For 25 years, Weber State University has been the venue of the Boys State program, which has sought to instill knowledge of politics in high-school boys for several generations. The program took place this past week, involving the setup of a mock government by high-school juniors from around the state.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert was among the Utah leaders who spoke during the program. A Boys State alumnus who has built a career off of the skills he learned in the program, Herbert, after seeing the program at WSU, said he has decided that he might once more become involved with the organization.
Boys State is run by the American Legion, the largest veterans organization in the world. The program is designed to teach young men in high school about politics. During the weeklong event at WSU, the boys were able to set up a mock government. They were divided into Federalist and Nationalist political parties and could run for certain positions in the faux local and municipal governments, such as city councilor or senator. This allowed them to set up their own platforms for their parties and to go about governing. Girls State, a similar program for high-school girls, takes place at the same time in southern Utah.
Herbert spoke to the boys about the importance of being leaders in their communities and about taking responsibilities while seizing opportunities. Afterward, he took questions from some of the boys in the audience.
“I think it (Boys State) helps prepare our young people, who are going to be assuming the responsibility that’s coming their way,” Herbert said, “to be leaders in the community, to take on the responsibility of governance, of participation, and understand that they, as members of the community, have a role to play, and a responsibility to play a role.”
While stepping down from the podium, Herbert took a moment to sign a copy of the Constitution for Seth Mason, a junior from Salem Hills High School. Mason said he appreciated Herbert’s autograph.
“That’s really cool, because it means that he really believes that the nation really depends upon it,” Mason said. “Those of us of the rising generation, really our dependence upon the Constitution is what is going to get us through, and him signing it was saying, ‘Go through it and keep doing it.’”
Both the Boys and Girls State programs have been in place since 1937, and took place at the University of Utah in 1963. One of the alumni from the 1963 program, a junior from Ben Lomond High School named Jim Gillespie, happened to be at WSU during this past week’s competition. He said attending Boys State inspired him into a life of public work. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he entered law enforcement for 43 years and eventually was placed in charge of the Liquor and Narcotics Division at his department. He said Boys State played an integral part in how his career took shape.
“It gave me an idea of how laws were made,” Gillespie said. “Back in the ’70s, I was able to get some legislation put together for a changing of the liquor laws, and was able to present that to a legislator who sponsored that, and it went through and it became a law. So Boys State was the starting of all that.”
Boys State relies upon the volunteering of veterans from the American Legion, who act as supervisors during the weeklong event. Gillespie said that, after encountering the current Boys State attendees at WSU, he’s been inspired to get involved with the program again in the future through American Legion.
“That’s something — maybe now that I’m retired — I should really get more involved with,” he said.