Good morning, everyone. We’re halfway done with this year’s ALJBS. A lot has happened since the statesmen arrived early Sunday morning. They’ve voted seven times, with four elections left to go. Over 90% of elected positions have been selected, and over 70% of the appointed positions have been chosen. Half of the sports competitions have happened. Half the career seminars have been given. Before long, ALJBS 2022 will be over.
Staff members always stress getting involved early at Boys State because we know how quickly the program moves. Even grizzled veterans are prone to a “holy smokes, we’re almost done with this thing” moment sometime on Wednesday. It’s over before you know it.
So by this halfway mark on Wednesday morning, most delegates are officially in their Boys State midlife. If you haven’t won an election by now, you probably won’t win one of the remaining ones. You are what you are at this point. You’ve (likely) peaked. And for the majority of folks who haven’t won a political office and ordinary citizens, the political sphere of the world is moving away from you as we progress from local politics all the way to state and national politics. When the candidates for Boys State Governor take the stage tonight, they won’t be debating issues relating to Fillmore City; they’ll be debating issues facing the state of New Jersey. They won’t be your next door neighbor, either, and your vote won’t be one of 50 but rather one of 650. Your impact on the decisions being made is shrinking.
Midlife crises are as hard as they are ubiquitous; it is truly difficult to deal with the fact that your time is running out and with the possibility that your life may not amount to as much as you hoped. There’s no sports car you can buy with Boys State Bucks, so what do you do with those feelings? Have you wasted the week? Why engage with a group that’s moving farther from you?
Our response is to keep reminding statesmen that they are still part of something that matters. Each City and County have been working on a Manual that records their budget, decisions made, and policy ideas—”but it also includes job descriptions for every elected and appointed official in the town written by them. Those manuals are due tomorrow night, and the entire group will contribute to them. (The person who writes them isn’t always an elected or appointed position either.) Additionally, the counties are still competing as teams in sports. As statesmen are elected, their schedules won’t allow them to compete, so new people will have to step up.
On top of that, we show statesmen what this looks like in practice. Our staff members put in countless hours in their own roles to make sure the program happens. There’s only one director but many more first-year counselors; each of them has an important role to play. And the military service members volunteering for the week are a walking example of this too, not just from their helping out with a program they weren’t part of but also in their service as enlisted service members sacrificing for a greater good.
So perhaps it’s no accident that on Tuesday night, as one state party is meeting for the first time together to select their State Party Chair, the other party is meeting to watch a presentation about D-Day. The party convention is a meeting together to choose a head while the D-Day presentation is about working together and serving. As the statesmen watch the opening of Saving Private Ryan, they see young men not much older than themselves who didn’t even get to their midway point. Those who did often returned home to normal civic life. They peaked early too.
Admiral Chester Nimitz, the US Navy commander in World War II, once said that “leadership consists in picking good men and helping them to do their best.” The final two words of that quote carry a lot of meaning. Some people’s best is more glorious than others, but both may be giving all they have. Your best may not involve being the star but, as NBA player Tristan Thompson put it, “being a star in your role.”
The world is built by people who were content being a star in their role. As mastery begins with self-mastery, so does an honest understanding at the world begin with an honest understanding of one’s place in it—”and that those places matter. “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs” (Eliot).
For all the appreciation we have for the soldiers who stormed the beach at Normandy with “the eyes of the world upon them,” how many of us have visited one of their tombs? They too are remembered but often in passing. We have to build memorials and occasions that direct us to remember their giving of their best for the good of the world. Every June 6, we remember D-Day. Every Tuesday at Boys State, we remember those who served.
And with that sense of remembering in us, we move forward. There is still half of the program to go. The City and County Manuals—”a record of those who lived, if nothing else—”still have to be completed. These manuals will factor into the Best City and Best County awards, along with voting participation, sports performance, and a few other things. Each statesmen has a part to play, even still. Their success may not be an individual one, but it will be a corporate one. And—”spoilers—”it’s not the individual County Executives who march in as the capstone of the graduation entrances but rather the City and County that strove together and won. Their names and photos will go on our website, too, to be remembered.
The older one gets, the more times one returns to Boys State, the more the memories blend together. How can they not? But we remember the high points and the people who inspired us. Some of them still work alongside us at the program. It’s those things that give us the energy we need to keep going when things get hard. It’s watching the discipline and sacrifice of our service members that give us the pattern of duty we need to remember and emulate. And it’s each years’ statesmen, forever seventeen, that give us hope for the world to come, if we will not grow weary at the unhistoric acts that lead to its good.