If there's one part of American Legion Jersey Boys State that is underappreciated, it is our seminars.
It’s not hard to understand why seminars get overlooked. They’re only an hour each day, sandwiched between debates/campaigning and lunch. If you go to a seminar, it doesn’t get recorded on the website like an elected office. It doesn’t count towards the best city or county scorecard like sports does. Seminars often get lost amid the fervor and importance of other parts of the program.
But seminars are an important part of Jersey Boys State. They may not appear as important to the program as the political process, but they’re integral to our mission. We want to create leaders in our communities, not just politicians. Seminars show statesmen what it’s like to be a leader and give them an better understanding about a field they might be interested in.
We’re able to fit in four days of seminars at ALJBS. During those four days, a whopping twenty-nine seminars are offered, featuring more than sixty speakers. Statesmen can only attend one seminar each day, so we try to duplicate some areas of focus so they won’t have to miss something they really wanted to see. But even duplicating efforts, seminars cover a lot of topics. For example, today, eight seminars are offered: Careers in Business, College Admissions: Paying Your Way, Marine Corps Aviation, Careers in Journalism, Law Case Studies Driving Skills (presented by AAA of New Jersey), CPR Certification, and Medivac EMS. Other days will include seminars on engineering, education, leadership, insurance, medicine, and entertainment. Each year, we aim to cover as many topics as possible with our seminars.
We also aim to feature high-quality speakers. All presenters are involved in the field they’re speaking about, some for over fifty years. They may not be the biggest names, but they’ve been able to advance in an industry for some time. That is no small feat. Environments and industries change. Those who are able to navigate through the changes and endure prove their worth and have more of a perspective to share with the statesmen. They know what is successful.
Most seminars are a mixture of presentation and question-and-answer. Our speakers usually present for around forty-five minutes, leaving fifteen minutes for questions. Speakers can adjust the format to their liking, though. The college admissions seminars are often close to an even split between presentation and questions. Other seminars are demonstrations; there, the questions are minimal and interspersed throughout the time. Panel discussions change the dynamics, too.
The one constant across our seminars is their quality, and this is not an accident. Each seminar is evaluated by a few staff members, and each statesman is asked what seminars they especially liked or remembered. We read every evaluation. If something isn’t working, we’ll drop it and try something else. We are a college-level seminar, and insist that all our material meets that standard of quality.
Seminars are the place where our motto of being “a week that shapes the future” is most clearly seen. Yes, ALJBS has a strong history of creating political leaders. (Our state's governor and both senators are all ALJBS alumni.) But politics isn’t a huge field. Most statesmen won’t go into it after leaving here. Most staff members aren’t involved in politics as a career. Politics makes up a large part of what we do—the rhythms of the political system give our week its structure—but it’s not the only thing. Our program is diverse. We have sports, band, civic duties, physical fitness, and more in addition to politics. We cultivate leaders, not just politicians.
And it’s in this light that our seminars’ impact can be most clearly seen. Seminars are postcards from real life, a glimpse into what work and leadership looks like. They give us models for success. They let us live vicariously through another and experience what it’s like to do what they do. They help us to understand what we were put on this earth to do at a time when that’s really, really important to start figuring out. ALJBS helps our statesmen make informed decisions in both the short term (college) and long-term (career, character). And we’re doing this for a wide variety of fields.
You want to change the course of a life? Give someone the opportunity to see what it’s like somewhere else. Our seminars give our statesmen that opportunity—and show them what’s worth emulating.
Side note: we’re always interested in good speakers for seminars. If you’re interested in presenting or know someone who you think would be great, let’s start talking.