** This article has been corrected to more accurately represent who the article is about, students who were sent to Boys and Girls State by Watertown Legion, though there were other WM students who attended that were sent by neighboring Legions.
by HANNAH BROADBENT
On June 11, Watertown Mayer High School students Madeline and Danielle Peterson, Wesley Burns and Jack Huen hopped on a bus and headed to Boys and Girls State. It’s a week long program to educate boys and girls on the inner workings of politics and government. The student were sent by the Watertown Legion.
Boys State is a 82-year old program sponsored by the American Legion. According to their website “Participants learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments.” About 300 young men stayed at St.John’s University and were put into “cities”.
The Girls program is sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary and celebrated it’s 71st year. Three hundred girls stayed at Bethel for the week and experienced the same placement. The two programs did not come together at any point during the week.
Each student is nominated by school staff and faculty to apply for the program and chosen from there. There were even more Watertown Mayer students who attended, these students were sent by neighboring legions as it is a state-wide event.
“Take great pride in nominations, because it means that you are looked at as a leader,” said attendee Jack Huen.
The American Legion Auxillary says the objects for the week are to develop leadership and American pride, educate citizens about the system of government, instill a greater understanding of Americanism and to stimulate and maintain the democratic government processes. The Boys State website says attendees participate in legislative sessions, court proceedings, law-enforcement presentations and assemblies.
“It was wonderful, better than I imagined,” Madeline Peterson said.
She said she appreciated how involved they were, instead of just passively sitting and listening. She said each day was a new election. Peterson said each day they would campaign, have a primary vote, a convention and a general election.
Peterson was elected as a county delegate. She said was responsible for campaigning for herself. Peterson said she learned that it was best to be personable and relatable. Peterson said you could tell the difference with the girls who weren’t being themselves and they didn’t do very well.
She said it also helps to have a sense of humor.
Peterson said her goal was to learn more than the basics about politics and find things she can take back with her.
“Campaigning seems like a lot of work but if you do it efficiently it won’t be,” she said. “I also learned that with little work comes little success.”
Peterson also said that she didn’t realize how politics could actually be fun. She said it was nice to see that people with opposing views can get along.
“A big thing is to realize you don’t know where they are coming from, what their life is like,” she said.
Huen had similar revelations. Saying that he learned it was incredibly important to keep an open mind, which is something he had always tried to do.
He said he was always a person that had tried to stay out of politics, but he had heard such great things about the program that he couldn’t miss it.
Huen said they talked about issues like how best to fix flood damage to how to bring a community together after rioting. He said he learned more in the week long crash course than in government class.
“I got to understand what goes into politics and what it takes to be a politician,” he said.
Huen said he didn’t used to be the best public speaker, but he can see how much his skills have improved. He also said he feels more confident in debate and also just one-on-one conversation.
He said he already knew that politics is a fragile topic, but he found where he fits and it makes sense to him. He said he practiced being non-partisan.
“I like to hear both sides and help them come to an agreement,” Huen said. “I want to try and keep an open mind and bring that home.”
Peterson said she was a delegate for county caucus at Girls State. She said she can see herself wanting to pursue that and even running for county delegate in the near future.
Huen was a lobbyist at Boys State. He will be a senior next year and always wanted to be an Civil Engineer, though this does open another window opportunity for him. Though he has noticed many ways in which this will help him.
“I had to learn how to be flexible, things will always come up and you need to know how to work with them,” he said.