On Aug. 10, Jason Benjamin, a student columnist for the Bangor Daily News, gave readers the impression that Boys State is passe. He couldn’t have been any farther any base when he made his statements about the American Legion Boys State program.
Jason gave readers his opinion of Boys State. He told us about crowded lunch lines, separatism, and Social Darwinism. There is some truth in what Jason says, but his perception and mine are quite different.
I was selected to go to Boys State in my junior year at Brewer High School. I was very excited and honored to be chosen as a delegate. Some delegates, maybe even Jason, might have come to Castine with the impression that they were on an all-expense paid vacation, courtesy of the American Legion. The majority understand that they are there to learn about state government.
When I arrived at Castine two years ago I was confused like everyone else. There were even crowded lunch lines when I was there, but I also understood that there were 500 boys all wanting to eat at once. The separatism Jason talked about was the random division of the delegates into mock towns and cities, named after the first 12 or 13 governors of Maine.
Another point Jason was disturbed with was the separation of his peers into two political parties. This is a necessary function to distinguish between candidates running for office. Third parties are not included in the original setup of the program at the beginning of the week, but it is in no way forbidden to start one. The democratic process is being learned.
The last point Jason raised was in reference to Darwinism, the strong will prevail. Everyone has the same chance to take an active part in the process. It is up to the individual to decide how active a role he would like to pursue. Delegates going to Boys State get out of the program what they make of it.
I was selected to go to Castine on my academic and political involvement. The criteria for other schools’ selection may or may not be the same. The American Legion does not decide who goes, each high school makes this selection.
The leadership experience I gained at Boys State enabled me to become an effective president of my senior class at Brewer High School. I had a wonderful experience at Boys State. I ran for governor and even though I lost, I made many friends and learned about government. There are other things to do at Boys State besides learning the political process. Delegates can take part in any number of the sports offered, participate in the band, or work on the newspaper.
I wrote this column with the intention of giving the reader my perspective of what the program gave to me. I hope the majority of Boys Staters had a similar experience. This year I was asked to return as a counselor at Boys State. My experience was equally gratifying. Boys State is democracy in action.
Michael R. Johnson graduated from Brewer High School in June and will be attending the University of Maine this fall.