Boys State and Girls State Attendees Share Experience That “Changed Their Lives”

Avondale High School students present to group that includes to former Boys State attendees

(L to R) Optimist Club member Bill Barr, Avondale students Andy Jiang, Christian Richert, Alexis Brown and Julia Rosander, Optimist Club member Henry Knight

(L to R) Optimist Club member Bill Barr, Avondale students Andy Jiang, Christian Richert, Alexis Brown and Julia Rosander, Optimist Club member Henry Knight

Two members of the Auburn Hills Morning Optimist Club had the chance to compare notes with a group of Avondale High School students about their experiences at Boys State when the students presented to the Club. Optimists Henry Knight, who attended Boys State in 1947 and Bill Barr who attended in 1959, enjoyed the presentation by Avondale senior Andy Jiang and Christian Richert as well as the presentation by Girls State attendees, Alexis Brown and Julia Rosander. During their presentations, each of the students recounted the details of a week that they say, changed their lives.

Boys State and Girls State are nationwide educational programs sponsored by the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary designed to help young men and women learn about government through self-governance. Throughout the week-long program where participants occupy college dorms designated as cities, student-citizens hold elected and appointed positions paralleling the actual structure of state and local administration. Students are presented with issues that they must solve and resolve using the same processes that real-world municipal leaders must follow.

“It was super serious, in the moment, and very intense,” said senior Christian Richert who provided the most poignant moment of the presentation when he shared that he was hesitant to even go to the camp. “I really didn’t want to go,” he admitted, “but I did and I’m glad I did. It changed me and I won’t forget the things I learned and the people I met.”

Each of the students echoed Richert’s sentiment as they described the week filled with learning, discovering, relationship building, and of course, politicking. “It’s crazy how much you can learn in six days,” said Alexis Brown who has no political aspirations but now plans to be more engaged in government issues. Brown and fellow attendee Julia Rosander emphasized the camaraderie and friendships that developed during the week, both noting the spirit of cooperation to manage issues and solve problems among the hundreds of participants from around the State of Michigan. “It was great example of empowering women to get things done,” said Rosander. “Throughout the entire week there was a lot of building each other up and supporting each other.”

Though only one of the students mentioned an interest in changing their post-graduation plans to include some level of political involvement, all of the students acknowledged the importance of staying politically informed. Avondale High School Interim Principal, Sharon Hyde, recognizes that Boys State and Girls State participants don’t always have political aspirations but knows there are other reasons for attending the camps. “This is an opportunity for any student who wants to apply themselves to growing their leadership and problem solving skills,” Hyde said. “We’re so grateful to the Optimist Club for their support in making this happen for our students.”

The Optimist Club has been working with the American Legion to send Avondale High School students to Boys State at Northwood University and Girls State at Michigan State University for several years. In addition, the Auburn Hills Morning Optimist Club supports and provides funding for several Avondale School District initiatives and programs including the Oratorical Contest; All-State Athlete Awards; Bicycle Safety programs; and Avondale Academy, Avondale SKILL and Avondale Youth Assistance activities. As a valued community member, the group also supports the Auburn Hills Boys and Girls Club and the Salvation Army.

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