Boys State 'really is for everyone'

Nick Claudio isn’t shy about his ambitions. He wants to run for mayor of Boston one day, and another goal is to be governor of Massachusetts.

He’s not going to let his blindness get in the way of those goals. After all, it didn’t stop him from running for, and being elected, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts Boys State this past spring.

“At Boys State, after hearing about all of the different offices that we could run for, I definitely wanted to run for one of the offices that was high up there, and I thought that lieutenant governor was probably the perfect office for me,” Claudio said, acknowledging that, at least at the time, being governor of the Boys State program would have been a little too stressful.

It’s hard to fathom much stressing Claudio, who’s twice played the Tin Man in school productions of “The Wizard of Oz” and has also performed with a musical troupe called Showstoppers.

The senior at Old Rochester Regional High in Mattapoisett, Mass., added Boys State to his resume when a 2016 attendee, Jonathan Kvilhaug, and the school guidance counselor talked to Claudio and others at the school about the Boys State and Girls State programs.

“(Kvilhaug) started telling me about this program for boys, and Girls State for girls, to learn about U.S. government, state government, local government … and how it was a program where you could run for local offices, all sorts of offices, and learn about law and the country’s economics. I was really into it because that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m into; that’s what I want to study when I go to college. So when I heard about it, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to go to this program,’” Claudio recalled.

He said there were no problems when he arrived at Stonehill College in Easton, site of the program, in June.

“Everybody at Boys State was actually pretty inclusive. I made a lot of really cool friends; there was never really any time where I had any trouble finding someone who was willing to help me with any of the activities we were engaging in. … There was always someone there who would help me out with anything,” said Claudio, who noted that he and his friends still keep in touch through the GroupMe app.

Claudio lost his sight at age 9 after being diagnosed with choroid plexus papilloma, a rare, benign tumor in the brain.

“It was the size of an orange when we found it, so the surgery crushed my optic nerves,” Claudio said.

But he still skis, performs on stage and learned Braille in a year.

“Just because you have a disability, that doesn’t mean you should let it hold you back from striving for your goals or trying to achieve your dreams. You can do anything,” he said.

That’s a lesson he hopes to share. He’s already written a letter to be sent to the Perkins School for the Blind, encouraging the school in Watertown — the oldest school for the blind in the U.S. — to encourage its students to apply for the Boys State and Girls State programs.

“Personally, I think that if you ever get the opportunity to go to Boys State, you definitely should because it teaches you a lot about U.S. government, and also you get to spend a week on a college campus with boys — or girls, depending on your gender — who are all interested in the same thing you are. You make a lot of long-lasting friends who also strive for similar goals as you are,” Claudio said.

“It really teaches you how to be a more civically-engaged citizen, which is starting to become more important. In the last presidential election, only about 60 percent of registered voters voted. Most of those voters were in the baby boomer generation. I’m hoping that Boys State will continue to encourage students in my generation to become civically engaged. I know it’s made me more civically engaged. … The program really is for everyone.”