Four local teens excel at Boys State

Published 7:28 am Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Four Pike County young men returned Saturday from the Alabama American Legion Boys State held at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa from May 29 until June 4.

Devon Elder, Josh Starling, Zachary Pearce and Thomas Graning were selected to attend Boys State by American Legion Post 70 in Troy.

The purpose of Boys State is to teach young men to understand and appreciate the principles involved in the successful management of a democratic society.

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Although they took advantage of different opportunities, the young men said their experiences were rewarding and having attended has enriched their lives.

Davon Elder will be a senior at Goshen High School in the fall. His desire to attend Boys State stemmed from his interest in politics and also from a desire to develop his leadership skills.

“What impressed me most about Boys State was that everybody was so serious about what we were doing,” he said. “Everybody seemed like they wanted to get something out of it, not just be there.”

Elder was anxious to participate in government and ran for and was elected to the city of Odom’s House of Representatives.

“Being a representative, I learned a lot about parliamentary procedure and what it’s like when the House of Representatives debates a bill and what all it takes to get a bill passed,” Elder said. “One bill that was passed was about teachers being ranked on performance. One that didn’t pass was giving handicapped stickers to pregnant women.”

Elder said that sometimes representatives would add amendments to bills and make the process drag on before the bill would eventually pass or fail.

“I learned a lot at Boys State,” he said. “It gave me more courage to speak before people and made me aware that I should listen to politicians to make sure that I know what their platforms are so I can make good decisions when voting.”

Elder’s future plans include enrolling in Troy University’s pre-engineering program and then transferring to another university to complete his degree.

Josh Starling, a rising Pike Liberal Arts senior, said that his interest in attending Boys State was directed more toward learning how government works than in the political aspect of the process.

“I’m more interested in history than in politics,” Starling said. “I really wasn’t interested in running for an office. But I was a member of the Constitutional Convention and we wrote a new constitution for the state. That was very interesting.”

The Limbaugh Constitutional Convention members had to take a hard look at Alabama’s Constitution and then improve on it.

“We made the Constitution shorter and we added home rule,” Starling said. “A lot of times there’s a bill that only affects one county. We thought that the counties needed to have more power. Another change to the Constitution was that we lowered the voting age to 17. That’s the age about most of us there and we thought that young people needed more say in government. We also made it a county’s decision whether it is wet or dry.”

Starling said he met many new friends and enjoyed the entire Boys State experience. However, the motivational speakers and what they had to say made a lasting impression on him.

“They talked a lot about following your dreams and working hard to make them happen,” he said. “They really inspired me to do that.”

Starling said his own dream is to attend medical school and become a doctor. And that dream will begin at Troy University.

Zachary Pearce was honored to have been invited to attend Boys State and he will be a better leader and a more knowledgeable civics student during his senior year at Pike Liberal Arts because of the experience.

“I’m not too interested in politics but I’m interested in government and how it’s run,” he said.

For that reason, Pearce said he decided to run for city clerk of Harper City.

“I like to write and I take good notes so city clerk seemed like an interesting position,” he said. “I was responsible for keeping notes for the mayor and recording everything that has to be kept regarding the workings of the city.”

As city clerk, Pearce’s responsibilities included recording court procedures and the city council meetings with the mayor and five council members.

“At a council meeting, it was bought up that the police chief wasn’t doing his job and should be impeached,” Pearce said. “But the council voted to give him a formal warning, and, if any more complaints were made against him, he would be gone.”

Harper had been devastated by a tornado and the council had to deal with emergency situations.

“We lost one-seventh of our city and had only $20 million to work with,” Pearce said. “Every single cent of it had to be designated to worthwhile causes. The council had to enact laws and ordinances that would govern the city during the time of emergency and develop a plan for rebuilding the city. It was a real challenge.”

Pearce plans to attend the University of Alabama and major in computer science.

Thomas Graning will be a senior at Charles Henderson High School in the fall and, at this point, he is keeping his options open as to his future plans.

However, Graning viewed Boys State as an important stepping stone along whatever path he chooses.

“I wanted to attend Boys State because of the opportunities to meet new people and learn more about our government and how it operates,” Graning said. “Boys State was a great experience because it also helped me develop my leadership and citizenship skills.”

Graning was appointed the governor’s press secretary and was in charge of all written and visual releases of the state programs and for the releases regarding the 10-year plans for each of the departments of state government.

“Each of the state’s departments was to find ways to make improvements,” Graning said. “Each department provided me with their slides and written information. I then worked on a PowerPoint presentation for the entire state. I organized their information, formatted it and made it flow.”

The presentation was presented to a select group of government officials.

Graning said he had developed presentations but not been responsible for putting together visual and written information from different groups of people.

“It was a real learning experience,” he said.

A press conference that had been scheduled was canceled so Graning didn’t have an opportunity to relay information to the public.

However, his hard work and dedication didn’t go unnoticed. He was recognized at the state’s most outstanding elected or appointed official.