University president recalls 'transformation' at Boys State

Thirty five years ago, Scott L. Scarborough, president of the University of Akron, was elected governor of Texas Boys State. He still lists it among his career accomplishments today.

In the summer of 1980, Scarborough, who's been president of the Akron, Ohio, university since 2014, attended Boys State in his home state of Texas and later ventured to Washington, D.C., as a delegate to the Legion's Boys Nation program. It was a "transformative" summer that helped launch a career that would include working as a congressional intern in the Nation's Capital and administrative positions at four different post-secondary schools.

As is often the case with program alumni, Scarborough remembers his summer at Boys State and Boys Nation - the summer before his senior year of high school - with a great deal of fondness. In a recent interview with The American Legion Legion Magazine, Scarborough reflected on the summer of 1980, reminiscing on anecdotes and discussing how the experiences helped him become who he is today.

Q: How did you first get involved with Texas Boys State?

A: "I was selected by The American Legion. I didn’t really know much about the program. What I remember is there were probably eight or nine people from my hometown selected. We were all very honored to have been selected. The thing I remember before we left is, one of The American Legion officers said to all of us, ‘make us proud....'

"What I remember very early in the experience is someone asking the question, ‘Who’s going to run for governor?’ I hadn’t thought a lot about it. I didn’t see anyone volunteering. So I said, ‘OK. I’ll take the plunge, I will run for governor.’ That began a series of events during the week that are hard to imagine. They were very transformational."

Q: How was the week transformational?

A: "The campaign for governor... I gave speech after speech, and answered questions, and all of a sudden, I found myself in front of a thousand high school kids. Then there was that great day where they elected me governor of Boys State. It was a transformational week for me in terms of the experience, and learning to believe in myself going forward.

"I think it was kind of a catalyst event in my life. I had good grades. I played sports. I had been successful, but I don’t know if I had ever been singled out the way I was that particular week. I felt like, ‘OK, I’ve got some of the qualities necessary that people can rally behind.’ That’s a gift. There’s a responsibility associated with that gift. It gave me both the confidence and the sense of obligation of leadership and doing the most with what was given to me."

Q: Why is it that you still list being elected governor of Texas Boys State as one of your career accomplishments?

A: “I consider it one of the great highlights of my life. For years, I was the guy who was elected governor of Boys State. That was kind of how people referred to me. When something like that happens, and people remember it, it can’t help but be an instrumental part of your life. I was very proud and very grateful to The American Legion and for whoever funded it…. I am very grateful for the program, and have been a big supporter of it. I went back as a counselor in the subsequent years. I’ve just been a big believer in the program ever since then.

"The things that are pivotal points in my life, one was the American Legion Boys State experience, another was when I was elected student body president at the University of Texas at Austin. Those are things that you don’t forget, that people don’t let you forget. They are reminders to you that you were very blessed to be given these opportunities. There is a responsibility associated with that.”

Q: What stands out most to you about your experience at Boys Nation?

A: "It was obviously a program to teach you about federal government.... You are in the Nation's Capital, and there is no greater place to visit than Washington, D.C. I kind of fell in love with it. And later, I went back to D.C. as an intern for a congressman. So I like to think that all of this put me on a path to understand what it means to be a good citizen and to know how state government and federal government works. When you are blessed with an opportunity of being selected for a position, you get the confidence and the encouragement and the sense of obligation that comes with that."

Q: Thirty five years later, how do your experiences at Boys State and Boys Nation still affect you and what you do?

A: "Anything that I can do to make the path easier for The American Legion, I am going to do that. I am fortunate that this particular university has a great reputation in terms of its support for veterans and military support services. And we are thinking about how we can take the next step and even be more military friendly.... My great fondness for The American Legion probably is very evident in terms of the things we are hoping to do at this point at this university.

"I hadn’t thought about (these experiences) in years. I think the one thing that I would like to do is to speak directly to The American Legion and say thank you for this program because this program made a big difference in my life and I appreciate what they’ve done."