By HOLDEN PERRELLI
During the last week of June, about 215 high school juniors from across the state of Connecticut met at Eastern Connecticut State University for the 74th Annual American Legion Boys State Program.
Imagine an auditorium filled with hundreds of young men, and three or four amongst the crowd possessing the potential to become successful politicians.
The objective of Connecticut Boys’ State is to teach teenage boys how government works while developing leadership skills and an appreciation for civil rights. And, at the same time, ingrain in a group of youths, whose demographic is slipping in participation at the polls, the importance of the right to vote.
A combination of a civics education and direct experience in the art of politicking, Boys Nation and its state-level predecessor, Boys State, gives an early taste of campaigning to a selective group of high schools students every year. Prominent alumni of Boys State include the likes of Bill Clinton and four potential GOP candidates for the 2016 Presidential election.
Since 1935, the focus of Boys State is explaining state and local government to participants, while Boys Nation, immerses its attendees into national politics and offers a chance to meet government officials in the nation’s capital. In fact, Frank Kachmar of Amity High School in Woodbridge, CT, attended Boys Nation and met Senator McCain in a restroom on Capitol Hill!
The selection processes to attend Boys State differ from state to state, but most require recommendations from local American Legion posts or teachers. Each of the 49 Boys State programs (Hawaii being the exception) later chooses two young men to attend Boys Nation.
Activities at Boys State include legislative sessions, court trials, guest speakers, and recreational programs. At Boys State, participants run for offices such as governor and lieutenant governor. In fact, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal was among a number of guest speakers who also included, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton just to name a few.
American Legion Posts in the State of Connecticut are invited to send as many delegates as they can afford to sponsor. Unfortunately, many towns do not send any delegates because of budget constraints.
In the greater New Haven area, fewer than ten towns and/or cities sent delegates to Connecticut Boys State in 2015. A majority of attendees at Connecticut Boys State hailed from either the Hartford area or the southern most parts of the state.
The lack of diversity at Boys State is discomforting. Compared to North Haven, who send at least two people to Boys State every summer, the town of Greenwich sends five times as many participants.
Boys interested in attending Boys State are encouraged to contact their local legion post for more information. To qualify to attend Connecticut Boys State, a student must be a male high school junior and a resident of the state of Connecticut. Also, there is a similar program for female high school juniors: The American Legion Auxiliary Girls State.
Editors’ note: Holden Perrelli was elected attorney general at the end of CT Boys State 2015.
Holden Perrelli is a senior at North Haven High School.