Students United When Opinions Divided at Boys State Summer Program


Graphic by Cameron Samuels

“I couldn’t pass up on an opportunity to debate with people from across the state of Texas who may not necessarily agree with my point of views,” Adam Alsuezi, Boys State participant, said.

Minutes before the polls closed for the mock election of attorney general, sweat trickled down the forehead of senior Adam Alsuezi as he anxiously awaited the results. The remarks he passionately delivered on the debate stage may have persuaded the voters in his favor, but the question was whether talking to just a few more students could have pushed him over the top.

This past summer, Alsuezi represented SLHS at Texas Boys State, a prestigious leadership program by the American Legion which convenes annually in states across the nation. During this one-week immersive experience, students developed leadership and pride in American civics through a simulation of electoral government and politics.

Texas Boys State is typically held on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held virtually the past two summers. Regardless of the means, hundreds of people convene for the program each year to represent their school and home city.

“I couldn’t pass up on an opportunity to debate with people from across the state of Texas who may not necessarily agree with my point of views,” Alsuezi said.

Upon the commencement of the week, participants were randomly assigned a mock political party – either the Nationalists or the Federalists. Alsuezi was a member of the former. Within the two parties, students could decide to be prospective candidates for various positions which reflected real political offices. To run for an office, a candidate first had to acquire signatures from other participants to add their name to the ballot.

The attorney general’s office was the position of choice for Alsuezi, which meant he had to undergo a primary election to be nominated as his party’s candidate in the general election. After days of gathering support through peer-to-peer conversations, word-of-mouth campaigning and impassioned debate-stage speeches, Alsuezi came shy of only a few votes necessary to obtain this nomination.

“Only myself and two other people were able to get onto the primaries,” Alsuezi said. “We had to go where it was just him and I in a back and forth debate, and he narrowly beat me out. I didn’t win to be the [nominee] for my party, however, I did win several district, county and state positions.”

After candidates lost, they continued supporting their political party by helping campaign for the other nominees and their party’s policy platform. While this could have created bitter sentiment among party members, Alsuezi believed animosity would not be beneficial to the simulation and its mission.

“I figured that it was better for us as a party to be united and working together than divided and fighting within our circles,” Alsuezi said.

Throughout their time at Boys State, participants learn the strategies and challenges of political rhetoric, acquire the soft skills for civil discourse through debating hot-topic social issues and gain experience with government affairs by interacting with elected officials and business executives.

The program touts itself as a highly-selective program only for students who are prepared for the intense competition and rigor. Prospective attendees must participate in interviews with representatives of the American Legion. Despite the challenge presented by the program, senior Matthew Reilly also participated in Texas Boys State alongside Alsuezi.

“It was amazing to meet people from all over Texas who were my age and just as passionate about how government affects our lives,” Reilly said. “I loved the community and fellowship that we built throughout the program.”

In addition to developing a passion for political leadership, the experience itself leaves a lasting mark on the students who participate from personal inspiration to community bonding. For those who wish to extend this newfound interest of government into their college and career search, Boys State holds a program at the end of the week on how to apply the program’s impact to the professional world.

“It definitely helped show me the benefits of public speaking and also being different,” Alsuezi said. “It gave me the chance to talk with a bunch of admissions officers from several different universities, and in terms of career, it just kind of strengthened my love for politics.”

The program concludes each summer with the election of a student governor – the highest position that can be attained through the week-long simulation. Since the program began in Texas in 1940, only one person from Katy has been elected to this distinguished position: Raphael Akinsipe in 2009.

In addition to this representation in governorship, Katy also made headlines when Steven Garza – a MCHS graduate and participant of the 2018 Texas Boys State – became the lead star of the Apple TV film Boys State (2020). After a widespread and favorable reception, the film was later nominated for Oscar awards and won the US Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.

The Boys State program only provides their summer experience to students who have completed their junior year and are enrolled for their senior year, leaving just one chance to win a potential campaign for the idolized governor’s race.

Whether this coveted title is sought out and obtained is beyond the mission of Boys State. Alsuezi and the other students can reflect on the friendships they made, the insight into electoral democracy they gained and the inspiration it has sparked in their relation to government affairs.

“It was crazy spending hour after hour deliberating and debating, but in the end, the grueling work was worth it,” Reilly said. “It was interesting to see how people viewed the same topic from different perspectives, finding where we could agree and compromise and where people strongly held their beliefs.”

“My favorite part was being able to debate with people and do so walking away knowing that we disagree,” Alsuezi said. “We don’t have to let our differences and opinions define how we treat each other in general day-to-day life.”