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Guest Column/Boys State rekindles hope for nation’s future

Last week, I picked up my son and his friend from American Legion Buckeye Boys State. Buckeye Boys State is an eight-day on-campus program where 1,200 soon-to-be-high school seniors from 600 Ohio schools learn about state government, political parties and “the relationship of one to the other in shaping Ohio government.”

The BBS program stands out, because it teaches civics by allowing students to take government positions and for a few days execute the critical responsibilities of state government.

While on campus, my son and I ran for lieutenant governor on unsuccessful primary tickets and found jobs in state government. I worked in communications for the state attorney general, and he assumed the role as the director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, a position in the Boys State governor’s cabinet.

Approaching BBS, his mother and I were more excited than him. His mom attended Ohio Buckeye Girls State in 1994, and we both gave the Gettysburg Address at Salem cemeteries on Memorial Day. I tried to get updates throughout the week, but he was too busy to do much talking “with the old man.”

Ohio Buckeye Boys State was easily one of the most influential events in my life. I was always interested in American politics, but it wasn’t until after completing the program, I became involved in politics.

Putting it simply, the American Legionnaires helped me develop an understanding of God, country, and service that has influenced me throughout my life.

Upon my return from Bowling Green State University, I received a congratulatory letter from then-state State Rep. Sean D. Logan. I was deeply appreciative of Logan’s kind words, and he provided me with the opportunity to volunteer and suggested I try to obtain a position in the Ohio House while I attended college. Those experiences would eventually lead to service as a national convention delegate, a couple of terms as a county elected official and a presidential elector.

I was worried if my son would enjoy his experience at BBS. Like most father-and-son relationships it’s often hard for us to see the similarities between one another. My son is a technical thinker and is fascinated by lighting, electronics and hopes to one day work as a civil engineer. I am unequivocally a politically minded person, fascinated by elections, public policy and the impact of government on lives. I really wasn’t sure how the Legion’s message would resonate.

Before pick-up at Miami University, my mother and I attended the traditional end-of-the-week Memorial Service at John D. Millett Hall. This event concludes Ohio Buckeye Boys State. Songs are sung, and prayers are said. Delegates movingly state the names of Boys State alumni who selflessly gave their lives for our nation while pictures of graves are presented on the arena’s large screens. The event perfectly captures how the American Legion values both God and country.

After the ceremony, pictures had to be taken and goodbyes had to be said. My son mentioned that throughout the week no one talked about Biden or Trump. The kids just concentrated on their own jobs they had to do, and the political environment they created. Unlike “the real world,” adversaries were friends and despite different political parties they continued to work together to solve problems that mirrored those in our nation and communities today.

I was wrong to worry. My son’s experience at BBS fostered within him a sense of community and emboldened a sense of civic appreciation. American Legionnaires are proud to say that Ohio Buckeye Boys State is a week that will last a lifetime. That certainly was true for me, but thanks to my son, it has also rekindled my hope in our nation’s future.

(Brown, a resident of Salem, is an economic development strategist with the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.)

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