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“I was illiterate about government”
Abby Day urges all juniors to sign up for Dirigo Boys/Girls State next year.
Jeremie DeTellis listens to one of the myriad of speakers.
Jonathan Petrie presents an idea during Dirigo Boys State.
REGION -- In a few short months, high school students who are 18 will be eligible to vote for President of the United States, members of Congress as well as state and local offices. Yet, many are unregistered and few are engaged and knowledgeable about the issues facing the country, state and local governments.
To foster understanding of how the government works, the American Legion created Dirigo Boys State and Dirigo Girls State. High school juniors from across the state gather for a five-day program to learn about their government. They campaign for local, county and state offices in the “state of Dirigo.”
Six boys were chosen from Mountain Valley High School to attend Dirigo Boys State. They included Jeremie DeTellis, Sean Murphy, Jonathan Petrie, Josh Rainey, Jacob Theriault and Alex Witas. Addy Gorham and Abby Day represented MVHS at Dirigo Girls State.
The boys were separated into one of eight towns and they took a political spectrum quiz. Based on the results of the quiz, they were assigned to a party.
According to Witas, “The Federalist Party was conservative, like the Republicans are in real life. The Nationalist Party was more like the Democrats. I was a Nationalist.”
The girls had three political parties – populist, federalist and nationalist.
Then the students worked on government within their respective towns.
“I learned how a town meeting was run because I was the town moderator,” explained Day.
Rainey added, “I was interested in parliamentary procedure. At first it was confusing but it got easier.”
Next the students developed platforms for their respective parties.
Federalist DeTellis explained, “Our party ran on a platform of expanding public infrastructure including building an east-west highway and legalizing offshore drilling. We advocated labor union reform including a Maine right to work law.”
Gorham witnessed the importance of the party platform. “Our Town of Freedom put up two gubernatorial candidates. During the debate before the final election, they answered questions using the party platform. Unfortunately, neither won.”
Then the students elected officials at the state and county level. DeTellis became the chair of the House Committee on Taxation and Appropriation. Witas was elected to the Senate. Rainey won a seat in the House. If her gubernatorial candidate had won, Day would have been the Attorney General.
Throughout the program, the students were exposed to speakers from various levels of government.
President of the Senate Kevin Raye impressed Witas. “Raye had a cool story about how when he was 12, he wrote a letter to Olympia Snowe. She responded to the letter and wanted to meet him. She was campaigning at the time and he joined the campaign. At the beginning of her next campaign, Snowe contacted Raye to be head of her campaign for the next election when he was 16. Through this he developed a strong relationship with Snowe. She influenced his life and now he’s President of the Senate.”
“Major Darryl W. Lyon from the Maine Army National Guard did a very inspirational speech about leadership,” said Rainey. “He told us how becoming a good leader not only took time, but it also took practice. He stressed that in order to become a good leader, you have to be able to make difficult decisions at difficult times. His speech was very well prepared, and probably my favorite from the entire week at Boys State.”
Theriault also named Lyon has as his favorite speaker.
Maine Representative Terry Hayes made an impact on Day. “She was awesome. Really honest. Sometimes politics are rough but she explained that you have to be involved. She was passionate about her job.”
The lessons learned and outcomes varied with each student’s experience. Prior to the program, one of the young men said, “I was illiterate about the government.”
After Boys State, Petrie reflected, “I was interested in public service and going there made me amplify that interest.”
“I really had a fantastic time and am really glad I went. It might influence me to go into political science class in college. In the near term, it will help me with Mr. Carver’s government class next year,” said Witas. He hopes to return next year as a counselor.
Gorham added, “I learned a lot about the process of how a bill is passed. I feel like the connections made at Girls State are as important as what we learned.”
“My advice to the juniors next year – sign up and go!” Day emphasized.
The entire program was free of charge to these eight students. The American Legion members fund raise all year to sponsor interested students.
“Addy and I have already sent thank you notes for this awesome experience,” Day concluded.