WATERVILLE, Maine — More than 200 soon-to-be high school seniors are gathered at Thomas College this week to learn about government procedures during the 65th annual American Legion Dirigo Boys State.
The boys registered on Sunday and will graduate on Thursday.
“The program consists of showing the boys how the government works,” said Lloyd Woods, American Legion state adjutant. “They set up their local, county and state government and all aspects of [it, including] being a department sheriff to being the governor of the state.”
Woods said 202 boys showed up from all over the state. Former Gov. John Baldacci and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud are former graduates of the program.
Two boys will be selected to join 102 others in Washington, D.C., for the national program, which is essentially the same thing but on a national level, said Woods. It also is a four-day program.
Paul Jacques, director of the program, said the boys will be working hard until graduation on Thursday evening.
“We will use every available minute,” said Jacques. The boys typically work from 6 a.m. to about 11 p.m., according to Woods.
The program teaches the students about all aspects of local, county and state government. They run campaigns, see how bills are submitted and passed in the Legislature, and vote for a governor.
“You have some natural leaders you’ll see in the first day,” said Jacques. “They’ve got that leadership aura about them. The rest of the boys rally behind them.
“This year, so far, we have a really good group of well-mannered, polite, very engaged young men,” added Jacques. “The staff here at the college said the kids are very engaged, very, very polite and they’re a pleasure to have on campus.”
Many state officials and legislators will be speaking at the event. Secretary of State Charlie Summers, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, spoke Monday. State Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry, the Republican nominee in the 2nd Congressional District, and State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin will also speak. Many of the counselors are those who previously attended the program.
Woods said the program teaches students about much more than government.
“They not only learn about government, they learn to get along with people they never met before,” said Woods. “It’s a learning experience in and of itself. Most who do it make friendships that last a lifetime.”
The American Legion Dirigo Girls State is also taking place this week, hosted by Husson University in Bangor. The girls will graduate on Friday and also send two representatives to Washington.