The Students of Boys’ and Girls’ State Create a Government from the Ground Up


Alex Leslie, Editor-in-Chief

Summer camps consist of campfires, s’mores, and hotdogs. Meanwhile Boys’ and Girls’ State are making legislation, discussing governmental processes, and voting on bills all in an effort to further understand Virginia’s government.

Students at Boys’ and Girls’ State develop their own cities which then collectively make up the group’s own state. The program is designed to “develop a working knowledge of the structure of government and to impress upon the citizen the fact that our government is just what we make it,” according to the American Legion website.

The program was designed under the principle that “youth can best learn by doing.” Hence the program closely simulates “a true democracy in that all of its citizens may vote and are eligible to hold office.”

“Me and the other senator and delegates from our city wrote our own bill,” senior Mathes Glymph said. “Then the Senate reviewed each bill, approved some, and killed some. It was sweet to get an inside view of the experience.”

Participants get to experience first-hand the workings of a state government as well as leadership skills in interactions with peers.

“I learned a lot about state government,” senior Ian McKenney said. “I also learned a lot about how politics actually works and how hard it is to actually get things done in government.”

Some leadership positions provide participants with an opportunity to lead their peers in conventions and delegate meetings a negotiate deals that can impact their cities and the citizens that are involved.

“At Girls’ State I was in the city of Preston and in the Nationalist Party. [I was] appointed City Manager by the Mayor and elected as a Convention Delegate for my party,” senior Beth McGuiggan said.

“As City Manager I ran city meetings when the mayor was unavailable and as Convention Delegate I was able to vote on who our party candidate was for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General.”

“Most nights we wouldn’t get to bed until 2 a.m. because we were so busy writing new bills,” senior Lucas Hobson said.

The American Legion originally established a Boys’ State in Illinois in 1935 to counteract Pioneer camps, camps established by the U.S.S.R as early as 1925. Pioneer camps taught kids that “although the democratic form of government has served its purpose well, it was outdated and should be replaced,” according to the American Legion. Boys’ State teaches kids the ideals of “Americanism” and that “youth knew the rights and privileges they enjoy under our form of government, and that they would never support any ‘-ism’ except Americanism.”

Hosted by the American Legion, Boys’ and Girls’ State require applicants to have “outstanding qualities of leadership, character, scholarship, loyalty and service to their schools and community,” according to Qualified applicants then must tell their counselors that they are interested in joining the program. The counselors will then formally recommend them to a local American Post legionnaire, who will then interview the applicant. Upon that final interview the legionnaires select the candidates that are best qualified to attend the conference over the summer.

“My guidance counselor nominated me to be interviewed for [Boys’ State],” Glymph said. “I honestly didn’t know what it was. But when I told my mom, she was stoked because she said that she did Girls’ State and that it was cool because you stay in dorms on a college campus for a week and that its mock government and that even for a shy kid like her, she met some people and had a lot of fun.”

Boys’ State’s 74th session will be June 19-25 at Radford University while Girls’ State’s 69th session will be the same week at Longwood University. Albemarle nominates three girls and four boys each year to participate in the week-long excursion therefore spots are limited. To learn more information about Boys’ or Girls’ State contact your school counselor or go to either or