For additional highlights from day eight of Boys Nation, click here.
For the past week, Boys Nation senators have spent more than 20 hours in senate sessions where bills and resolutions were presented, debated and voted on for a pass or veto. At 8 a.m. Friday, the senators held their closing senate session. There, a handful of bills that had yet to be presented were given the opportunity to be.
Once the three-hour session was finished, the young men packed for their departure home the following day. But before the senators were about to say their goodbyes, there were still a few anticipated events remaining before 2010 Boys Nation came to a close.
The past seven days have enabled the young men to visit a few highlights in the Washington area, such as the National Mall, Arlington National Cemetery and Capitol Hill. They have also heard presentations from inspirational people such as Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin and General William Suter, Clerk of the United States Supreme Court. Today's anticipated highlight put the icing on the cake, as the saying goes.
As the gates in front of the White House opened, allowing the three chartered buses filled with 98 senators and many staff members to enter, everyone's adrenaline was running high. They were going to be greeted by President Barack Obama.
Last year during Boys Nation the senators made it inside the White House only to discover that the president had to leave before they arrived. It was an overwhelming disappointment. However, the junior counselors came to the rescue by purchasing a life-size cut-out of President Obama, dressed him in a Boys Nation shirt and took photos of the senators standing next to the cut-out. This year, the president cut-out was left on campus as President Obama personally stood before all 98 senators.
Once the young men passed through security, they were free to roam the main floor of the White House, which featured a blue, red and sunflower room filled with fresh roses, along with a library and a grand staircase. The senators also traversed the famous red and gold rug strewn across the White House foyer - the same rug the president often walks on before he gives a speech.
More importantly, the president made a grand entrance to the White House, one that caused the senators to peer out the White House windows in amazement. He landed in a Marine One helicopter.
In preparation for the president's arrival, the senators stood on stage risers in the East Room. When President Obama walked in, the senators erupted in applause. The president shook many hands, had photos taken with the senators, answered a few questions, and he even received a 2010 Boys Nation shirt from the two Illinois senators, Colin Danly and Garren Randolph. And it wouldn't be Boys Nation without past American Legion National Commander Bob Turner leading the young men in song.
Wanting to be the first, the young men sang "Happy Birthday" to the president followed by "America" as President Obama walked out through the entrance of the East Wing.
On the way back to the buses the senators were beaming with smiles, as they experienced a moment they'll never forget.
After arriving back to campus, it was time to end 2010 Boys Nation with a graduation ceremony. To start it off, the Boys Nation staff stood in a receiving line to shake all 98 senators' hands and congratulate them for their excellence. Then, everyone enjoyed a banquet dinner before proceeding to the auditorium for the ceremony.
When the young men first arrived to Marymount University more than a week ago for Boys Nation, they were greeted with enthusiasm and given praise for being selected to represent their respective Boys State. And as they sat in the campus auditorium for the graduation ceremony, they were greeted and recognized with the same respect.
The keynote speaker for the evening was Dr. Vince Patton, III, a retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, who provided great inspiration to the young men. Keeping along those same lines, each of the junior counselors spoke words of wisdom and paid their immense respect to the senators and the staff.
To receive the Boys Nation certificates, the senators lined up by their section (Jefferson, Madison, Washington and Adams) and walked across the stage one by one, shaking their junior and senior counselors' hands. The Boys Nation president and vice president received a $2,000 scholarship from The American Legion, while the president pro-tempore and secretary of the senate received a $1,000 scholarship from The Sons of The American Legion.
For the past week, the young men have learned about government, friendship and leadership. But most importantly, they have experienced a week that will forever shape their life and their future.