An elite program for distinguished, rising high school seniors returned to the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee after a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, with some local students in attendance.
The Florida American Legion Boys State, now in its 77th year, brings together hundreds of ‘delegates’ for an all-expense paid week of hands-on mock government activities. The program, designed to mirror the structure and operation of Florida’s state government, provides training in practical citizenship, leadership and character development.
Each boy, known as a ‘citizen,’ plays an integral part of the program by assuming responsibilities and performing duties either as an elected or appointed official. They are responsible for drafting bills, participating in legislative sessions and electing officials. This year, participants got access to several high-profile guest speakers, including Governor Ron DeSantis, Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez and U.S. Senator Rick Scott.
Thomas Levine, a senior at Newsome High School, was selected as one of this year’s participants. Levine was nominated to attend by JROTC Senior Army Instructor Eric Deal and selected after an interview with representatives of an American Legion post.
Levine prepared for the experience by watching an award-winning documentary about Texas Boys State.
“Watching the video prepared me so I knew what to expect,” he said. “I wanted to fully participate and to run for as many positions as possible.”
During the program, the boys spent one day each on the structure of city, county and state governments.
During city elections, he campaigned for city clerk and city postmaster and got elected to both offices. The following day, at the county level, he ran for and was elected as clerk of the court. At the state level, he campaigned to be a member of the House of Representatives and was elected to that office. He also campaigned to become chief financial officer (CFO), a member of the governor’s cabinet, but lost to Nease High School student Nate Fagen.
One of the highlights for Levine was giving a speech about what Americanism means to him in front of his entire political party (he was a federalist) of 180 people.
“It was definitely the largest crowd I have spoken to in my life,” he said. “I felt so patriotic giving my speech and talking about my love of country.”
The experience will be one he will not soon forget. “I experienced wins and losses and gained leadership skills as well as insight into how our government functions,” he said.
There is also a Girls State program, sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary, and it is held annually on the campus of Florida State University.
For more information about Boys State or to learn more about the application process, visit www.floridalegion.org/boysstate or call 407-295-2631.