American Legion Boys State Returns to UM

Largest group of participants ever arrives Sunday to develop leadership and political skills

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter speaks to the 2017 particpants of Boys State. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – For the third consecutive year, the University of Mississippi will host the American Legion Boys State beginning Sunday (May 27), bringing young men from across the state to campus for a week of events designed “to develop tomorrow’s informed, responsible citizens.”

The university was chosen to host Boys State for three years, beginning in 2016. As many as 400 delegates will stay on campus and have access to the many resources of UM departments and programs. Here, they will perform the functions of state and local governments to develop their leadership, political skills and understanding of governing and citizenship.

The university is dedicated to nurturing leaders, and the campus community is particularly pleased to host Boys State again this year, Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

Hosting events like Boys State on the Ole Miss campus greatly contributes to our strategic goals of fostering a vibrant student environment and nurturing future leaders,” Vitter said. “This outstanding educational and leadership program provides exemplary opportunities for young men to further develop their academic potential and leadership skills.

“We at Ole Miss highly value our partnership with Boys State over the last three years.

The young men learn how city, county and state governments function through simulating those jobs. They also conduct debates and give speeches ahead of the Boys State elections.

The election results will be announced at 7:30 p.m. June 1 in Fulton Chapel.

This year’s lineup of speakers includes Gov. Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith and former U.S. Rep. and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy.

The delegates also will participate in a Memorial Day service at 11 a.m. Monday (May 28) at the flagpole in the Circle. The public and local officials are invited to attend.

“Once again this summer, we are honored to host the young men attending the American Legion Boys State,” said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, who led efforts to bring Boys State to Ole Miss. “The University of Mississippi is a perfect partner for the Boys State program as our mission includes ‘transforming lives, communities and the world by providing opportunities for the people of Mississippi.’

“As a Buckeye Girls State graduate, I am personally aware of the transformative impact this program can have on budding leaders. My wish for them is that they leave the experience with a desire to lead through service to others, especially within the state of Mississippi.”

The Illinois American Legion created the program in 1934, and Mississippi’s began in 1938. The program was adopted by the national organization in 1945, with a goal of showing that democracy needs both an intelligent citizenry and also a moral, honest and impartial administration that is responsive to the will of the people.

The nonpartisan program, open to young men who are high school juniors, is conducted each year across the country through each state’s Department of the American Legion. It’s estimated that more than 28,000 young men annually participate in the civic workshops.

The gathering is designed to be a virtual 51st state with a constitution, statutes and ordinances constructed by its citizens to govern themselves. Mississippi’s Boys State is known as the mythical state of Magnolia.

Participants are required to review their knowledge about political workings of state and local government, and they perform the same duties as real-world officeholders.

The group looks forward to the experiences they will share at Ole Miss, said Cortez Moss, this year’s organizer for Boys State.

“We have a record registration of 400 this year, which is the largest in the program’s history,” Moss said. “It’s not a secret that Ole Miss has been critical to our program reaching its largest number of registered attendees.

“We are excited about all the accommodations and the work Bradley Baker (director of the Ole Miss Student Union) and his team have done to make this program a success.”

By week’s end, leaders hope to have developed these young men into Mississippians who understand the structures of governments and can use these systems in effort of realizing their policy goals, Moss said.

“What is more, we hope to inspire some young man to stay and lead in Mississippi.”