I got involved with the American Legion Boys Nation when my college counselor, Mr. David Schindel, nominated me to represent The Gregory School at Boys State. This program is one of the most respected and selective educational opportunities for high school students focused on government instruction. After the state program ended, all 20,000 students from across the country were considered for the 100 senator positions available in Boys Nation in D.C. In Arizona, two students from each of the twelve "cities" were chosen by the staff to go on a ballot. From that twenty-four, the top five candidates went through an additional interview process. I was honored to be selected as one of two students to represent Arizona. I wrote a controversial bill that was supposed to solve the issue of enforcing Ted Cruz's bill on eliminating straw purchases in the fire arm industry. After it failed, I realized that bringing people together is more important than pushing for a bill that others did not want. This outcome was in line with my original mission at Boys State and Boys Nation - to unify people.
My Boys Nation Experience
When I first arrived in Washington D.C., and had the opportunity to meet some of the delegates in the airport, I perceived a sense of compromise and friendliness. This sense, one of comfort and willingness to work together, was destroyed when we later joined our party conventions to create a party platform that suited all fifty people in the room. I realized that being a leader among certitude leaders differs from being a leader among followers: No one could agree. I had to unite people and my calling came after my party, the Nationalists, elected their president. I supported my party's presidential candidate by building the courage to get in front of ninety-nine of the nation’s greatest students and delivered a nomination speech about unification. I passionately explained how vital it was to set an example for the divided Congress right across the river from where we were.
“The one fact we agree on is that we cannot agree on anything. We are not there to pretend to be Congress. We are here to be a model for Congress”.
After the presidential nomination speeches and election, all signs of disunion disappeared. Everyone forgot about the intense fight over party platforms that had just occurred. I learned how to compromise with leaders full of conviction.
I was reminded why I was in D.C when an unnamed lady, who escaped North Korea, spoke with the delegates. She reminded us that we were in the Capital to protect the freedoms that her family so desperately wanted, but are denied. We were finally ready to take a leap of courage and meet some of the most respected elected officials and positions in our government.
On the last two days we had the opportunity to represent ourselves, family, school, community, and state in front of the nation’s highest elected officials and politicians. After my meeting with Senator Jeff Flake (and taking a selfie with Sen. Markey in the hallway), I went downstairs to thank the McCain staff for the learning experience I had while on their campaign. As I was sitting in the waiting room, I was holding a conversation with a kind gentleman. When fifteen minutes passed, I finally asked him who he was. All that time, for the entire conversation, I did not know I was speaking to the next Chairman of the United States Counter Intelligence Agency (US CIA). He was the president's nominee and had just finished his last hearing. As I walked downstairs to the cafeteria with disbelief over the previous thirty minutes, I thought of the meal I would have; one that a senator would approve. In the dining area I saw lobbyists discreetly meeting with staffers, representatives, and senators, including Marco Rubio, (who is known for being late) running to get to the Senate session on time.
On the last day, Vice President Mike Pence hosted the delegates in the White House. After spending an hour in security, Vice President Pence delivered an inspiring speech encouraging us to be the very best version of ourselves. After his presentation, we all rushed up to him to carry on conversations about issues that mattered most to us. When I was done talking and taking pictures with him I watched how he quickly left the auditorium to make it on time to his Fox News interview on the Ceremonial Office balcony. Without thinking of the repercussions, while the rest of the delegates were standing in awe from taking a group picture with the vice president, I hurried over to the front of the auditorium to hold a long conversation with President Trump’s Deputy Assistant, Steve Munisteri, about the president's tariffs. As delegates from other states surrounded me and Mr. Munisteri, I received very direct, detailed, and comprehensive reasoning for the policy. As the interaction with the officials ended in the south White House auditorium, President Trump’s intern took us to the White House Ceremonial Office after Vice President Pence's interview. As the president was not available to meet with us, we were one of the only groups allowed to take pictures during this session. It was an honor to have had the opportunity to exchange ideas and protocol with the head assistant to the president and the vice president himself.
An interesting historical aside: in 1963 a 17 year old Bill Clinton, a delegate of Boys Nation, was filmed shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy. As the story goes, right after the handshake, Bill Clinton said “One day I will have John F. Kennedy’s job.” That really is the power of this experience.