HBHS students selected for Boys and Girls Nation
Friday, September 13, 2013
Grant Johnson and Mollie Gillis, both seniors at Hollis Brookline High School, were two of the four students from New Hampshire chosen to attend Boys Nation and Girls Nation at the end of July in Washington, D.C.
No stranger to government proceedings, Johnson is HBHS senior class president and serves as the student representative to the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School Board.
Begun in 1946, Boys Nation is a national program sponsored by the American Legion, where high schoolers participate in a weeklong mock government experience modeled after our federal government. Delegates organize into committees and conduct hearings on bills, and learn the procedures of how legislation is passed. Girls Nation is similar, and has been run by the American Legion Auxiliary each year since 1947.
“It was cool to see how the whole process works,” Johnson said. “There were two people from every state, except Hawaii, just like the real Senate. I got to meet kids from every state, from all different backgrounds and different political views.”
Johnson was elected chairman of the Rules Committee, and served in the Nationalist Party. For his legislation project, he submitted the SLIM bill – Student Loan Interest Rate Modification. The bill would allow for college students to use community service to reduce educational loan rates.
“The loan rate was 6.8 percent when I left for Nation, and I don’t think college students should pay for something they didn’t do,” he said regarding the state of the economy.
The SLIM bill made it past committee but was not debated on the mock Senate floor.
Doug Marino, of Exeter, – New Hampshire’s other delegate – introduced the Federal Gay Marriage Act. Johnson said that bill was the most controversial one presented during the session. It was passed by the Senate and vetoed by the president, but the delegates overrode the veto. It’s a great example of how the system of checks and balances is supposed to work.
When they weren’t debating bills, participants were able to visit the various shrines and memorials in D.C. and to meet with their state senators and representatives.
“It exceeded my expectations when I was there,” Johnson said. “Being at Capitol Hill with the whole group, meeting (Sens.) Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, and obviously, we got to meet the president and take photos with him at the White House.”
His journey began in late June when he attended the Boys State program, held at Rivier University in Nashua, which focused on government at the state level. Johnson said his father Ken, principal of Merrimack High School, participated in Boys State when he was a teen and encouraged him to attend.
Approximately 60 students participated in Boys State at their own expense, or through sponsorships. Johnson’s $300 tuition was paid for by Rich Zampieri, a teacher at Merrimack High School and former participant in the program. At the end of the state session, Marino and Johnson were selected to represent New Hampshire at Boys Nation, which was paid for by the American Legion.
Johnson is currently visiting college campuses, including several in the Washington, D.C., area, and said he plans on majoring in political science.
Gillis said she didn’t know much about the mock government program, but when she heard about it during school announcements, she decided to apply.
She attended Girls State at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, where she served as attorney general and chaplain. She was excited to be chosen as a senator for Girls Nation, along with Genevieve Corman, of Windham.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Gillis said. “I had never flown on a plane by myself before and grew up a lot in that week. There were 97 other girls from all over, the most diverse group I’ve ever been in. It was refreshing to see that and to be around people who shared interests like me and who do care about government.”
Gillis was assigned to the Federalist Party, and helped create the party platform. For her legislation, Gillis sponsored a resolution urging Congress to reinstate the Civilian Conservation Corps. This would give jobs to veterans to rehabilitate the nation’s infrastructure. Gillis said she was happy her resolution passed.
“We worked hard to get bills passed,” she said. “This gave me some real-life experience for something I would like to do. I‘d love to be in Congress someday, and this was closer to real life than an internship.”
Like Johnson, she is in the middle of choosing colleges to apply to. She plans on majoring in American studies or history, with the goal of attending law school.
Meetings and Tours
Gillis enjoyed meeting with New Hampshire’s senators, Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, who she described as “down to earth.” The White House tour was a definite highlight for her, too.
“We got to tour all the color rooms – the green room, the yellow room, the blue room,” she said. “The view of the capitol and the lawn is astonishing. The experience cannot be rivaled. Meeting President Obama is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. I can see why he was elected: He’s very charismatic.”
Of the other Girls Nation senators, Gillis said she feels she has made some lifelong friends and has already visited one while traveling near her area.
Kudos to HBHS
Gillis and Johnson expressed their gratitude to the American Legion for the opportunity to attend the program.
“I’m grateful to Hollis Brookline, too,” she said. “It says something about the school that out of all those who went to State, two out of the four chosen for Nation came from our school.”