Students run mock state government at conference

By Katey Garrett

Exeter Post 94 of the American Legion and its Auxiliary proudly welcomed community members to a potluck last week, featuring recent attendees of Boys State and Girls State.

This year's attendees to Boys State, sponsored by Post 94, were Exeter Union High School Students Logan Henderson and Francois Nikbakht. The Girls State attendee, sponsored by the auxiliary, was Shanda Stacey.

Boys State has been a program of the American Legion since 1935 when it organized to counter the Fascist inspired Young Pioneer Camps. Girls State, a program of the American Legion Auxiliary, began two years later in 1937.

During the weeklong sessions, participants were exposed to the rights and privileges and duties and responsibilities of a franchised citizen. The training is objective and practical with the city, county and state governments operated by the students elected to the various offices.

In a letter addressing her supporters, Shanda Stacey wrote that although intimidated by the idea of leaving home for a week to participate in Girls State, her fears subsided after spending time with 450 friendly girls. &#8220I chose to align myself with the Tory Party,” said Stacey. &#8220It was exciting to see how our state's government is run.”

Participating as the Postmistress, Stacey and other participants published a newspaper called The Daily Stater, which included articles, titled, Sater Spotlights, Girls State moved to Fresno, and Cities elect week's officials. &#8220I chose to participate as a postmistress because the name sounded so girly. I had no idea what I had signed up to do, but it turns out that I picked a great position.”

Although Stacey enjoyed each unique aspect of her week at CSU Fresno, she found that her favorite part of the experience was when the speakers took stage. &#8220The women who spoke were all so inspirational. They were all strong, confident women and I have so much respect for them.”

Logan Henderson, recently recognized as the athlete of the month and participant of Boys State, said that much like Stacey, he was nervous about spending an entire week away from his hometown. &#8220Everybody told me that it would be an experience I would always value. I was unsure at first, but by the end of the week, I felt transformed.”

Acting as a sheriff's deputy and lawyer, Henderson said that he finally understood what his dad had taught him about politics. &#8220I arrested nine people. They used profanity in the courtroom and I had to remove them. We put the criminals in the laundromat, which doubled as our jail.”

Francois Nikbakht, an attendant of Boys State, who participated as a State Assembly man and Deputy Coroner said, &#8220Going into the week, I wasn't sure what to expect. I heard good things about Boys State but I needed to experience it to understand.”

Nikbakht enjoyed both positions, as he was able to experience being a powerful person. &#8220I made laws and arrested people. I had say in what was going on, but better than that, I made laws. That was the coolest.”

Stacey and Henderson gladly agreed with Nikbakht, who said, &#8220Meeting people of all backgrounds made the week really unique. I made life-long friends.”

In addition to participating in activities that include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, chorus and recreational programs, the students also met California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

&#8220Getting to see our governor was an event that will reign in my mind forever,” said Stacey, &#8220He was so different than I thought he would be and his accent was much thicker than it seems on television.”

&#8220I have to tell you,” said Nikbakht, who broke the ice concerning political opinions, &#8220It takes about five days to get your circulation back after shaking our governors hand.”

Stan Dillon, who participated in Boys State as a high school student, said &#8220The experience impacted these students and as an educator, I am very proud of these young people. You can see their enthusiasm and that, for many of us, is so rewarding to be able to witness.”

&#8220This is a community that roots for the youth,” said Jack Allwardt, Post 94 Adjutant. &#8220We should be proud of that because these kids are proud of where they come from.”

Veterans and community members applauded the students as they made their presentations and enjoyed conducting their own interviews with each attendant. &#8220One of the greatest things about Boys State was having to opportunity to see how proud our veterans are. They really do love their country,” said Nikbakht.

While thanking the veterans for providing them with such an amazing opportunity, the students said that the things they learned while away from home would stay with them forever. &#8220At Boys State, I learned the power of one,” said Nikbakht. &#8220I can make a difference.”

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