Leadership. Government. Patriotism. Fabulous talks. Good food. Competitive sports tournaments. Valuable skills not always taught in school. High-achieving, 17-year-old young men from all over the state gathered in one place. All these and more can be found at the Virginia Boys State, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.
Boys State, a week-long participatory program in which students become part of the operation of local, county and state government, was founded in 1935 to counter the socialist-inspired, anti-American Young Pioneer Camps. It still thrives today, 83 years later, throughout the United States. Attendees learn the ins and outs of state and local governments and participate in a mock version of its structure. Boys State is set up just like the Virginia state government, complete with cities, elections, a Supreme Court, a newspaper, and various city and state positions. For athletes, sports tournaments took place every day for you to represent your city. For musicians, chorus and band practiced and performed every day. Various lectures and interactive experiences taught many different skills, from practicing law to parliamentary procedures.
To be honest, I came to Boys State with little expectations. I thought it’d just be another summer camp. What I was most excited about, really, was eventually applying to colleges with this on my record – Boys State (and its counterpart, Girls State) is one of the impressive things to go on a college application, particularly if you are applying to a military academy. When I arrived at Radford in the middle of July, I was intimidated to be honest. There was a lot of people! But eventually I was able to relax and settle in. I was assigned to Pershing City – no doubt named after the great American hero, John J. Pershing. Soon, we had a state meeting. We elected our sheriff and determined who would take other city roles. Later in the week, during our city meetings, we elected a mayor, delegates, senators, and roles. Unfortunately, I did not get any of these positions. Fortunately, I began to really settle in and become comfortable with everything. I learned that just because you don’t get an elected position at Boys State, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time! I ended up singing in the chorus and campaigning for our city’s gubernatorial candidate.
Boys State was a humbling experience along with everything else. Since everyone who went to Boys State was high-achieving and deserved to be there, it was not easy to impress people with brains, fluency of speech, or leadership experience. I found that the boys there enjoyed learning and working toward a goal just as much as I did, maybe more so, and I learned a lot in just the everyday, casual conversations.
So, maybe all I did that week was campaign for a losing candidate for governor and sing in a men’s chorus (I did sing a solo at the end of the week). But when I speak of Boys State, I speak of the wonderful lessons I learned, the people I met, and the experience that changed my life. Oh, and I’ll sing the highly-energetic Boys State song. To all juniors who are interested in what I have said, please, considering applying in April. It really is quite the amazing experience, and it looks pretty good on college application too.