Boys State delegates gain leadership skills, form lasting friendships during their week at TROY

TROY football coach Gerad Parker speaks to Boys State delegates on the Troy Campus on Thursday evening.

TROY football coach Gerad Parker speaks to Boys State delegates on the Troy Campus on Thursday evening.

Close to 500 high school students spent the week at Troy University learning the importance of good citizenship and valuable leadership skills as a part of the 87th American Legion Alabama Boys State.

Boys State traces its roots to 1935 when the first event took place on the grounds of the Illinois State Fair. Creation of the program is credited to Hayes Kennedy, an instructor in the Loyola University School of Law in Chicago and Americanism Chairman of the Illinois Department of the American Legion. Two years later, the first Boys State camp was held in Alabama. Today, the American Legion conducts the program in 49 states.

Delegates arrived on the Troy Campus on Sunday, and throughout the week have heard from guest speakers, taken part in interest groups and activities and participated in a model state government. Intended to supplement the curriculum taught in high school civics classes, the program teaches that the preservation of democracy depends on informed citizens electing responsible offices to administer the government.

B.J. Brake from Corner High School in Dora, Alabama believed that taking part in Boys State would provide valuable leadership experience, but said the experience even exceeded his expectations.

“I thought it would be a great leadership experience. I have an interest in law so I felt like it would help broaden that interest, but I also felt it would help me grow and be open minded about leadership,” Brake said. “One thing that has stood out to me is how many different aspects there are to Boys State. It’s not just one thing that you are focusing on. It focuses on a broad range of topics related to leadership. One of my favorite things has been the judicial system and the courts interest group. We have learned a lot and done some mock trials, and that has been a lot of fun.”

One valuable lesson that Brake said he would take away from the experience was the importance of listening to others.

“One thing that I have really learned is the importance of listening in leadership. Being the leader is not just harping on what you really want, but rather considering everyone’s ideas,” he said. “Everyone’s opinion is valid, and it is really important to listen to others’ views.”

Andy Sheng, a delegate from Vestavia Hills High School, said he learned a lot over the course of the week.

“It has taught me a lot of leadership skills,” Sheng said. “I also think this experience has taught me a lot about my civic duty as a citizen, both as a leader and a person. Boys State has been very helpful. I don’t think you can get the same things you get at Boys State anywhere else.”

For other delegates, the Boys State experience not only helps to build leadership skills, but it also helps them to learn more about themselves and their abilities.

“It has definitely made me feel more confident in myself,” said Luke Tindell, a delegate from Geneva County High School. “I feel like I have been encouraged to speak out more where normally I would have kept my thoughts to myself. They have taught us to grow more as leaders.”

Still for other delegates, the setting for the event has helped prepare them for future experiences.

“It is my first time in a college setting,” said Josue Lovos from Athens. “It is the first time that I have gotten to tour a college campus and learn and get a feel for the college experience.”

In addition to city meetings, interest groups and other activities, the delegates also had the opportunity to hear from a variety of state and local leaders throughout the week during general sessions. Speakers for the week included Alabama Supreme Court Justice Jay Mitchell, Association of County Commissions of Alabama Executive Director Sonny Brasfield, Alabama State Representative Anthony Daniels, Alabama Power Vice President of Governmental Affairs Houston Smith, Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Valentine, former Congressman and current President of the University of South Alabama Jo Bonner, Troy University Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Kerry Palmer, and TROY football coach Gerad Parker, among others.

“There have been good messages during the general sessions,” Lovos said. “I’ve taken some good advice from many of the speakers here.”

One of the most lasting experiences that many delegates say they will take away from the weeklong experience is the friendships formed with others from around the state.

“I have made a lot of friendships and connections with a lot of people this week,” Lovos said.

Tindell agreed that the opportunity to meet and interact with others was a meaningful part of his time at Boys State.

“Meeting people. I’ve met people from all over the state from different backgrounds, and it has been very interesting meeting different kinds of people.”