Scouts, we create leaders. Every day, in every zip code in America, local troops work with girls to develop the skills, confidence, tenacity and vision that young women will need to lead in the 21st century. Through new initiatives like our ToGetHerThere.org campaign, which seeks to bring about gender balanced leadership in one generation; or our programs that encourage girls to pursue interests in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); or the financial literacy girls attain through our cookie program, Girl Scouts of the USA continues to instill in today's girls the principles they will need to succeed.

No one better embodies these principles than a Girl Scout Gold Award recipient. We need these courageous, selfless and determined young women, who have earned the highest honor in Girl Scouting, to take the next step. We need to encourage each of them to continue to channel the talent, drive and ambition that they have already made such remarkable use of into new and exciting directions.

The distinction conferred upon these young women is an honor to be sure, but it should be our hope that one day, being a Girl Scout Gold Award recipient, or even a National Young Woman of Distinction, will be just one of the many accolades these sensational girls rack up. These young women are our collective tomorrow. On their faces, I have already seen the future of women's leadership.

Our country, and our world, is in store for great things.