Delegates to the American Legion Alabama Boys State spent last week at Troy University, gaining hands-on experience in government and leadership while also cementing new friendships that they plan to continue into the future.
More than 500 rising seniors took part in the week-long event on the Troy Campus. The Boys State program dates back to 1935 when the first event in the nation was held on the grounds of the Illinois State Fair. Alabama Boys State got its start in 1937.
The program provides the opportunity to experience and participate in a model state government with delegates running for offices and having opportunities to learn about various levels of local and state governments.
As the week was winding down, Jackson Tucker of Thorsby said that he had enjoyed the experience.
“The (Troy) campus is excellent; I love all of it,” Tucker said. “Overall, I’ve enjoyed the week. One of my favorite things has been the connections I’ve made with some of the people. The counselors are really good people. Being able to branch out and meet others from around the state is a new experience for me and it has been really nice.”
Tucker, along with a group of other delegates, spent part of the week chronicling the experience for a print publication, handed out daily. Armed with photography experience as a member of the yearbook staff at Thorsby High School, he not only captured photos throughout the week but also discovered a desire to continue to be involved with the program in the future.
“I would love to come back as a counselor or just a photographer to help out as needed,” he said.
For Christopher Rogers of Camden the opportunity to connect with others is something that he will take away from the experience.
“My favorite part has definitely been all the people I’ve met since I’ve been here,” Rogers said. “There are three guys that I met and we basically did everything throughout the week together. I plan to try to keep in touch with them.”
Colby Lewis, a rising junior at the University of Alabama who served as one of the counselors for the event, said the connections made during Boys State can certainly lead to lasting friendships. Lewis was a delegate in 2019, during which he won the Lieutenant Governor’s race. The experience led him to want to continue to be involved with the program as a counselor.
“I was a counselor for the first time last year and then decided to come back again this year,” Lewis said. “The program did a lot for me when I was a delegate. I have friends that I met at Boys State, and we keep in contact. Having those relationships was a big benefit for me.”
As a counselor, Lewis said he enjoys watching the progression made by delegates throughout the week.
“Coming back and watching these guys go from being shy and quiet, not knowing anyone on the first day, to literally being like brothers on the last day is so rewarding for me,” he said. “Being a part of that process and showing them what is important about being a good citizen and making friendships is enjoyable. I always try to emphasize the importance of making personal connections and making sure that they focus on the people here and not just the week. The people are what is going to last, while the week itself will end.”
Lewis said his favorite part of the week’s schedule has always been the nightly city leadership discussions.
“We get together and we have a topic and we reflect on the day,” he said. “It is also a time where we as counselors have the opportunity to give our perspective on things. We talk about topics like failure, leadership and citizenship, and that is where you really get to connect with those in our city and they get to connect with one another. That’s when they become vulnerable and begin to learn about one another. It is also where they start to connect because they see the similarities they have with these other guys. For me that is the most important part of the program.”
Herb Reeves, Dean of Student Services at Troy University, said Boys State officials enjoyed their time at the Troy Campus and that feedback regarding the event was extremely positive.
“Hosting camps such as Boys State and Girls State, along with HOBY and Youth Leadership Forum are a win-win for the University,” Reeves said. “The University is able to fulfill its mission of education and outreach which benefits the community and state, and these camps attract some of the best and brightest young leaders among Alabama high school students. As the host site, we have the opportunity to introduce these prospective students to the Troy Campus.”
In addition to governmental meetings throughout the week, the delegates heard from leaders from throughout the state, including Col. Mark Valentine, Anthony Daniels, Congressman Jo Bonner, the Rev. Garrett Harper, State Finance Director Bill Pool, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey and attorney and Troy University Trustee Forrest S. Latta, among others.