MARSHALL - After being welcomed onto the Southwest Minnesota State University campus Sunday afternoon, more than 380 Minnesota seniors-to-be got down to business bright and early Monday morning for the 2012 American Legion Boys State.
Divided into 12 mock cities, the Boys Staters began to form new communities and relationships while also starting to learn about the political process and civic responsibility.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Marshall's Bo Erickson, who was assigned to the city of St. Peter. "My city is awesome. It's a lot of guys with good personalities from everywhere."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Under the guidance of the Anoka County American Legion Voiture 390 Ritual Team, Boys State attendees showed their respect during an official flag retirement ceremony Monday on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.
Erickson, who chose to play volleyball in the afternoon, also appreciates that a good majority of the St. Peter residents are very energetic and athletic.
"We got here yesterday and went nonstop into the night," he said. "My city woke up at 5:30 this morning and went and did calisthenics. It's a good thing we have a lot of energy or I don't know if we'd be moving too much right now."
Marshall's Daniel Merna said he was also having a beneficial experience at Boys State so far.
"It's going really, really well," he said.
Although the score wasn't always on their side, Merna and his city of St. Paul teammates were good sports while battling in the sand volleyball court.
"We're suffering kind of a harsh loss in volleyball," Merna said. "But we're hoping to come back this game. I think we have it tied up. They're a good group of guys."
Boys State attendees had the opportunity to witness a flag retirement ceremony, presented by the Anoka Voiture 390.
"That was really cool," Merna said. "It's something that I've never seen before. I didn't know you were supposed to burn the American flag to properly dispose of it. That was really interesting to learn."
After sitting in on University of St. Thomas professor Hank Shea's presentation on Causes and Consequences of Conduct and The Power of the Platform presentation from Joe Mayne, past Sons of the American Legion national commander, Boys Staters heard from Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who spoke about the Executive Branch.
"I liked (Mark Ritchie's speech) a lot," Tracy Area Boys Stater Cory Apperson said. "It was very interesting to see someone of that level of political government in a small town in Minnesota."
Ritchie, who began serving as Secretary of State in 2006, advocated for keeping informed and getting involved, whether it was through one's church, school, or community.
"You can be active in many ways," Ritchie said.
Ritchie pointed out that it was engaged citizens who helped shape the country and state, especially through elections and democracy. The future, he said, depends on young leaders.
"Current events are important to know, but so is our nation's history," he said. "We have over 200 committees that are open to citizens if they are interested in giving back to their community," he said. "We have a list in our office of a number of places you can plug into."
While the Secretary of State office is best-known for its election and civic affairs responsibilities, Ritchie also clarified that while most people don't realize it his office helps over 60,000 people start a new business, entity or organization every year. The unlimited possibilities and chance to make a difference by serving in countless ways definitely piqued Apperson's interest.
"I just feel that what Ritchie talked about was very interesting, from a younger member, learning what opportunities are out there and what has been made available for us to get involved," Apperson said. "So far, Boys State has been amazing. I've really gotten to know a lot of the guys here and have made connections."
As an upcoming senior, Apperson, who was assigned to the city of Moorhead, believes it is a good time to be making connections, especially when it comes to seeking future jobs. In the quest to build solid relationships, he quickly applauds the Boys State sponsor for providing priceless opportunities.
"The American Legion has been very nice to put this on for us so we can make those connections," Apperson said. "They're very big sponsors and very influential people that we need to be able to contact. I feel that, at Boys State, those opportunities have been given to me."
Students learned from Ritchie that Minnesota is always No. 1 in election turnout. While it's something the people should be proud of, he said, continued efforts have to be kept up. When asked what advice he'd give to anyone considering a political career, Ritchie, who began his career as a history teacher, made it clear the decision could be made at any point in a person's life. He also highlighted the political career of the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in an airplane crash in 2002, to make his point.
"Wellstone's legacy was about getting young kids involved," Ritchie said. "He offered his life for public service. When he died, I asked myself if I needed to do more."
Being a leader, Ritchie said, sometimes requires making tough decisions and having courage.
"Sometimes leaders are asked to lead into a dangerous situation," he said. "The First Regime was asked to hold the line for 15 minutes, and 82 percent of them ended up seriously injured or killed. So it takes a very grounded person."
On Monday, Boys Staters spent quality time learning four key schools of instruction.
"We learned about parliamentary procedure and then we learned about small city government and the legislature," Erickson said. "It's really interesting things you need to know for the rest of the week. I like politics, so I'm really versed on it already. But it was nice to hear about it from people who have actually experienced it."
Erickson and Merna are both running for mayor of their respective cities, as are a large number of other Boys State participants.