All week long, Mississippi high school students will learn about how government works by starting their own.
The university is hosting the Boys State program for the second year. The leadership program has fostered future governors, senators and congressmen since the first one in Mississippi was held in Jackson in 1939.
Boys State is a national leadership program for boys in each state and is sponsored by local American Legion chapters. Mississippi youth who are between their junior and senior years of high school may apply. The program began May 28 and will continue through June 3.
“Boys State is, in my opinion, the best summer camp a young man can attend,” Boys State alumnus John Brahan said.
Brahan is a senior at the university, and a former Boys State participant who returned as staff. “It instills the value of good citizenship, and that’s something that we really try to foster here as staff members having gone through the program.”
The week-long program allows participants, or delegates, to meet students their age from across the state and hear from elected leaders in Mississippi such as Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, and many more. In the past, delegates have heard from Gov. Phil Bryant.
Throughout the week, the delegates elect a government for the fictional state of Magnolia. They run for virtually every office from governor all the way down to individual city aldermen. Delegates Caleb McCreary and Mosie Kirby were opposing candidates for governor in the fictitious Nationalist Party.
McCreary won the primary and will go on to the general election. They got involved with Boys State when friends who attended in previous years told them what a life-changing experience it was.
“I was hoping to meet a lot of people that had the same drive as me,” McCreary said about what he expected going into the program.
Both McCreary and Kirby are pleased with how the week is going, and they said the program is exceeding their expectations.
“Boys State is the cream of the crop of most Mississippi schools,” Kirby said. “It’s great to make these connections.”
The boys also get a chance to look at potential colleges at a college fair, an opportunity they may not have without Boys State. Additionally, if the delegates choose to attend Ole Miss they receive a $1,000 scholarship, as well as other scholarships at various state universities.
Through this program they are exposed to opportunities that can help them in the future. Assistant director Michael Sipp, who works for Sen. Roger Wicker, praised Boys State as one of the most valuable steps he took to get where he is today.
“A lot of kids, they don’t know anything about our political system,” Sipp said. “Some of these kids have never even been on a college mailing list. It’s good for them to ingratiate themselves with people who aren’t from the same city as them. They learn to network and how the political system operates. And they’re that much closer to deciding to get a degree.”
This is the 78th year the American Legion has sponsored Boys State. Ole Miss will also host the program in 2018. The university was chosen for these three years after submitting a proposal in fall of 2015.
In previous years it was traditionally held at community colleges in the state, but as enrollment increases the American Legion has moved it to universities.
This year there are 356 delegates, the most Boys State has ever seen. Boys State director for 2015-2016 Britton Smith said the camp is for students who “want to be a leader among leaders.”
The American Legion Auxiliary also sponsors Girls State, which was held this year at the University of Southern Mississippi.