Wednesday night was about having fun while seeing a reenactment of the history of the U.S. Army for the senators of American Legion Boys Nation and American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation.
Thursday was all business — for the most part — as the rising high school seniors at both programs met with their U.S. senators on Capitol Hill as part of Hill Day 2023.
After getting acquainted at the “Twilight Tattoo” performance Wednesday at Joint Base Myers-Henderson Hall, the senators of Boys Nation and Girls Nation met again Thursday morning.
Despite a busy schedule for the U.S. Senate, most of the teens had the chance to sit down with the U.S. senators, even if some were cut short because the senator had to go vote.
That was the case with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a Boys Nation alumnus, who finished his chat with a group of Boys Nation and Girls Nation senators as he headed off to vote.
“It was really interesting. (Sen. Lee) is very knowledgeable and very well versed in a lot of the topics that I’m interested in. It was a fun experience to listen to his perspectives on what’s going on in this country right now,” said Carsen Cooper, one of Boys Nation’s two senators from Utah.
His colleague, Colby Stone, agreed. “He’s a great guy and he knows his stuff.”
Their Girls Nation counterparts, Madilyn Beaudry and Evelyn Park, praised the educational experience of Girls Nation and their meeting with Sen. Lee.
“Honestly, it really gave me a broader view of how politicians think,” Park said.
“I think that Congress is one of the less focused-on branches of government, at least within the school system, so I think being able to access this program gives you a good opportunity to understand Congress and its inner workings,” Beaudry added.
West Virginia’s Christian Arnold and Sam Dodson also were pleased after their meeting with Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito.
“It was a very personal conversation. I think that there’s a stereotype that some politicians, they’re not personal, but she was very down-to-earth, she was genuine,” Arnold said.
“Obviously you see her on TV, you see her online, but you never really get to interact with the real person, and it just helps to show you they’re more than a policy or more than a vote,” Dodson said. “It really makes you respect the position more, because a lot of times what we hear about is the end result — we hear the vote, we hear a soundbite, but we don’t get to sit down with them and have a short conversation with those who are doing those things for us.
“Politics is people at the end of the day; it’s people making decisions about what they think is best for the country.”
Old friends. While many of the Boys Nation and Girls Nation senators could use the time between Thursday’s appointments to get to know each other better, there was no need for that for Arnold, Dodson and Girls Nation senator Kennedy Bealko.
All three are from the same small town in West Virginia and have been friends since preschool. Dodson and Bealko are still classmates while Arnold attends a local private school, but they’ve stayed in touch.
“We’ve toured college campuses together, we’ve vacationed with their families; just being here and not having to worry about meeting your roommate, being someone that I’ve known forever is nice, but then just to have an actual friend that I know 10, 15 years from now, I will have someone to look back on this who will be by my side because he’s been by my side my whole life. That’s just really cool. And then to have the same thing with (Bealko), it’s so special,” Arnold said.
“It’s great, especially because we arrived at a different airport, so we didn’t get to have the bus ride and the camaraderie with everyone before we got (to Boys Nation),” Dodson said. “So it was really great to have a home base and someone to always talk to. We live like five minutes away from each other and we’ve been friends pretty much my entire life.
“It provides a sense of familiarity, because it’s nerve-wracking to come here. For most people it’s 99 people that you have never met. So having someone that I’ve known my whole life is just a great resource because it’s someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to share the experiences with on a more personal level that you wouldn’t get from someone else. (And) having someone from my school here is really cool because it shows that even though we’re in a smaller area — our city has less than 10,000 people, and having three people here from that same city is just really, really impressive. Our school has less than 800 people, and to think that two of them are here in D.C. at Boys Nation and Girls Nation is a pretty special experience.”
Follow the happenings at American Legion Boys Nation at legion.org/boysnation, on YouTube at americanlegionHQ, and on social media on Twitter (@ALBoysNation) and Instagram (@theamericanlegion) with the hashtag #BoysNation2023.