By Derrick Knutson
Future mayors, county commissioners, State House and Senate representatives and maybe even a governor might have been on hand at the American Legion Boys State program last month.
The program, which has been in existence since 1935, allows high school boys entering their senior years at secondary schools the opportunity to experience state and local politics on a scaled-down level by participating in mock elections and governmental proceedings.
The American Legion also sponsors a Girls State event.
This year’s boys program took place June 10-16 at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
Three soon-to-be seniors from North Branch Area High School – Cole Oehlers, Zack Sundly and Ean Charpentier – took part in the event.
For Oehlers, Boys State was an extension of what he’s already learned about politics.
He’s been attending North Branch City Council meetings since he was five years old – his mother, Amy, is currently mayor and will be leaving the post at the end of the year.
“I’ve been in politics almost all my life,” he said. “I really enjoy it.”
Sundly and Charpentier said they didn’t have an inherent interest in politics before attending the camp, but learned a vast amount about the inner workings of government through the experience.
“It was sort of a new thing,” Sundly said. “I had heard about politics, but I hadn’t learned the procedure of how things are done. It was fun to go there and learn about the process.”
Charpentier echoed that assertion.
“I didn’t really have too much of an interest beforehand, but afterwards it was more interesting and it still is,” he said.
During the camp, attendees, in addition to living together in 30-34 person “cities,” had to work together through the mock political process.
Sundly said – perhaps somewhat unlike how current politicians approach lawmaking – the students at Boys State worked together and compromised.
“You can’t always get your way in a room full of other opinionated people,” he said. “You can’t just be thinking about yourself – you have to think about the other people and the people who elected you.”
A worthwhile experience
All three boys agreed the camp was a valuable learning experience, even though none of them plan to pursue a politically centered degree in college.
“I enjoyed the whole experience,” Oehlers said. “It was an amazing opportunity.”