On Friday, 98 high school rising seniors arrived to Marymount University in Arlington, Va., for the 66th session of The American Legion Boys Nation program. The day was filled with flight delays and cancellations, but those obstacles did not weaken the young men's excitement for the event-filled week.
"Boys State changed my life, so I can only imagine what Boys Nation has to offer," said Michael Richard, from Fitchburg, Mass. "I'm already meeting so many wonderful guys from all over the country; we are coming together like brothers. This will be a week that shapes a lifetime."
The moment the young men arrived on campus they were greeted as "senators" from staff and began settling in. They received a room assignment, had individual pictures taken, were given Boys Nation apparel and learned of their respective political party – Nationalists or Federalists. Once they received their dorm room number, the young men also learned of their floor section – Jefferson, Washington, Adams and Madison – which become the senators' community throughout their stay. Each section has one senior counselor, who is a Legionnaire, along with two junior counselors, who are past Boys Nation delegates and Sons of The American Legion members.
By 6 p.m., all but three senators were accounted for – once again, flight delays postponed the arrival of the last few senators. However, those in attendance participated in their first section meeting, which was conducted by their respective section counselors and junior counselors. During this time the young men were briefed on the program's rules and policies, as well as The American Legion's mission. And once the section meetings concluded, the senators enjoyed an ice cream social in celebration of 2012 Boys Nation and their nomination to attend the prestigious program.
High school students oftentimes hear about their respective American Legion Boys State program through their local Legion post, high school counselors and teachers, or past participants. And while each program attendance varies in size from 50 to 1,200 delegates, the selection process to attend Boys Nation is one that is both intense and not to be undervalued.
Alex DiLalla from Raleigh, N.C., was one of more than 300 delegates to attend American Legion Tar Heel North Carolina Boys State. The program's counselors selected 13 delegates to compete for a Boys Nation spot, and DiLalla was one of the chosen. DiLalla, who was sponsored by American Legion Post 1 in Raleigh, was required to write an essay about his Boys State experience and answer questions during an interview, such as whether there should be a constitutional amendment to ban the burning of a flag and whether spending during a recession was a good idea or not.
"I attended Boys State because I really like debating and learning about other's political views, so I'm ready to get in the senate here and debate," DiLalla said. "It's an honor to be a part of Boys Nation."
Meanwhile, Dillon Burke from Rockville Centre, N.Y., attended New York Boys State alongside more than 1,200 delegates and was one of 90 delegates selected for a Boys Nation spot. After nearly five interviews and multiple debates, he is here. "I did the math and realized I had less than a 1 percent chance to attend Boys Nation," Burke said. "I'm still sort of in disbelief, but I'm really happy to be here."
Following the ice cream social, each senator met with his respective political party. Many senators used this time to interact with their fellow party members and campaign for office in preparation of Boys Nation president and vice president elections on Tuesday, which will be streamed live on www.legiontv.org . The two political parties will also elect many senate officers.
Today, the senators will attend orientation, take the Boys Nation Oath of Office, host party conventions and conduct their first senate session.