It may be hard to take a roomful of cheering teenage boys seriously, but hundreds from across the state are in Gainesville this week to seriously consider what the future looks like.
“I look towards my future and I want to do something in leadership,” said Eduardo Figueroa from Johnson High School. “I want to do something in leadership and politics, so this is right up my alley.”
The annual Georgia Boys State event, hosted by the American Legion, is being held this week at Riverside Military Academy. Rising high school seniors from across Georgia are invited to the elite weeklong program to learn about government and civic involvement.
“Boys who demonstrate leadership, service, scholarship and character in their schools and community are considered,” said Buddy Fisch, chaplain of American Legion Post 328 in Flowery Branch. “Post 328 believes that these representatives are the future leaders of Hall County.”
Boys are recommended based on ability and merit. Four Hall students are part of the hundreds taking part in the program, including Figueroa and Raymundo Hernandez from Johnson High and Zach Alexander and Dustin Colvin from North Hall High.
Also participating from Riverside Military Academy are Robert Pee, Albert Picken, JeJuan McCalston and Charles Nunez.
The intensive summer camp introduces the boys to an imaginary 51st state, in which they set up their own governments.
“We teach them how to set up a city, county and state government,” said Bob Beauchamp, dean of Georgia Boys State. “These young men ran for city office (Sunday evening) and the first order of business is to swear in the mayors.”
As of Monday, there are now 16 functioning Boys State cities, with the mayors sworn in by Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan as the rest of the camp cheered them on, proudly representing their counties.
“I enjoy politics,” Dunagan said prior to the swearing-in. “I love my city, and I always want what’s best for it.”
After declaring the 16 selected boys as mayors of their respective ‘cities,’ Dunagan said he appreciated their level of interest.
“I’m happy to see our young generation get into politics,” he said. “We need some good elected officials, especially up in Washington.”
Throughout the week the boys will have business leaders and elected officials come talk to them as they learn how to effectively govern, complete with a court system.
“I actually do want to be a district attorney later in my life and go to the Supreme Court from there,” said Hernandez. “I think this is a great way to get out of my comfort zone and see how it really is. Not just see it on paper, but actually do it.”
Participating in an election process by campaigning and appealing to multiple voters was a learning process for the boys, as previously they were used to relying on support from their friends. Now at Boys State, they’re learning to work with people they have never met before.
“If you want to be governor, there’s only one governor,” Alexander said. “And I know there’s at least 20 people running for it. So what I’ve done is ... I don’t want to run for governor, but I do want to help my friend. So basically I’m helping him with his campaign as campaign manager.
“So in that effort, you have all these people supporting you ... so it’s not just the big title, it’s the structure of how you’re getting help.”
“To me, it’s interesting how you see people you’ve never met before,” Colvin added. “It’s your goal to try and get them on your side, or to help them succeed in whatever position they’re trying to go for, climb the ranks of the 51st state that we’ve made.”
Colvin has a background in Boys State; his grandparents, Leonard and Peggie Colvin, participated in Boys and Girls State more than 60 years ago.
“When I told them that I had been chosen to go, they were really excited about that,” he said. “They always talk about how they made friends who have lasted them a lifetime. And then my grandpa, he just talks about how great it was for him to go.”
Georgia Girls State was held June 8-13 at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, with a similar set-up to Boys State.
“It’s a practical, hands-on (program),” Beauchamp said. “It’s a ‘they-do-it-themselves’ type of program.”