While Gen. Mark Milley never attended American Legion Boys State – and thus never attended Boys Nation – alumni on his team shared with him their support for the programs when Milley was invited to speak at the 2023 session of Boys Nation.
“They speak very positively about the program,” Milley said during his speech to participants on July 24 at Marymount University in Arlington, Va.
It’s believed to be the first time a sitting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has addressed Boys Nation in its 77-year history, and certainly the first time such a figure has met with the 100 senators at their home campus for the “week that shapes a lifetime.”
Milley spoke for about 20 minutes before opening the floor to questions from the rising high school juniors who represent 49 states (Hawaii does not have a Boys State program) and the District of Columbia. He then posed for a group picture with the senators and staff before individual photos with the young men and staff members.
In his opening speech, Milley praised the Boys Nation senators as the future leaders of the country.
“No matter what walk of life you choose … there is zero doubt in my mind that you will rise to significant levels of leadership,” he said.
Among the keys to success, he said, are competence and commitment.
“All (competence) requires is hard work, diligence, studying and lots of repetitive practice,” Milley said. “… (Commitment) comes from inside, and you’re going to have to be committed to whatever walk of life you choose. By that, I mean you have to be enthusiastic, you have to embrace it, you have to be all in, in whatever profession you choose to be in.”
Milley also encouraged the young men to be courageous as they grow. “You’ll develop (physical courage) in the moment of danger whenever it comes. That fight-or-flight instinct will take over.
“But the far more difficult challenge that you will face in life is to have moral courage; to stand up in the face of a moral challenge, a moral threat, where you’ll have to stand there in the breach, on your own two feet, with no one to help you, and demonstrate moral courage.”
Milley continued, “I can’t say when, where, how or with whom, but at some point in time you’ll absolutely have to demonstrate (integrity), and you will demonstrate that in the form of moral courage. That’s going to be the most difficult moment of your life, whenever it happens – and it may happen more than once. But maintaining your true self, your integrity to the north star that guides you, that is the essence of a successful life. It is not money, it’s not power, it’s not the number of stars on your shoulders, it’s not all the badges and awards. It’s all about maintaining integrity and character and demonstrating moral courage when the time comes.
“My message to you is that each of you will become leaders of consequence in the United States of America, there’s no question about it. And each of you, as you go on into the years ahead: look yourself in the mirror, examine your conscience, and be true to yourself and your north star. Maintain your integrity. Never, ever turn your back on it.”