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Boys Nation Day 7: Capitol Hill

Reminder: Visit www.legiontv.org now to watch the Boys Nation final senate session; and tune back in at 8 p.m. (EDT) to watch the live streaming of the graduation ceremony.

On Day 7 of Boys Nation, the 98 senators and Girls Nation senators stormed the steep road to Capitol Hill. Once there, they each met with their respective state senators and/or representative, as well as other notable politicians. A few of the young men even had an opportunity to vote and hear a bill debated.

"First we went and got grape jelly and a grilled cheese for Sen. Jon Kyl, because that’s his favorite meal," said Benjamin Horwitz from Tucson, Ariz. "We dropped it off at his office to inspire him to give us a little bit of his time – no luck there. So we ran into the committee room and watched Sen. Marco Rubio argue for an amendment to the United Nations resolution on people with disabilities. There were a lot of blind and deaf people and some with missing limbs in the room, so it was really moving."

Meanwhile, the two Nebraska senators had received a privilege that many Boys Nation delegates never get to experience.

"I’m really good friends with our Second District congressman, Lee Terry," said Robert Leddy from Omaha, Neb. "So I called him and he said for us to come meet him in the (Republican) Cloakroom, and there we saw Speaker of the House John Boehner, along with Congressman Paul Ryan and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. It was really neat.

"They were all voting on an amendment to a bill and a few of them gave us their voting cards, which you insert into a machine like a debit card, and told my fellow delegate and I to go vote ‘yes’ for them. It was amazing."

Henry Hawbaker from Omaha, Neb., echoed Leddy’s excitement.

"After everyone voted, Robert and I hung out in the Cloakroom with all these congressmen and women, and they were just being real," Hawbaker said. "There were congressmen from Utah, Montana and Nebraska who attended Boys State, so they were asking us about Boys Nation. It was a really good day."

The excitement from the day followed all 98 senators back to Marymount University where an inspiring speaker awaited them – Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin. Nesse is the recipient of many accolades, including The American Legion National Commander’s Public Relations Award for 2011.

At just 16 years old, Nesse was torn from her family in Lithuania, suffered through four concentration camps as prisoner number 54,015 and endured a death march. But through all her trials, she came out of the Holocaust as a survivor.

Nesse, now 84 years old, continues to heal her scars by sharing her story, providing truth and understanding, and teaching what hatred and prejudice can do to humanity. She left the young men in awe of her unfathomable story, and also with a message.

"When you go out these doors and you look at the world around you, don’t see a race, don’t see a religion, see a person, a human being just like yourself," Nesse said.

The understanding of genocide is difficult for many to grasp, but after walking the same steps as Holocaust prisoners once did, Robert Lemnah from Lyndon Center, Vt., plans to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

For the past school year, Lemnah participated in a genocide program where he studied about the Holocaust, including who started it and how it happened. The program educated Lemnah on the pyramid of hate, "which is a step program on how words of hate can turn into genocide," he said. He compared the genocides that have occurred since the Holocaust and how they have evolved, but Lemnah said one thing stays the same, "hate."

"In February the class took a trip to Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic," Lemnah said. "We visited Hitler’s offices and went to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camp; that was eerie because you could feel death. At Birkenau, we walked the train tracks and the same path that the prisoners walked (to camp), about a quarter of a mile. Then we went to the gas chambers – you know that your feet are in the same spot millions of people’s feet were in, moments before they died. It was tough to see it all.

"So my bill I brought to Boys Nation is a genocide and human rights education mandate in all public high schools. Twenty-five states in the country already require this education, but I want to make it so all states have to. And Nesse signed my bill, which I am now going to laminate and frame.

"Nesse is such a strong woman, and she’s passing on such a positive message. She has reassured me of my plans to go into the military to make sure something like the Holocaust doesn’t happen again. And then go into politics so I can make an even bigger difference on the diplomacy scale."

Today’s activities include the final senate session, a visit to the White House and graduation.

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