The senators sing patriotic songs with Past National Commander Bob Turner. Photo by Charlie Tucker

Boys Nation graduates its 65th elite class

Over the past week, Boys Nation senators shook hands with the leader of our free world, visited memorials dedicated to fallen heroes, debated legislation, elected a president and vice president, and so much more. They also got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the president and hear him address their class. Click here to see photos of the senators with the commander in chief.

And while Friday was bittersweet for the senators as it was time to go home, they know the friendships and memories they are taking away from Boys Nation will last forever.

"I'm happy to go home but at the same time I've had so much fun," said James Dumas from Lewiston, Maine. "I wish we could go home for a day and then come back every week because I mad a lot of really good friends here, and I'm going to miss them a lot."

For their last day, the young men spent the morning in the senate debating and voting on bills and resolutions. And by early afternoon, they headed downtown to revel in historical artifacts and pay respect to a defining event of the 20th Century. The senators' first destination was the American History Museum where they saw firsthand the 30-feet by 34-feet Star-Spangled Banner from 1814, and artifacts from and education on America's military from the French and Indian Wars to the present conflict in Iraq. They too witnessed the chairs Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant sat in during their surrender ceremony at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, as well as a restored UH-1H Huey Helicopter from the Vietnam War. Other interesting sites included Dorothy's ruby red slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" and Michael Jackson's infamous black hat.

Afterward, the young men quietly visited the World War II Memorial. The picturesque memorial features every state from the Pacific to the Atlantic and has a Freedom Wall where 4,048 gold stars proudly hang. Each star represents 100 American servicemembers who lost their lives, or remain missing, in the war.

Once the senators arrived back to Marymount University they enjoyed a banquet dinner filled with delicious food and dessert, which the group never went without, especially when it came to ice cream. The campus cafeteria featured a soft serve ice cream machine where sundaes and cones became a daily staple for lunch, as well as dinner, among the senators and staff. And with it being their last time eating together, a few senators played "Let It Be" by The Beatles and "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley on a piano located in the dining hall. Everyone belted out the lyrics while raising their American flags.

So with stomachs full and excitement in the air, the young men left dinner and walked over to the campus auditorium for the graduation ceremony. During the graduation ceremony the senators walked across the auditorium stage where they shook hands with their senior section counselor and junior counselors, all while receiving a Boys Nation completion certificate, coin and pin. Standing in line to pay recognition to the young men was the Sons of The American Legion (SAL) National Vice Commander, Joe Gladden, who handed out an SAL pin to the senators.

On behalf of the SAL, Gladden presented a $1,000 scholarship to president pro-tempore William Sadock from Riverside, Conn., and secretary of the senate Ryan Fulmer from Broomall, Penn. And Joseph Caouette, chairman of the Legion's Americanism Commission, presented a $2,000 scholarship to vice president Ben Attia from Hockessin, Ga., and president Michael Herbert from Arvada, Colo.

More importantly, the senators saw the lasting impression they made on the junior counselors. Because when it came time for the eight junior counselors to receive their program certificate, they stood behind the podium and spoke words of admiration, gratitude and wisdom for the 2011 Boys Nation senators.

"The friendships you make here are more important than any award you will ever receive," said Graham Wyatt, Washington sections junior counselor and a rising sophomore at Harvard University.

Overall, the graduation ceremony was an emotional time for all as friendships and memories were made that will last a lifetime. But before the senators gave their hugs and said their goodbyes, they stood alongside Past National Commander Bob Turner to sing, which was only one of the many ways the young men showed their patriotism throughout the week.

"I met all these guys that I became instant friends with; it's something exceptional," said Brendan McDermott from Wilmington, Del. "We talked politics at a caliber that I have never experienced and just grew together. I'm confident that I am going to see these guys again, and we are going to look back on these experiences together because this is only the beginning of Boys Nation 2011."