In 2003 I took part in one of the most life-changing programs a young man has access to while preparing for his senior year of high school — the American Legion Boys State of Kansas Leadership Academy.

Sponsored by the American Legion, this program provides high school seniors-to-be a relevant, interactive, problem-solving experience in leadership and teamwork that develops self-identity, promotes mutual respect and instills civic responsibility. Boys State is a “learning by doing” political exercise that simulates elections, political parties and government at the state, county and local levels, providing opportunities to lead under pressure, showcasing character and working effectively within a team. It’s also an opportunity to gain pride and respect for government and the price paid by members of the military to preserve democracy.

Boys State impacted me deeply. It gave me the opportunity to explore my own leadership abilities and grow them into life-long skills, and the lessons I learned from my time as a Stater, which is what the participants are referred to as, still influence me today.

If it weren’t for Boys State, I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I wouldn’t be a journalist. While at State, I was elected by my county to be the newspaper reporter. Prior to this, I knew I enjoyed writing, but I was considering a career as a lawyer or in English.

At the first meeting of the newspaper, called the Staters Union, I was then elected by the other staff members to the editor-in-chief. I was in charge of the entire operation, from writing to editing to producing the newspaper.

And get this — it was a daily newspaper.

My fellow journalists and I instantly got to work and produced the issue distributed the next morning.

The experience was invaluable. I quickly learned the essentials of newspaper production, and though the daily deadlines were stressful, it gave me a delicious taste for the world of journalism.

I’ve been hooked ever since.

I attended Wichita State University and earned my degree in communication. Then I ran a weekly newspaper before I found my way here to Wichita Family.

Obviously I’ve gained more journalism knowledge since my time at Boys State, but I wouldn’t have found my passion and true calling if it wasn’t the experience I had that summer prior to my senior year of high school.

In fact, my experience was so impactful I now volunteer with the program. My work with Boys State has been going on for many years, and this year I am the Program Coordinator, which means I oversee the day-to-day operations of the program.

This year Boys State, in its 79th year, will be held Sunday, June 5, through Friday, June 10, at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

I am beyond stoked about the upcoming session, and I believe I can speak for everyone involved when I say we have a great week planned and look forward to changing the lives of another generation of young men in this state.

If you have a young man in your life who would benefit from such an experience, please reach out to me or visit http://kansasboysstate.com/ to learn more.

The connections and friendships made at Boys State will last years to come, but, more importantly, the skills garnered will help the men for the rest of their lives.

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