The American Legion Boys State and Girls State are nonpartisan programs initiated 80 years ago in Springfield, Illinois, that now give teens nationwide an opportunity to try out politics.
During an intensive week away from home on college campuses, high school seniors learn firsthand how local and state government works. The chosen delegates become self-governing citizens, running for political offices and operating the legislative “governments” of both Boys State and Girls State.
From Santa Clara for 2015, American Legion Posts 419 and 564 have sponsored Santa Clara High School seniors Ajaipal Chahal, Ekam Grewal and Jaskaranpal Singh and Wilcox High School seniors Arjun Ray, Ben Schouten and Robel Tessai.
“We want to support young people in our community, to help them be involved in community government and to learn more about the political scene,” says Les Schreiber, chairman for Boys State for American Legion District 13, which includes Santa Clara.
“I feel really honored that I was one of the few chosen to go to Boys State,” says Schouten. “I’m really looking forward to operating as a citizen in a close facsimile of the American government.”
Girls State delegates sponsored by American Legion Auxiliary Unit 564 include Warda Khan from Wilcox High School and Katherine Patterson from Santa Clara High School.
“We sponsor just one girl per school, so it’s quite any honor for them to represent their whole school,” says Helen Hymes, Girls State Chair for the Women’s Auxiliary Unit 564.
The American Legion covers all expenses for the delegates, who are recommended to the American Legion through their schools and are briefed by school committees that include former student delegates.
“It’s an excellent program for developing good citizens for the future because they can go on to become mayors and city council members and hold state and national offices,” says Hymes. “Hillary and Bill Clinton were both part of the program when they were young.”
California Boys State takes place on the campus of Sacramento State University in Sacramento, June 20 – 27. Girls State is held at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, June 28 – July 3.
“I am really excited and honored to be going to Boys State in the summer, and I am really thankful to the American Legion for giving me this opportunity,” says Chahal. “I hope to have a great time and take a lot from it, and put it back into my community.”