More than 450 rising high school senior boys from throughout the state called Troy University home last week as a part of the 86th American Legion Alabama Boys State.
Created in 1935 and held in Alabama since 1937, the Boys State program is conducted in 49 states, providing hands-on participation in a model state government, and focusing on the responsibilities of citizenship and the political units of government and their functions. This year’s event marked the second straight year TROY has played host to Boys State.
Delegates also had the opportunity to hear from government officials and inspirational speakers, including U.S. Sen. Katie Britt, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Treasurer Young Boozer, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey, University of South Alabama President and former Congressman Jo Bonner, Judge Keith Watkins, Chief Justice Tom Parker and Troy University Football Coach Jon Sumrall, among others.
On Friday, the delegates visited sites in Montgomery, including the State Capitol and State Archives, and had the opportunity to meet with their counterparts in state government.
For delegates, the opportunity to meet new friends and work together throughout the week was among the highlights.
Andrew Suggs, a student from Hartselle High School, said the opportunity to attend Boys State provided him with confidence in his public speaking abilities.
“A particular highlight for me was running for the governor’s nomination from my party, the Nationalists,” Suggs said. “I had the opportunity to be in front of my whole party and deliver a speech. While I didn’t win the nomination, it was a very cool experience for me.”
Suggs said his Boys State experience has led him to want to be a leader in his school and community in the future.
“I think it has definitely revealed to me that I want to be a leader in my school and community,” he said. “I think I’ve gotten a lot of experience this week with public speaking. Putting myself out there is the biggest thing. When I came here, I didn’t know anybody, so it has been a new experiencing putting myself out there. Thankfully, I pushed myself to do that and I’m proud of myself for doing it.”
For Noah Howard, a student at Decatur’s Austin High School, Boys State was a good opportunity to meet and interact with new people.
“One of my favorite parts has been the city meetings and class discussions,” Howard said. “It is amazing to hear what others think, and even if they think differently than you on some things, there are things that you can agree on and work together. My city group was one of the big highlights for me. We were all strangers at the start of it and, over time, we began to build relationships, and now, to me, we are like a family.”
Howard said the opportunity to run for office was a good experience, along with hearing from the guest speakers.
“Getting out in front of people and building relationships was a big part of running for office,” he said. “I never thought I would be able to do that. The boys supported me and pushed me to get out of my comfort zone. I’m happy that I did that because I don’t always push myself to do things like that.
“Every time we had general sessions and the speakers came, it really lifted me up a lot,” Howard added. “Gov. Ivey talked to us and that was a really amazing experience. Every word she said stuck out to me, so I will definitely take a lot away from that.”
Gus McKenzie, Assistant Director of Enrollment, served as a staff member with the group during the week.
“I think it is important for TROY to host groups like Boys State because it shows that we care about the next generation of leaders in the state, whether they are going to enroll in TROY or not,” McKenzie said. “We provide a unique opportunity, being so close to Montgomery, because it allows groups like Boys and Girls State the chance to visit their counterparts in Montgomery. It also gives the students the opportunity to check out Troy University and see the most beautiful campus in Alabama.”
During a presentation to the group, McKenzie encouraged students to “think tactically and not emotionally about their college decision.”
“They need to make sure that they go through the process effectively, deciding what size school they want to attend, the cost involved and other important factors in making a college decision,” he said. “The second part of my message to them was sharing about the benefits that TROY has to offer from an academic perspective and a scholarship perspective that could benefit them in the future.”
McKenzie said seeing the delegates get to know one another and build a since of community is one of the highlights of the week.
“When they get here, they don’t know anybody, and by the end of the week, they are hanging out together and have formed friendships,” he said. “They come out of their shells, and you really get to see their true personalities. It’s cool to get to meet the real them throughout the week, to see them open up and get to know the true them as people.”
Sadaris Williams, Assistant Director of Student Involvement at TROY, served as an assistant director and University liaison for Boys State. Williams said the week went well and that the delegates found it easy to navigate the campus and transition from one activity to another.
“Hosting groups such as Boys State at Troy University enables students to experience what life is like on a college campus and become acquainted with what a daily routine for a college student might be like,” Williams said. “One of our core values at TROY is developing leaders. Camps that focus on leadership and good citizenship are a perfect fit for TROY. We are able to assist these groups in a number of ways because of our focus on leadership.”