Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell entered Radford University’s Preston Auditorium to a standing ovation Thursday afternoon, shaking hands and posing for “selfies” (self-portrait photos, often taken will cellphone cameras) with a number of the rising high school seniors that filled the expansive room as a part of the 71st annual Boys State retreat.
Boys State, touted as a means to teach politics from an apolitical standpoint to top-level rising seniors from high schools across Virginia, educates then returns the boys to, in turn, educate their peers in the workings of state and local government.
As he took the stage, the 800-strong group greeted the governor with an a capella rendition of the Boys State anthem. Energetic and poised to deliver to a crop of Virginia’s finest, McDonnell opened his speech by taking a few good-natured potshots at his introducer, David Ryan, who had the misfortune of being McDonnell’s nephew, before cutting into the meat of his oration, which focused primarily on the life and death of the American Dream.
“It’s still alive and well, no matter what people tell you,” the governor said. “You can be anything you want to be in this country, and that’s a fact.
“You all have God-given talents, and if you develop them, work hard and believe in yourself, … nothing can stop you from rising above the expectations imposed upon you by others.”
McDonnell urged his audience to get involved in civics, and to focus more attention on advancing their knowledge of math, science, technology and engineering.
“You are soon to be a part of the worst demographic when it comes to voting,” McDonnell told the boys. “The numbers of young people that come out to vote are embarrassing. Young men like you will determine the future of this country. You can’t afford to take these things for granted.”
After his speech, the governor took questions ranging from his involvement in the 2016 presidential election to religion in politics to advice on dating politicians’ daughters.
When asked if he had the intent to seek the Republican nomination for the 2016 election, McDonnell dodged.
“You know I won’t answer that,” he said. “For now I’m focused on doing the right thing for Virginia.”
Boys State of Virginia, sponsored by the American Legion, is essentially a weeklong civic leadership camp, aimed at expanding the knowledge of elite rising high school seniors in the workings of local and state government. This year is the first time in 40 years the camp was not held in Lynchburg, a fact Radford University President Penelope Kyle is proud of.
“This is the first time that Radford University has had the privilege of hosting this terrific event,” Kyle said during an address earlier in the week. “Tonight I see 800 exceptional young men who, through hard work and civic leadership, have created their own opportunities; young men who are inspired to serve their communities, our Commonwealth and our nation as the next generation of leaders.”
Two participants were selected per high school, chosen for their demonstrated outstanding academic, social and civic involvement. The governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, members of the Virginia General Assembly and other civic leaders, gave a series of lectures, speeches and workshops throughout the week.
The 800 participants were divided up into 16 fictitious cities, named for famous military leaders of the Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton ilk, and were assigned to mock political parties for purposes of internal city elections.
By Aaron Atkins