WEST ORANGE, NJ - In a world where political oppression can often be the norm, the American Legion Jersey Boys’ State aims to teach the importance of democracy.
Offering the opportunity to create a faux 51st state from municipal government to governor and senators, the American Legion Jersey Boys’ State invites about two male juniors from each high school to participate in forming a democracy including campaigning and elections. The event was held at Rider University in Lawrenceville from June 22-27, and 920 juniors throughout the state of New Jersey attended the prestigious program, whose purpose is to teach civic duty via role-playing as local and state politicians.
The teens were placed into posts and "cities" where they formed their governments during the course of the five days. Five Juniors from West Orange High School were selected to participate: Alex Elliott (Post 201, City 5); Isaiah Adams (Post 201, City 1); Chidozie Buruzie (Post 201, City 2); Christopher Knighton (Post 201, City 8); and Jensen Noel-Jeune (Post 201, City 12).
Alex Elliott, a West Orange attendee who nearly became one of the senators, noted how important the program is. When asked what he learned from it, he commented, “If you give your best effort, then you can truly succeed… you can make a change, but first you have to get out there.”
Elliott further explained how the program taught the imperativeness of electing the correct person, being outspoken and expressing ideas fluently, and solving problems through strategies.
Throughout the week, guest speakers like Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno discussed business, politics, entertainment and other careers with the participants.
In addition, juniors reaching levels of lieutenant governor, governor and senator received scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $3,000, depending on their elected position.
American Legion Jersey Boys’ State, which celebrates its 69th year in 2014, is a program created to promote democratic ideals and in its inception, to combat communism. The attendees, who were divided into different towns, voted on different municipal positions initially, then moving onto county positions and eventually governor and two senators. The two boys that were elected as senators, Brian J. Doyle (Audubon – Post 262) and Alex Kochanik (Bridgewater – Post 12) will move on to participate in Boys Nation in Washington, DC from July 18-26, representing New Jersey. Forty-nine states participate in the yearly American Legion program with the exception of Hawaii. Go to http://www.legion.org/boysnation. For information on the girls program, go to http://www.boysandgirlsstate.org.
Above all, Elliott expressed the importance of the experience. The attendees roomed on campus and received the chance to communicate with people from all around the state. “It was the hardest week of my life, but it was also the best week of my life,” said Elliott.