(Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

67th Boys Nation class graduates with honors

A new exhibit has just opened at the Clinton House museum in Fayetteville, Ark. Now, in that modest first residence of the then newly married Bill and Hillary Clinton, visitors will witness in photos and video the famed Rose Garden famous meeting of the future president with then-President John F. Kennedy. The commemorative display was revealed on July 24, the 50th anniversary of Clinton’s life changing moment.

Bill Clinton, then 17, had come to Washington as a delegate or “senator,” as they are called, of The American Legion Boys Nation program. His week in the nation’s capital, by his own account, was life changing. He said as much in a specially recorded greeting to this year’s Boys Nation class on the session’s opening day.

Descriptions similar to the former president’s were heard time and again Friday evening, as this year’s 98 American Legion Boys Nation senators graduated from the program’s 67th class. Though some of the normally articulate teens employed such superlatives as “awesome” and “very cool” to summarize their Boys Nation experience, it was clear that the week-long, total immersion education in civics, politics and the American legislative process had made a big and eye-opening impact. Many expressed a renewed or newly found appreciation for the wisdom of this country’s governmental system and the dedication of many public servants. “Wow.  I now understand how difficult it all is, but how wonderfully it can work,” said one Boys Nation senator.

When asked to review the week’s highlights, most of the young delegates listed several, then several more.  The American Legion wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery moved many, as did visits to the World War II and Vietnam War memorials. Tours of the U.S. Capitol and, most especially, face-to-face visits with their respective members of Congress, stimulated all the young senators, it would seem.

The most excitement in the teens’ recollections of their Boys Nation week, however, was generated by their White House meeting with President Barack Obama on Friday morning. “There was the leader of the free world, the most powerful man on earth, walking into the same room as me,” said one young man. “It was awesome! What an honor it was to be here.”