A final senate session and a trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on Friday precede the graduation ceremony for the 2017 class of American Legion Boys Nation.
8 a.m. — After the final flag-raising ceremony of Boys Nation 2017, the senators assemble for their final session. Dr. Matthew Shank, president of Marymount University, addresses the senators first, offering his help to the senators whether they choose to attend Marymount or not and answering questions about college.
The final senate session begins after mementoes of their service are presented to Vice President Jay Blackburn, President Pro Tempore Corey Eisert-Wlodarczyk and Secretary Daniel Meaney. (President Darius Thomas receives his before he announces his presidential appointments later in the morning.)
Voting on the first bill of the morning, to lower the legal drinking age to 18, ends in a tie, forcing Blackburn to cast the deciding vote — he votes in favor of the legislation, noting that 18-year-olds are old enough to defend their country.
That bill is also the last one to be decided, as Thomas vetoes it.
“Clear legislation that has a clear goal to pass the country is legislation that I 100 percent fully support,” Thomas says, noting that he vetoed a similar bill as governor at Alabama Boys State. “… I strongly believe that this piece of legislation should not pass.”
The bill’s author, Massachusetts’ Charlie Chen, argues in support of the measure, but the senate fails to override the veto.
The senate closes with unanimous passage of several simple resolutions, capped by the senators approving resolutions honoring retiring staff members Office Manager Bob Craig, Program Director Mike Buss and Director of Activities Bob Turner.
After the session, the senators join in singing “American Pie” then head to lunch before boarding the buses to the Smithsonian.
6:15 p.m. — It’s a rainy day in the D.C. area, but that doesn’t dampen spirits as the senators and program staff share a final dinner at Marymount before the graduation ceremony.
Some parents and family members have made the trip to see the graduation ceremony, which begins shortly after 8 p.m. with rain drumming on the roof of Reinsch Auditorium.
National Americanism Commission Chairman Richard Anderson encourages the senators, saying, “You are the walkers for those that cannot come home: those that have given their lives, those that have never returned.”
“You guys are the cream of the crop, and I have to commend every one of you,” says Sons of The American Legion National Commander Jeff Frain. “I am so impressed with every one of you — your attitude, your personalities, your smiles, but most importantly your respect. That, gentlemen, is something we need in this nation.”
Frain and Anderson not only serve as guest speakers, but present the four elected officers with their scholarship awards for serving at Boys Nation.
The senators receive their graduation certificates, celebrating each of their colleagues with applause and cheers and yelled-out nicknames. After that, the junior counselors have their say, thanking their senators and the senior staff, who also are recognized, one by one.
Then it’s time to say goodbye to the three retirees, with Buss moved to tears upon receiving a framed picture of the Legion Mall.
Turner, ever the songman, says goodbye in his own special way, inviting the senators to gather in front of the Reinsch Auditorium stage while the staff joins him on stage. They sing “Show Your Colors America” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and chant “U-S-A, U-S-A!” together one last time.
Then, it’s over, but not really. There will be a long night of goodbyes, conversations both serious and silly, group photos and hugs and tears and laughter. In the morning — very early in the morning — they’ll board the buses, the members of Boys Nation 2017, and they’ll head to the airport for their flights home.
Another “week that shapes a lifetime” has come to an end.
In their words
“So far, Boys Nation has been a great opportunity because meeting so many kids right now, we haven’t even got to all the activities yet. Getting to be here with a friend, and meeting so many new friends, it’s a really great opportunity.” — Wyoming’s Bridger Bogus, on Saturday. Bogus and his friend since kindergarten, Christian Moncrief, represented Wyoming at Boys Nation.
“I just want to say thank you to The American Legion, because it’s an honor to know that they care about the youth of today, and they’re really trying to create a better tomorrow by educating the youth of today about government, about politics, about how to be a better citizen in general. And when we go back home, how to implement things in our community and how big a deal the community is.
“It honestly speaks to who they are. If joining the military and fighting for our country wasn’t enough to show American citizens that they are amazing people who are selfless and willing to give it all for this nation, if that doesn’t show you that’s the kind of people they are, for them to leave service and come back and enter service again in The American Legion, it’s honestly amazing, it speaks even more to the kind of person they are, that they’re people dedicated to service, and dedicated to their country. You guys are the truest patriots that this country has.” — Alabama’s Darius Thomas, President of Boys Nation 2017, on Tuesday.
“To hear people that are so passionate about something they believe in, the government, it’s so great because it shows that there’s a future in America.” — Tennessee’s Jay Blackburn, Vice President of Boys Nation 2017, talking about his fellow senators on Tuesday.
“It has truly been a life-changing experience. I have so much patriotism for our country now. Seeing (President) Trump in person was such a starstruck experience, and shaking hands with (Louisiana Sen.) John Kennedy … I just want to do so much for this country now.” — Louisiana’s Jokobe Mitchell, on Thursday.
“I think that you need to come here with the expectation of letting your hair down and just kind of going with the flow. I think that there are a lot of people that come here that think, ‘Well, I was the governor of my state, therefore I’m entitled to having the presidency.’ No, you are not entitled to the presidency, but you are entitled to having a good time. You have to come here, you still have to work to get what you want.”—Alabama’s Tre Jones, on Thursday.
“I think the moment from Boys Nation that I’m going to remember the most was actually yesterday when we went and met the president. It’s not something that’s partisan, it’s not whether or not you agree with his policies, it’s just the respect in general for the office of the presidency and for America, that when the president walked out to come and introduce himself to us, and when I was able to shake his hand, it was just a moment that will forever stick with me. It’s not partisan, it’s respect.” — Louisiana’s Emmett McComiskey, on Thursday.