As a young girl, I was always told I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up. That message, along with the support of my family, my education, and my community, encouraged me to dive into new challenges fearlessly and frequently.

At 19, when I started organizing for an inclusive campus climate, my advocacy was not well received by my University's administration. But I believed so fiercely I could accomplish everything I put my mind to that I told the University President I couldn't back down until I saw an end to discrimination on campus.

At 22, I saw Colorado turn blue and elect President Barack Obama to his first term, after months of working in the Denver field office. I knew my work registering tens of thousands of voters in Denver had helped to change the course of history. That moment felt like proof that girls can do anything they want - even big things.

Now, at 30, as a political newcomer running for office in the community that raised me, I've started to wonder whether that same message - that young girls can achieve anything if they work hard for it - is a reality. It's not that I have suddenly become cynical; I remain incredibly optimistic and excited about great things our girls will accomplish. Rather, it's that I'm now more aware of the obstacles that stand in the way of girls achieving their potential.

Minnesota women are represented well in our government, though not to the fullest extent. Minnesota's Supreme Court is now majority female, and we have brilliant women in the offices of State Auditor, Attorney General and Lt. Governor. But women still only make up one third of our state legislature, and one fifth of our federal delegation. We've still never seen a woman elected to Minnesota's highest elected office, and are unfortunately still hearing vitriolic comments from candidates who have slandered young women for advocating for access to reproductive health services.

I know that I've gotten to where I am by standing on the shoulders of truly amazing women. As my way of paying homage to the women who paved my path, I've spent the last few months of my campaign talking to each little girl I meet about what they like to do. I met Yasmin, a poet who hopes to educate people about poverty through her writing. I met Rana, who is going to be an astronaut and promised to invite me to her shuttle launch. And I met Marin, who plays soccer and told me how she hates it when politicians bully people who are unlike them.

Meeting these girls has strengthened my resolve to win this election, so that I can work to build a future worthy of their dreams. From now until Election Day, I'll work to be the shoulders that these girls can stand on as they knock down every barrier to grow up to be whatever they want to be.

Erin Maye Quade lives in Apple Valley and is a candidate for the Minnesota State House of Representatives in district 57A.

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