News Archive

Second-year staff member speaks on his ALJBS experience

George Mesthos recalls emotions and offers advice to future delegates

As my junior year was winding up, I had two years on the Burlington County Times Teen Voice, a successful year as Student Council President under my belt and I had already been re-elected for my senior year. Even though I had been excited to have American Legion Jersey Boys State delegate on my resume, I almost missed my interview in a vain attempt to hang out with my girlfriend. A few weeks later, the girlfriend was gone, the school year was over and I was heading to Boys State with little or no excitement.

There was one other friend of mine coming from St. Mary's Hall/Doane Academy that summer of 2004. We both decided that we were just going to try to survive the week as best as we could and not make our school look bad in front of the rest of New Jersey. We were the first delegates our small school had sent in a few years and no one really had any idea what we were walking into. Before I finished packing away my things for the week, I decided to call a friend of mine from another school who had attended ALJBS the year before. His message to me was clear. You can sit in the back if you want. You can count down the seconds to meals and recreation period. But you won't get a darn thing out of the program. The sooner you run for something, the more you'll get into the week. The more you get into the week, the better time you'll have and the more you'll get out of the program.

The last items I threw into my duffel bag were my enthusiasm and my courage.

I arrived at Rider towards the beginning of registration on Father's Day 2004. As I was walking out with my white and blue Boys State shirts, I ran into my friend from my high school. He was stuck out on the asphalt of the Rider parking lot, baking in a mile-long line to the Cavalla Room for registration. I wouldn't talk to him again until Wednesday.

We found my dorm, Kroner C, where Polk City would take shape over the next week. Fortunately I was at the end of the first floor; next to the bathroom and away from the increasingly hot ovens of the upper floors. My folks left and I propped my door open while I unpacked my bedding and started throwing things in drawers. About two minutes later, Craig Messer came blowing into my room on whirlwind shaking my hand and telling me he was going to run for State Party Chair and he was glad to see I was a Nationalist. He said he wanted to know what concerned me so he could take my cares to the state level, and, of course, he hoped he had my vote. Craig never did run for State Party Chair, but he did go to Israel that summer.

At 10:30 a.m. we had our first city meeting. There I met my counselors Mehul Patel, Dan DeBoer and Greg Eisenhart. Mehul opened up saying that he held this place in his heart as dear as another special place, New Haven Conn., home of Yale University, where he was an alum. Dan introduced himself and announced that he was currently on Yale's football team, and Greg, our Junior Assistant counselor told us that he had taken a year off from Boys State but was looking forward to his first time as a counselor after a year at Boston College.

Standing before us were three Boys State alumni that had left the shores and fields of New Jersey and gone on to two preeminent schools in New England. At the time I had been hoping to attend St. Joseph's University, or maybe Drexel University where all of my cousins and my Papou (Greek for grandfather) had gone. Those are great schools, but they seemed dwarfed by a place like Yale.

That year, ALJBS added the city Newspaper Editor position for the Jersey Statesman. I took my friend's advice and jumped on the position. I won the position and after our first general assembly, met with Paul Lasky for the first time, who told us how to get the stories into the system and spurred us to collect stories from our fellow delegates.

As the day went on, we lined up and counted off a bunch of times and things seemed pretty ho-hum. Then we went to our first retreat. Chuck Smith led the traditional retreat ceremony. Chuck, as you will soon see, has a chest as broad as Mt. Rushmore and a voice as deep as the Grand Canyon. "BOYS STATE! ATTENNNNNNNNN-SHUN!" he bellowed out to the response of 900 pairs of legs snapping together. It was almost an involuntary reaction the ribs shaking in our chest. Now, this is not to make you think that Boys State is a boot camp experience. It's not. The late director Bill Wilkins worked hard to make sure that Boys State became a college-level seminar that prepares New Jersey's best and brightest for top Universities and their future careers. But there is a strong sense of tradition and respect for the men who fought for our country in times of war and returned home to develop opportunities such as American Legion Jersey Boys State for America's young men.

During the course of the week, I ran for several positions, but failed to get out of my party's primaries. I was pretty frustrated when I went up to Dan DeBoer before a general assembly and asked him what I could have done better on my speech earlier that day for town council. Nothing, he said. In fact, he was glad I hadn't won because after watching me for a couple days he felt I was a good candidate for State Assembly. After a couple days of seminars, sports, lectures, meetings, speeches, elections and an average of six hours of sleep per night, I was about to quit. But that one bit of encouragement from Dan put me back in the game.

The next day I jumped on the petition for State Assembly, and found I was one of seven candidates from my county (five from my party) for five available positions. With no need for a primary, I delivered my speech before over 100 delegates in the Cavalla Room. "It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better," I began with the words of Teddy Roosevelt. I continued to bluster about our city's struggles and closed saying, "Vote for Greatness. Vote for the Greek. Vote for George Mesthos for State Assembly Representative." I walked off to a smattering of applause, more than I walked up to. As I was walking back to the city the next day though, Mehul (affectionately dubbed "Hoolio" since birth) caught up to me and asked me something. He wanted to know if I was a Sports Writer. I replied that I certainly hoped to be. He nodded and said he thought so, he had been impressed by the energy of my speech. "If this counselor," I thought to myself," who has already attended an Ivy League University, was somehow impressed by my speech, how far have I, a kid from a small school in Burlington, NJ, come in less than a week? How many other kids are feeling the same inspiration I am?" At that moment I knew I wanted to be a counselor myself if I had the opportunity.

Back in the city, we always had a great time. We pooled our money so that way our "Director of Agriculture" could get snacks for the entire metropolis that was Kroner B. Guys had brought guitars with them and had no inhibitions singing and sharing stories between notes.

I was elected to the State Assembly, and found in our first meeting that some counties hadn't even elected their full number of representatives. When someone asked for nominations for the Assembly Clerk, no one raised their hand. Teddy Roosevelt once said something to the effect of get the highest position you can and then run like hell to figure out what you need to do. I had been Secretary of Student Council before so I took the chance. Even though I didn't have a glamorous position like Speaker, or Speaker Pro Tempore, I still got to see how the system worked, and more efficient ways to use technology that I could take back to my own Student Council.

As the week began to wrap up, I went to a journalism seminar on Thursday morning. Ron Martin of the Burlington County Times happened to be speaking. I figured he wasn't going to tell me anything I didn't already know. Write for your college newspaper, he said. Sure, no problem. Get internships and work at newspapers as much as you can in the summers, he said. Tell me something I don't know. Don't major in journalism, he said. What? What little bit of my college search remained was utterly thrown out the window in that moment, but a whole new range of possibilities was equally thrown wide open.

On Friday morning, I fervently filled out my application to be a counselor for the next session and hoped they would ask me back. It was hard to hold back tears as I said good-bye to my counselors and fellow delegates. In that one week, my entire outlook on life had changed. From how to relax with the guys, to what colleges I thought I could attend, I felt like an entirely different person than the one who stumbled through the Cavalla Room that Sunday morning.

April is a month for letters; acceptance letters, financial aid award letters. Late that month of my senior year I received a letter asking me to return to Boys State. I had just sent in my confirmation card to attend Brown University, and still had plenty of postage for an invitation to serve the experience that got me there.

-George Mesthos '04 Nationalist

Editor's Note - George Mesthos will be an Assistant City Counselor in his second year of service to ALJBS in June 2006. George just finished his freshman year as a Classics concentrator at Brown University. He is currently a sports writer for the Brown Daily Herald and a sports and news Anchor for WBRU-FM News.

originally posted May 25, 2006