While the outside experiences at American Legion Boys Nation — visits to the National Mall, Arlington National Cemetery, Capitol Hill and the White House among them — end up as treasured memories for the young men attending the program, it’s the legislative process they participate in that stands most important.
At last weekend’s annual Boys State Directors Conference in Indianapolis, state program officials were encouraged to ensure that their delegates are prepared for that process.
“You would be surprised at the number of bills or resolutions that we see that aren’t federal issues at all,” said Tim Aboudara Sr., legislative administrative assistant at Boys Nation.
In that role, Aboudara sees the proposed legislation each senator submits before Boys Nation each July. He suggested part of the vetting process for state programs, in selecting their two Boys Nation representatives, be to ask the candidates what type of legislation or resolution they would want to introduce.
He also noted a question that they use at California Boys State, where Aboudara is chief counselor, about an amendment on flag burning.
“What we’re really looking for, it doesn’t matter what their opinion is (whether for or against), it’s how well they articulate and stand by their position,” he said.
Past National Commander Dale Barnett, Boys Nation director of activities, reiterated Aboudara’s point when talking about the importance of the legislative process.
“Make sure that you spend some time with these young men before they go to Boys Nation so they know what they’re doing,” Barnett said. He emphasized 10 points on the importance of participating in the process at Boys Nation, among them viability, or how well the Boys Nation senators have researched their legislation; consensus building; and vision, pointing out that a few years before the Legion itself took a stance on medical marijuana, senators at Boys Nation had already introduced legislation on the issue.
“We may see pieces of legislation that we don’t agree with, but that doesn’t matter,” Aboudara said. “It’s the young men’s program. … They haven’t figured out the polarization. They debated with civility, they don’t always agree, they attempt to reach compromise. It’s a lesson that everyone in Washington should hopefully learn. More important for all of us, that’s where our hope is in the next few generations.”
This was the 82nd annual American Legion Boys State Directors Conference, a chance for officials from the 49 Boys State programs to meet and discuss best practices for the program. In addition to informational presentations from Boys Nation staff and Boys State programs, a breakout session Saturday morning split the programs up by size to allow for discussion of ideas on brand awareness, training and education, media and communications and membership awareness.
The event also included recognition of retiring Americanism Division Deputy Director Mike Buss, who received a photo collage depicting the division’s four youth programs — Boys State, Junior Shooting Sports, National Oratorical Contest and American Legion Baseball — as well as his duties in flag education.
Buss was also presented with four small pillars representing the Legion’s four pillars, by the Mountaineer Boys State program from West Virginia, but he insisted those be used again, as they were this year, at the Boys Nation program.