During summer 2018, three Farragut cadets Steven Smiley, Gianni Defelice, and Evan Schlifstein, all members of the Class of 2019, were selected to attend the American Legion Boys State program, a premier leadership camp held at Florida State University in Tallahassee, based on their leadership, character, scholarship, loyalty and service in Farragut’s community.
At Boys State, participants learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments. Operated by students elected to various offices, Boys State activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law-enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, choruses and recreational programs. Legion posts select high school juniors to attend the program. In most cases, individual expenses are paid by a sponsoring post, a local business or another community-based organization.
While in Tallahassee, participants got to visit the Florida State Capitol building where the House of Representatives and Senate meet, and the Florida Supreme Court building where the Florida State Justices meet. Students were offered the chance to participate in an entirely student-run mock government while learning invaluable leadership skills. Boys State is among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high school students and this was the 75th year since its inception.
Steven and Gianni were “Assemblymen” for the state legislature who were responsible for making and passing bills. “We were most proud to have had the most bills out of the other three legislative branches and the most laws passed out of all Boys State history,” Steven said. They were also the first ones to overturn a ruling of the staff in Boys State history after using the seven justices to find bias and error within the staff.
“It really taught me to never give up,” Steven said. “I lost five elections prior to winning an assembly position.”
Evan was elected city commissioner and, later, State Senator. “I learned a lot about politics,” he said. “At times bureaucracy is frustrating because it is a slow process.” Evan’s responsibility was to sit on the Senate and vote on the bills that were proposed to the Senate, on the basis that they would have a positive impact on Boys State. “I did propose a bill that never got brought to the table, so the experience teaches you to understand that things that are important to you may not be as important to others, and vice versa. The whole process taught me how to speak well, make connections and build relationships, and how to make decisions based on what was best for the group and not just myself.”
“Going to Boys State directly from Leadership Academy was a challenge,” Gianni said. “But it taught me that even if you’re initially disinterested in something, you should try it anyway. You could meet unique people along the way and discover a unique set of skills you never knew you had.”
Boys State programs currently exist in all Legion departments in the United States except Hawaii. As separate corporations, Boys State programs vary in content and method of procedure, but each adheres to the same basic concept: teaching government from the township to the state level. It is a program that comes highly recommended from all three of our participating students.
“It was one of the most memorable high school experiences I’ve ever had,” Steven concluded.