Boys, Girls Nation: A lesson in democracy

10 years ago

Every summer, I have the pleasure of welcoming to Washington four outstanding high-school students from Maine — our state’s delegates to Boys and Girls Nation. This summer, Muna Mohamed of Lewiston, Helen Zhang of Bangor, Jordan Soper of Blue Hill, and Adam Fortier-Brown of Randolph joined delegates from throughout the country for an invaluable week-long experience in citizenship and government.
These young leaders earned their trip to Washington through a lot of hard work. Academic achievement, community service, and excelling at Dirigo Boys and Girls State here in Maine all went into making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity possible.
They also got to Washington with a lot of help. For 68 years, the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary have sponsored these programs, fulfilling their commitment to instill in our young people an understanding of our system of government and a deeper appreciation for our American values. Throughout their lives, these students have had parents, teachers, and community members supporting them and encouraging them to follow their dreams.
As delegates, the students adopt the role of senators serving in a mock Senate, which operates under the rules and practices of the U.S. Senate. They form parties, elect leaders, organize into committees, and write and debate legislation.
Beyond learning the legislative process, these students learn the lessons of leadership, of standing tall for one’s beliefs while respecting the beliefs of others, of engaging in respectful and constructive debate, and of working together for the common good. Whether these students pursue careers in government, business, education, or any other field, these principles will serve them, and our society, well.
But the week wasn’t all about legislating. This promising group of young men and women visited the White House, toured Washington’s monuments, memorials, and museums, and paid their respects to America’s fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery. Appreciating America’s history and honoring the patriots who have kept America free are important lessons.
It is important to recall how the Boys and Girls State movement began. In the 1930s, the forces of tyranny and oppression seemed to be taking over the world – some doubted whether freedom could survive. The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary were especially concerned that these tyrannical regimes were indoctrinating their young people with their hateful ideology, and so they countered with a program to better educate young Americans in democracy. In 1946, the state program was expanded to the national level.
It is as true today as it was back then that the continued vitality of our democracy depends on our continuing to foster among our young people knowledge of and respect for the institutions of our government and of the principles of our nation. I commend the American Legion and Auxiliary for making these great programs possible and all the adults in hometowns across America who encourage and support the students who participate. Most of all, I commend the students themselves – there is no doubt that the delegates of today will be the leaders of tomorrow.