The graduation assembly for the Boys Nation Class of 2014 featured two guest speakers: Richard Anderson, chairman of The American Legion's National Americanism Commission, and Joe Gladden, national commander of the Sons of The American Legion (SAL).
Earlier in the day, the 98 senators held their final Senate session, passing bills on issues that ranged from the development of a national policy to relying less on fossil fuels, to providing funds for the National Cancer Institute.
In his remarks, Anderson referred to Resolution No. 8, passed at the May 2013 meeting of the National Executive Committee. It authorized recognition of a Boys Nation graduate, who had also contributed three years of service as a junior counselor, with a $1,000 scholarship. This year's recipient was Jacob Meade.
Anderson told the senators that since 9/11, "thousands of our patriots have been killed. We cannot hear their voices, we cannot hear their footsteps. They are silent. You do not know what their dreams were, but you can know one thing: their spirit is within each and every one of you.
"And now, you have a responsibility. Your responsibility is to be their footsteps, to be their voice, to be their dream. I ask you to accept that responsibility with deep devotion."
Anderson closed with a quote from David Brinkley, the journalist who co-anchored a national evening news broadcast with Chet Huntley. The "Huntley-Brinkley Report" was a dominant force in news coverage throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. "The successful man," Brinkley said, "is one who can lay a sound foundation with the bricks that others have thrown at him."
"Don't ever forget The American Legion," Anderson said, "and the love that we have for each and every one of you."
Gladden said he joined the SAL because of friendships "just like the friendships you're developing here this week. I've traveled around, and I've talked to men that have gone through Boys State and they'll say, ‘Joe, you know what? This is a program that changed my life forever.' And it's amazing how that (experience) will change your futures.
"That's what The American Legion does. It reaches out to the children of our community, the young men of our community, and makes sure that they're taken care of."
Gladden said a number of Boys Nation participants had told him they were not eligible to join SAL because their families had only recently immigrated to America. "You don't have to join The American Legion or the Sons of The American Legion to make a difference in your community," he said. "All you have to do is decide that this is the greatest country in the world, and you want to make it even better."
Two $1,000 scholarships sponsored by the SAL were then presented to Boys Nation President Pro Tempore David Enriquez of Tampa, Fla., and Secretary of the Senate Olulani Oisaghie of Brentwood, Calif.
The president and vice president of Boys Nation, Matthew Ellow of Lacey's Spring, Ala., and Louis Lombardo of Arlington, Texas, also received $1,000 scholarships, sponsored by the Legion's Americanism Commission.
Each Boys Nation senator was then presented with a certificate of graduation, a Boys Nation challenge coin and lapel pin. The young men also received a copy of the letter written to their class by Class of 1963 alumnus Bill Clinton, and a commemorative pen from American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger.
Program Director Michael Buss addressed the senators. "We have seen your intense desire to excel and be the best that you can be," he said. "We have also seen your love of country and your God. After this amazing week, we ask you now to go forth and make us, your families and yourselves proud. We have every confidence you will, regardless of the path you choose in life. For you carry with you the legacy and the honor that is American Legion Boys Nation."
The two senators from Virginia, Michael of Spotsylvania and Harris LaTeef from Great Falls, then made a special presentation to Bob Turner, past national commander and director of Boys Nation activities. They produced a large red and white crown, and administered the following "oath" to him:
"I do solemnly swear that I will be the best king ever, that I will be a fair king, and I will represent my people well." Turner was then crowned "King Bob the First" to tumultuous applause from the senators.
Turner called Boys Nation from their auditorium seats to join him at the front of the stage; each man had with him a small U.S. flag. Quoting Shakespeare's line that "all the world's a stage," he reminded the senators that "from this day forward, you're going to be on a stage" and that parents, friends and The American Legion will be watching. He wished each senator "the very best" and led them in a final round of songs.
Turner replaced his crown with his American Legion cap and, with flags raised and their arms around each other, the young men began to sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Their week was over, their lives had been changed, and The American Legion had added 98 more Boys Nation alumni to the leadership pool of America.