'Our Boys Nation journey'

During the graduation ceremony of the 66th session of The American Legion Boys Nation program, congratulatory remarks were provided by staff members to the 98 young men for their outstanding achievement. Boys Nation president Jonathan Hess, from Tuscaloosa, Ala., also provided closing remarks on the values and morals that the program ministers to today’s generation.

"Here we stand, gentleman, at the end of our Boys Nation journey. Only a week ago, all 98 of us set out from homes all across this great country. We brought different ideas, different goals and different outlooks on life with us. And all 98 of us sat down in this room together, not even knowing each other’s names, and tackled the greatest problems facing our country. We crafted party platforms that somehow fit both staunch conservatives and stout liberals. We elected our own leaders and debated on some of the most controversial issues of our time with more mutual respect than our lawmakers on Capitol Hill could ever hope to achieve.

"In an era when parties and politics create inefficiency and gridlock, we put aside labels and truly decided what we thought would be best for our country. In a time when animosity prevents democracy, we stepped across the aisle and shook hands with those whose ideas differed from our own. We did not contest, we compromised; we did not argue, we debated. Although our conduct and decorum are commendable, our accomplishments are even more so.

"Education and energy, ethics and capital punishment – our senate created laws directly addressing these problems of our nation. And no major area of government left our focus. We debated moving arms production exclusively to our home soil; we discussed overwhelming taxes on farms passed down from generation to generation; and we passed laws requiring nonprofits to actually disclose how much of their acquired donations help those who need it the most. But the bills we passed are not the most memorable part of the program.

"Who stands at the front of this room will eventually be forgotten; the record of laws passed will not stand the test of time. The relationships that we have made here will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Walking through memorials with our dedicated Legion staff; strategizing for campaigns with close friends; even just enjoying a meal with friends from other states — these are the things that will stick with us for years to come.

"Lifelong connections are forged at Boys Nation and rewarding friendships that will last decades. None of these things would be remotely possible without the entire support of The American Legion — an organization comprised of men who have worn the uniform and fought fearlessly for our great nation, even under fear of death. This organization not only serves its own members, but all the youth in the country through its leadership programs. I speak for every delegate here in thanking The American Legion for their dedicated service.

"Oftentimes we hear the cliché that the journey is more important than its destination. I feel that our destination is just as critical as our journey. We have enjoyed our Boys Nation journey. We learned, made friends and forged connections during our stay here in Washington. But in a way, this journey was about ourselves — we were the ones who grew, we were the ones who learned. Now, we have reached our destination, and we must give back.

"It is time for us to lead, for us to succeed. It is no longer the time to merely talk about the solutions to the problems of this nation; it is time to solve the problems of this nation. Service is the destination of our Boys Nation journey – a week that shapes a lifetime."