Politically Passionate

MN students take on Boys State, Nation


The National Mall is one of the most recognizable areas in America, featuring famous landmarks such as the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. This summer, it was inhabited by 98 high school boys from around the country, one of whom was MN senior Vikram Menon.

Boys Nation is a simulated government hosted by the American Legion, a veterans service organization, designed to prepare high school juniors to be involved in their democracy. This year, it ran from June 22nd to the 30th, with 2 students from each state (excluding Hawaii) in attendance. Along with learning about the government, students also have the opportunity to meet important government figures.

“[Nancy Pelosi] was walking around, and I ended up having a conversation with her and we took a photo, so that was a cool honor,” Menon said.

Menon was also able to meet senator Deb Fisher. Other students spoke with politicians such as Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Patrick Leahy.

Students are selected for Boys Nation during a statewide program called Boys State, a simulated state government, also affiliated with the American Legion. Students with grade-point averages of 3.0 or above are invited to apply, and those with a passion for politics typically choose to do so.

“I’ve always been interested in politics, and so being able to engage in that sense with a bunch of other high schoolers seemed fun,” applicant and senior Jeff Birkentall said.

Next, promising applicants are invited to interview. They travel to a local American Legion post to meet with its members.

“It’s usually three to five veterans sitting there and they ask you questions,” Menon said. “It’s a little intimidating, I’ll be honest.”

After the selection process, five Millard North students were informed they’d been selected for participation: Vikram Menon, Jeff Birkentall, Michael Begley, Nathaniel Lind, and Thomas Roth. After arriving at UNL’s campus on June 5th, they began campaigning for office in the mock government almost immediately.

“It’s pretty realistic, it’s just very sped up,” Birkentall said. “And because of that, it was really quite fun.”

Beyond the student experience, the program couldn’t run smoothly without its leadership team, which this year included Millard North alumnus and current Harvard student Evan Jolley. He attended Boys State in 2019 and was elected governor. Traditionally, he would have returned to lead in 2020, but as the program was canceled that year as well as in 2021, he didn’t have the chance to fulfill his role until this summer.

“My favorite part of Boys State was the tight-knit community,” Jolley said.

One crucial responsibility of the Boys State counselors is to pick two students to attend Boys Nation. Throughout the week, counselors watch the students, and each nominates three to five candidates. At the end of the week, they decide on the two students they’re going to send to represent NE at Boys Nation. This year, Menon was one of the two selected, and at graduation, it was announced not only that he would be attending Boys Nation, but that he had been elected governor.

“To be honest, when I first found out, I wasn’t very excited, because I was still dumbstruck from winning the governor election,” Menon said. “After I had time to realize what was happening, I became super excited, because I realized I would have this amazing opportunity to go to DC and meet some amazing people.”

Overall, participants and leaders of both Boys State and Nation concur that the American Legion has succeeded in creating an enjoyable and educational experience.

“To juniors who are looking at getting into big colleges, I would definitely recommend it, because even writing you went to Boys State is a big honor in itself,” Menon said.

Outside of the educational realm, Boys State and Nation are also highly beneficial in other ways to those involved. It teaches social skills and professionalism, which can be helpful when students look to enter the workforce.

“It taught me a lot of good social skills with talking to new people, just because it gives you the ability to build up the courage to go talk to someone,” Birkentall said.

The participants agree: their time at Boys State and Nation was not only constructive in a variety of ways but one of the highlights of their summer.

“I think deciding to go was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It was truly an opportunity that I couldn’t be happier about,” Menon said.