Boys Nation alumni speak to senators about their experience with the program. Photo by Charlie Tucker

Boys Nation alumni share hope, wisdom

Wednesday morning, Michael Herbert and Ben Attia were sworn into office as the 2011 Boys Nation president and vice president by American Legion Past National Commander Alan Lance, a retired judge of the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals. Afterward, Herbert and Attia delivered remarks of appreciation to their fellow senators, and Lance conducted a question-and-answer session.

Immediately following the inauguration, the senators participated in senate sessions that addressed bills and resolutions regarding education, citizenship, social security, Medicare and many more pressing issues. Vice president Ben Attia presided over the sessions as legislation was presented, debated and voted on among the four senate committees. Legislation introduced in the senate will be sent to President Obama at the end of Boys Nation and archived at The American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis.

Additionally, the deputy and chief of staff used Wednesday's senate sessions as a time to fill open positions within the cabinet by screening senators for their strengths and capabilities. The senators then proceeded forward by conducting an in-depth interview with the president, who was ultimately the decision-maker for assigning cabinet positions to interested senators.

"My position as chief of staff is to pre-screen the candidates to see if their interests align with the president's agenda," said J'Qui Audena from Lawrence, Kan. "Before the candidates interview with Michael (Herbert), I give him a brief overview of their interest so he is prepared to focus on a position within the cabinet that will suit the candidate."

By evening, the senators' busy day of debates changed to laughter, amazement and applause thanks to the inspiring stories of four Boys Nation alumni. The four alumnus included Michael Lang, a federal prosecutor with the United States Department of Justice, criminal division; Joel Leftwich, republican deputy staff director for the Senate Agriculture Committee; U.S. Army Major Sean Morrow, on faculty with West Point; and Dan Webber, vice president for the digital public affairs team at Edelman.

The gentlemen shared how their involvement with Boys Nation has been instrumental in helping them succeed personally, academically and professionally. For example, while roaming the halls at law school his freshman year, Lang came in contact with Past National Commander H.F. "Sparky" Gierke III, a former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Armed Forces. Gierke immediately recognized Lang and approached him saying, "I know you. You were a Boys Nation delegate." At that moment, Gierke gave Lang quite an opportunity for a freshman - a paid internship working for him.

Whether it was making contacts for professional or academic advancement, Boys Nation has a deep meaning for each alumnus.

"It's powerful for me to see how policy issues, diplomatic issues and the world around affect intersects," Webber said. "And that is rooted from Boys Nation. And when I think of the program, patriotism comes to mind from the ability to wave a flag while singing patriotic songs."

"There are three things that I've taken forward in my life from Boys Nation," Major Morrow said. "First and most importantly, the ability to listen, to close my mouth and open my ears to what people have to say. The second is to not fear change because a lot of times personal growth comes from changing our minds. The third thing is inertia and the ability that you all have coming out of here to take action and do something."

Today, the young men will meet their state senators on Capitol Hill and hear a profound personal story from Holocaust survivor, Nesse Goden.