Day 2 of Boys Nation got under way with general orientation conducted by Program Director Mike Buss and American Legion Past National Commander Bob Turner from Georgia. Turner, the director of activities for Boys Nation, is celebrating his 30th year on staff with the program.
"I had just planned to volunteer on staff one time," Turner said. "I didn't think I would be back a second year, let alone 30. I also spent 32 years with the Boys State program of Georgia, so combined I have a better of 60 years of service to these two programs. What drives me to come back year after year is the fact that the quality of these delegates keeps getting better."
Turner emphasized during orientation that Boys Nation is like any other program, "You are going to get out of it exactly what you put in to it," he said. For the next five days, the 98 senators will be tested on their knowledge of politics and ability to lead, all while building character, patriotism and loyalty to their peers. They, too, will uncover a new purpose, goal and path in life.
"When the young men leave Boys Nation, I want them to walk away with enthusiasm for life," Turner said. "I tell them to be excited about yourself, which ranks right up there with being excited about your country. It's about being proud of who you are and what you do, and being proud of your country too. That's what keeps me going."
After orientation, two of the senators were selected at random to uphold a longstanding Boys Nation tradition – laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. The senators selected were Ben McFarlin from Canton, Ga., and Gabriel Levy from Clarksville, Tenn. Monday will be the wreath-laying ceremony.
Following a short break, Peter Gaytan, executive director of the Legion's Washington office, swore the young men in as senators of the 66th American Legion Boys Nation program. He provided a brief overview of the Legion's legislative lobbying process, since the senators will lobby on issues that will allow the nation to remain strong and continue to grow.
During his remarks, Gaytan reminded the young men that although the Legion is the nation's largest organization of wartime veterans, "the issues that we fight for are not just military and veteran issues – they are America's issues" A prime example he provided was the GI Bill, which was initially written on a napkin at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., by American Legion Past National Commander Harry Colmery. To this day, the GI Bill stands as one of the Legion's greatest lobbying achievements.
Toward the end of his speech, Gaytan accepted questions from the senators. Gaytan was asked what his favorite aspect of lobbying is, and he immediately replied, "Success."
Meanwhile, the afternoon consisted of party platform elections and a senate committee meeting in which the young men introduced a series of bills and resolutions.
"I ran for committee chairman, and even though I didn't get it, it was a great learning experience," said Brandon Dale from Lafayette, La. "In our committee meeting today, we didn't have a chance to vote on a bill. But our first bill that we will vote on has to do with paychecks of former presidents and congressman. It will make an interesting debate."
After dinner, the senators attended their first senate session, appointing a president pro tem and a secretary of the senate. Each candidate was allotted two minutes behind the podium to campaign for votes. Afterward, the senators conducted caucuses, voted within their respective section and cast ballots until a candidate won by 45 votes.
Neal Jeup from Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., was appointed president pro tem and Brandon Dale from Lafayette, La., was appointed secretary of the senate.
"I really like the whole leadership aspect of Boys Nation, and that's what I will focus on as president pro tempore," Jeup said. "It was a long campaign process running against eight other candidates, but I appreciate everyone's votes."
Solon Snider from Severna Park, Md., ran against Jeup. And although he isn't the one with the gavel, he is simply happy to be a part of the program. "I'm here at Boys Nation, where it's amazing to meet so many people who are interested in politics and debating," Snider said. "My sister attended Girls State, and she encouraged me to attend (Maryland) Boys State. I'm glad she did."
Today's activities include a memorial service, senate sessions, party conventions, dinner at American Legion Greenbelt Post 136 and a tour of the National Mall.