I just spent a week with the future leaders of New Mexico, and perhaps the United States. I was a counselor at New Mexico Boys State which is one of the premier programs of The American Legion, and is not widely recognized as perhaps the most outstanding program run by the Legion. Many members are unaware of the significance of this program. Thinking about the merits of the Boy’s and Girls State programs, I am reminded of the comments made by a young man from Silver City, New Mexico after he attended Boys State.
He got on a bus in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the bus pulled out of the parking lot. He looked around the bus and realized that he did not know anyone on the bus, and was uncertain why he was traveling to Portales, New Mexico for the coming week. He took out his cell phone and sent a text to his mother saying, “What did you get me into?” Following a week of experiencing how government in the United States works, he reflected on his understanding of what America can mean to a boy from a small town in southwestern New Mexico. He had been elected to be a State Senator, and in so doing, he had formed friendships that will last a lifetime. He had been immersed into the electoral process of government. When he boarded the bus to go home, he knew everyone on the bus. More importantly, he had experienced something very important about the responsibilities of being a citizen of the United States. He had helped develop legislation for real problems that face the citizens of New Mexico today and in the future. He had assumed ownership of the responsibilities of citizenship. He had learned that the Ignition Interlock law in New Mexico came directly from an earlier Boy’s State. By October of his Boy’s State experience, he had been accepted into the pre-medical program at the University of New Mexico. As he realizes his career goals, he may never become an elected official at the local, county, state or national level of politics, but he will understand the issues that face his generation, and he will be a voice for the democratic principles that govern this Republic of the United States. Most importantly, he will be involved.
As I reflect on my own experience at Indiana Boy’s State in 1960, I empathize with this young man’s feelings of anticipating a week of the unknown. I came from a small school in what was then rural Indiana and I felt overwhelmed by the entire experience, but knew that even appointed officials were extremely important. It was not until the 1990’s that I was appointed to a county commission in Illinois that had the responsibility and authority to solicit voluntary tax increases to preserve land for conservation purposes in what was then the fastest growing county in the United States. My Boy’s State experience only came into play thirty years after I had been a Boy’s State delegate. Who knows how today’s young men and women will become involved in the future?
Many American Legion members are unaware of the importance and relevance of the Boys and Girls State programs in their states. Hopefully, many comrades will look into this program in their state and become involved at some level. Members can participate with their local post or at the district or state level. Members can participate with their checkbooks by making certain these premier programs continue to cultivate the principles of citizenship in the leaders of tomorrow.
Silver City, New Mexico