For those who attend a Boys State program, it’s always “a week that shapes a lifetime.” For the 300 delegates who attended this year’s Massachusetts Boys State, it was also a week of milestones.
In addition to participating in the program during The American Legion’s 100th anniversary year, 2019 also marked the 75th edition of the Boys State program in Massachusetts and its 25th year at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.
It’s also the ninth year that Massachusetts’ Boys State and Girls State programs have been held on the same campus at the same time, a schedule that Massachusetts Boys State Director Mark Avis noted was met with skepticism when first suggested.
“What happened was a tremendous program. It helped the program grow, and we continue to grow,” Avis said during the programs’ Legion Night event.
That event, on June 16, featured National Commander Brett Reistad and American Legion Auxiliary National President Kathy Dungan speaking to the combined audience of young men and women.
They were the first of several notable guest speakers to address the two programs during the week, including Boys State alum Rear Adm. Ted LeClair and former White House chief of staff Andy Card.
Card talked to the delegates about growing up in Holbrook, Mass., as well as what he saw on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was chief of staff to President George W. Bush and was tasked with informing the president about the attacks as Bush prepared to read to an elementary school class in Florida.
He also stressed the importance of participation.
“There are very few obligations in the Constitution, unless you accept the invitation to be part of our government. You’re not obligated to register to vote; you’re invited to register to vote. Accept the invitation. You’re not obligated to vote; you’re invited to vote. Go vote. You’re not obligated to serve in office … you’re invited. Accept the invitation. You’re not even obligated today to serve in the military; you’re invited. Those invitations are powerful invitations, but too few people accept them,” Card said.
He also encouraged the delegates to show their appreciation to those who have served in the military. “None of (the presidents) could keep their oath of office if it weren’t for people who took an oath to help the president keep their oath. We owe those who serve in the military a debt of gratitude, we owe those who did serve in the military to ensure our ability to be here today a debt of gratitude, and The American Legion is making sure that we give that gratitude and will continue to do that,” Card said.
The delegates did so throughout the week, thanking the Legionnaires who volunteered their week to be on staff for their service.
At Boys State, the delegates were placed into 16 municipalities (10 towns and six cities) and spent the week setting budgets, electing officials and addressing issues facing their respective communities. Among those issues: whether to accept a private company’s proposal to build a new convention center with the caveat that the city would exempt the company from taxes on the building; expansion of a prison in a town; and rebuilding from hurricane damage.
The delegates also had to answer some hypothetical problems as groups, including a proposed ban on plastic straws and a debate on lowering the voting age to 16.
As Boys State dean of mini-courses Mike Nicholson pointed out, “We want you to be good citizens. Our goal is to help you understand our democracy and how it works. By that, I don’t mean blind adherence to one ideology or another, but questioning, thinking and participating in the political process.”