By Mike McCombs
In what has become a rite of summer, a handful of rising high school seniors in Beaufort County were chosen by the American Legion to attend Boys State, held this year from June 13 to 19 at Anderson University.
Among 550 young men statewide, this year’s local selections include Jake Alvarez (Beaufort High), Brock Durham (Holy Trinity), Ivan Huerta (Battery Creek), Quade Matthews (Battery Creek), Emmett O’Brien (Beaufort High), Anuj Patel (Beaufort High), Brian Rogers (Beaufort Academy), Graham Ruff (Beaufort High) and Aidan Tibbitt (John Paul II).
This year, however, Beaufort High School’s Emmett O’Brien was selected to move on to Boys Nation, held in Washington D.C. from Friday, July 23 to Saturday, July 31.
“I enjoyed it a lot. It was a great experience,” O’Brien said of Boys State. “It really can’t be explained, only experienced. It was an incredible experience.”
The American Legion’s calls its Boys State program a “Laboratory of Government.” During the week each young man has the chance to run for and be elected to mock offices ranging from city level (e.g. city council, mayor) to state constitutional offices (e.g. lieutenant governor and governor).
While at Boys State, citizens will be divided into “cities” and “counties” and divided into two political parties. They then campaign and/or elect city, county, and state officers.
“By doing so, citizens will learn about government and politics by participating in the process,” according to the American Legion website. “They will have an opportunity to prepare speeches, compose party platforms, debate current issues, and vote for elected offices.”
O’Brien was elected to the state senate in Anderson.
During their week in Anderson, the boys were visited by Senator Tim Scott, South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman and Governor Henry McMaster, just to name a few.
At the end of Boys State, two representatives from each of the 49 Boys States are chosen to represent their state at Boys Nation in Washington, where the young leaders receive an education on the structure and function of federal government.
“I didn’t even know that was an option until the last day, they called me in an interviewed me,” O’Brien said. “I got a call from a counselor to let me know I’d gotten nominated. The interview lasted 10 to 15 minutes. I knew by that night I’d been selected.”
“(Boys State) really exceeded our expectations, though we didn’t really have a lot of expectations,” Liz O’Brien, Emmett’s mother, said. “He’s obviously never done it before, so it exceeded all of them. But it was so organized, so thorough. Our impression was that it was a really impressive program.”
Where Boys State was very general, Boys Nation, in turn, focuses on the U.S. Senate and crafting, debating and passing legislation.
“At the event, each delegate acts as a senator from his Boys State. The young lawmakers caucus at the beginning of the session, then organize into committees and conduct hearings on bills submitted by program delegates,” according to the Boys Nation website. “Senators learn the proper method of handling bills, according to U.S. Senate rules. Participation in the political process is emphasized throughout the week, including organization of party conventions and nominating and electing a president and vice president.”
The “senators” also hear lectures, attend forums and take visits to federal agencies, national shrines, institutions, memorials and historical sites. On Capitol Hill, Boys Nation senators also meet with elected officials from their home states.
“Boys state was an amazing experience,” O’Brien said, “and I’m looking forward to boys nation.”
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.
Above: Beaufort High School’s Emmett O’Brien and S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman. Submitted photo.