The Four Capstones

Hi there! There’s only one day left in the program. A lot has happened this week. We’ve elected over 200 people to political office, appointed many more, finished a weeklong sports competition, had a concert from the Boys State Band, published three editions of a newspaper, heard from dozens of eminent speakers, attended seminars about various careers, and held municipal courts.

Today, we elected a governor, George Afoakwah, from the Federalist Party. The gubernatorial election is a capstone of the week. It comes at the end of the program, is the highest elected state office, and is the last state election. And there’s only one seat. This year, 102 people tried to become governor. One made it.

When George’s name was announced shortly after 2:30pm, his entire county jumped up around him, cheering, hugging, and encouraging him. As George celebrated and took photos, the moment still hadn’t set in. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “This is still today. I never thought this would happen.”

Tonight, there’s an assembly where George announces his gubernatorial appointments—the last appointments of the session. Tonight and tomorrow, the cabinet, state senate, and state assembly will meet to wrap up any unfinished business. They’ve done a lot this session. Delegates voted on five of their referendum questions today as well as for governor.

The other major thing happening today are the city and county manuals. These are long documents (often 15–25 pages) that describe the issues facing a city or county, the actions they took to solve them, a budget, and a report from each appointed official (usually, about half the city has a job). The statesmen work on their manuals throughout the week until tonight, when they’re due at 7:15pm.

Manuals may lack the interest of winning Governor—to our knowledge, no one has listed “Best Boys State Manual” on their college applications—but they’re one of the other capstones to the week. It’s a different type of capstone, too. Being elected Governor is the highest individual accomplishment in the political system. No one can do it alone, but only one can do it. Completing a manual is finishing the job set before a city at the beginning of the week. No one can do it alone, because no one can run a city alone. Everyone has their role. They know what they did, and they write it up. The elected officials debate and decide policy, yes, but the citizens are the ones who do the work. Together, the collective efforts and words of the citizens come together to document how they’ve solved a problem.

Boys State is often perceived as a politics camp, but it’s much more of a civil society training course. Politics plays a large part in this, but it’s not just politics. There’s much more going on at Boys State than running for office. These are the things we teach in various ways:

  • How to become a responsible adult, managing one’s time and resources
  • How to find and fill a role, understanding one’s gifts and how they are best used
  • How to contribute to the common good, considering other individuals and structures
  • How to be good citizens, staying up to date on the issues and evaluating potential leaders
  • How to be part of a state/nation, caring about needs beyond the surrounding area
  • How to evaluate and sometimes solve complex problems, often working together with others
  • How to structure regulations, incentivizing and promoting virtue and discouraging evil
  • How to balance work and rest, understanding that although entertainment cannot be our focus or default medium, we need refreshment

A manual reflects the society that forms here over a week. It’s as much documentary as procedure. Each new year of ALJBS has its own personality, and so do each city or county. All those come out in a manual. The laws, the humor, the dedication, the concerns—all are reflected in the composition of the final booklet. When the manuals are submitted, the work of building a society is largely finished.

There’s two other things that serve as capstones. One is graduation. We’ll talk about that in the epilogue next Monday. The other is the city party tonight. By that time, the manuals will be done. The only remaining election is the Boys Nation Senator election: a national office. Tonight, they get to enjoy each other, enjoy the society they’ve made over pizza and Coke. (Or water. This year’s society is fairly health-conscious.) Their work is largely done. They’ve entered as strangers. They became citizens and built a society. They’ll leave as friends.

When that happens, our work here is done too. See you tomorrow.