By Kevin Wilson: PNT Managing Editor
In three years at Manzano High School, Jacob Vigil has had the opportunity as an executive officer in his school’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. In four days at Eastern New Mexico University, he’s had a chance to be a city councilor and a police chief.
Vigil is one of about 180 New Mexico high school seniors-to-be staying on campus this week for an annual introduction to government processes known as Boys State.
The program works by taking students from high schools across the state, and dividing them into different cities. Members of those cities form their own rules and elect officials to work on county and state levels.
Vigil was one of about 28 residents of Coronado, one of six fictional cities — which are then used to form three separate counties — that make up the state. Members run for office as a member of either the Federalist or Nationalist Party.
“It’s been awesome,” Vigil said. “It’s put me at a point where I can lead, and not in the way I’m used to leading (in the ROTC). Here, you lead by representation.”
The program, sponsored by the American Legion Department of New Mexico, is in its 58th year.
Ralph Kemp, who has been involved with the program for 24 years — including that last 12 as director — said that the same values of the students has remained constant, but many other factors have changed because of technology.
“The boys seem more well-informed, not just on topics that concern New Mexico, but the world,” Kemp said. “They can address you on any topic.”
It was something U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) found out firsthand after allowing a question-and-answer session at the conclusion of his address at Wednesday’s banquet. Pearce heard questions ranging from North Korea to campaign tips to Base Realignments and Closures.
One student asked for Pearce’s position regarding Cannon being recommended for closure.
Pearce, who spoke about BRAC earlier Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Clovis, said that he and the state’s four other congressional members only have an yes-or-no vote when the list is presented to Congress later this year. However, he said they are unified against Cannon’s closure “not because it’s our state, but because Cannon is a better base than many of the bases that remained open.”
Previously, Pearce spoke to those in attendance about what being a leader meant, and how they were going to have to make the choice to be a leader at some point in their lifetime. He spoke of how he had to make tough choices when Vietnam came around, and the war on terrorism may force the Boys State delegates to make similar choices.
“ The war against terror is going to be fought in your life and you will make a decision on that,” Pearce said. “You must decide whether to lead or to follow. If you decide to lead, it’s not often a life of companionship.”
That will not be the case for whoever is chosen today as a state senator. There are two senator positions available, and each will represent New Mexico at Boys Nation July 22-30 in Washington, D.C.
Jacob Jantiz of Hope Christian High School wore his choice on the back of his city of Cortez T-shirt. The message, “Hopkins 4 Boys Nation” was written on a piece of notebook paper and taped to his back, in the hopes that fellow Cortez citizen Daniel Hopkins would be elected.
“We got that from our counselor,” Jantiz said. “They did it last year, and it worked pretty well.”
The opportunity that Boys State provides, Kemp said, is becoming more and more important as younger voices are sought. Kemp said that his opinion wasn’t requested until he became an adult, but he now notices that some schools give middle-schoolers a say in how their school operates on limited matters.
“They have an opportunity to give their voices,” Kemp said. “This gives them a way to do it clearly, concisely and effectively.”
The students will be on campus through Friday morning. Landon Ware was the lone representative from Clovis, while Portales had no representative at the event.