My week at Florida American Legion Boys State
By Elijah Manley
President John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” From June 19-25, 2016, that is exactly what I learned. Boy’s State is a political leadership program sponsored by the Florida American Legion. It was created by our fantastic veterans who have put their lives on the line for us, to teach us about patriotism and leadership. Five hundred thirty of the best and brightest young minds are selected from across the state and sent to the campus of FSU in Tallahassee for a week. The young minds are from many different backgrounds, demographics, political beliefs, and walks of life. They create this mythical 51st state in which they run for office in and get elected to. Once elections are complete, adults step back, and let the delegates run the entire state government. I was amongst the 530 that were sent to Tallahassee.
It was the morning of June 19th, and I had been up the entire night long on the bus ride to Tallahassee. I was curious to see the Florida grassy plains, and to meet everyone that got on the bus from the various stops. As the bus pulled up at our dorm in Tallahassee, I couldn’t help but swallow my spit. It looked like a boot camp at first; Florida Highway Patrol officers rushing us into the dorm, one by one. At one point, I thought I was tricked into a military school.
The first day was the absolute longest day. I had to write an Americanism speech, and run for a city office. I didn’t know what either was. I immediately began to campaign for governor. I was first elected as a city councilman, and helped create laws for the dorm I was staying in. Finally, at the end of the first day—I was absolutely exhausted. I felt like I had been there for four days already. I didn’t know anyone there except my own crowd from Broward. I have to say—I was kind of anti-social.
Day two was party nomination day. Both the nationalists and federalists were to hold state party conventions. I was a federalist, and almost everyone in my party was supporting me for Governor. Our counselors told us that we were going to lose a lot of elections, and that popularity was only going to get you so far. I didn’t understand that until I lost the nomination. I let pride get the best of me. Once I lost, I filled my heart with so much anger. It was the first time I lost anything political. I wanted to go home. I was so embarrassed. All my friends were asking me ‘why did you lose?’, and I was the breakfast story the next day. I swallowed my anger, and hid it.
I ran for the House of Representatives from my city, and I won a seat. I didn’t lose my anger until Day 6. My friends came up to me and told me that if I ever wanted to be taken seriously in life, I would have to learn to accept loss. ‘You can’t win everything.’ I ignored him obviously. After the Governor’s election, we had to elect a Speaker of the House. I was amongst the six boys who were qualified to run for the speakership. After giving the best speech I ever gave, and swallowing my pride—again, I lost. I lost Speaker. But I won Speaker pro tempore, the most powerful house position. That day, I lost my anger. I learned that pride is what causes you to lose.
The last two days, I, along with my friend Stuart Thomas, ran the House of Representatives, wrote and read laws, and met politicians. For the first time in my life, my leadership skills were actually on full dis-play. One hundred and fifty boys in the House of Representatives were depending on our leadership. I learned three things those two days- First, you have to drop the pride; second, you can’t procrastinate on projects; and third- you have to have both self-control and respect for everyone. Number three was the most important. It taught me to never forget the people who elected me as Speaker pro tempore.
After we adjourned the house sine die, the Dean of the House- Andrew Saterlee, told us that we were the most productive and best functioned house of reps he had ever seen. We worked together, and that’s what made us successful. On awards night, I was surprised to received two awards. One for being elected as Speaker Pro Tempore, and the other for having the Best House Bill.
At awards night, right after graduation, I hugged all my friends, acquaintances, and challengers, and told them that they were the best thing that had ever happened to me. The last night, we had a private meeting to talk about ourselves within our city. It was very emotional and tearful. I began to really understand that this was a brotherhood. On Day 7, I didn’t really want to leave. I wish I could have stayed. I just reflect back to Day One, wanting to leave, until that very last day. I probably will never see some of them again. Some of them, I may find sitting next to me in the actual legislature in 10 years. I learned so much in a single week, not expecting to actually learn. I really do thank my post for sponsoring me, and Mr. Richard Maggiore for sending me. It has for sure changed my life for the better. I learned how to be a leader, and learned that boring lectures are all for the better.