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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR READERS: I'm still receiving fascinating letters in support of the 13-year-old girl who was ridiculed by her teacher and classmates for revealing that she'd one day like to be president of the United States. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I read the letter from "I Have a Dream" and would like to offer her encouragement:

DEAR "I HAVE A DREAM": I was touched by your letter to Dear Abby, and I want you to know that you can become the president of the United States because of who you are, not in spite of it. I have no doubt a woman will be president one day, and America would be lucky to have you leading us every step of the way.

When young people like you express such a desire to make a difference in people's lives, you should be applauded. Your teacher and your classmates were wrong to laugh at your dream.

What you already know, but they seem to have forgotten, is that we live in a country where every child, girl or boy, has an equal chance to grow up and become president, or a teacher, or a doctor, or a CEO, or the shopkeeper down the street. That is what makes our country unlike any place on Earth. Anything is possible.

But to do the things we believe in, we all have to work hard, do our best, and fight those who do not always believe in us. It is not easy to ignore their criticism, and it is tough to look beyond their doubts. But remember, doubters never made America a better place. It is people like you -- people who dream big and are filled with hope -- who make a difference in this world.

Always remember that the great thing about America is that you can become president, and you should never let anyone tell you different. -- SEN. JOHN KERRY, WASHINGTON, D.C.

DEAR SEN. KERRY: To say that you are a busy man these days is an understatement. That you would still reach out to help a child says volumes about you as a person.

DEAR ABBY: As the first woman elected Illinois state treasurer, the first woman re-elected to a statewide office in Illinois and the first woman to lead a major party in Illinois, I was appalled by the negative response the 13-year-old girl ("I Have a Dream") received from her teacher, her guidance counselors and fellow students when she shared her dream of becoming president of the United States. As a woman who has fought hard to succeed in politics and government, I truly believe that service to your nation is a most rewarding career.

It is true a woman in politics does have disparities to overcome. For years, women fought for the right to vote, and today we continue to fight for equality in many careers.

Women in government can bring creativity, vision and commitment to the table. We come with a different mind-set than our male counterparts, which makes for better debate and legislation. Both parties need more recruitment of qualified females. Schools need to encourage young women to become interested in public service through career days and mentor programs.

I know that the first woman president is alive. Somewhere out there, a young girl is sitting in her classroom interested in becoming our nation's first female commander in chief, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's her. Best of luck to you, Mrs. President! -- JUDY BAAR TOPINKA, ILLINOIS STATE TREASURER

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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