By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
WASHINGTON D.C. – The last week of July found John Chadwell, a high school student from Big Sky, playing senator in Washington D.C. as a delegate for American Legion Boys Nation. Chadwell attended Boys State, a hands-on educational experience teaching high schoolers about the U.S. government, in early June and was subsequently chosen as a senator to represent Montana at the national level.
After paying his tuition to go to Boys State, the American Legion Post 99 of Big Sky flew Chadwell out to Washington D.C. for the eight-day national program during the last week of July.
At Boys Nation, which started in 1946, 100 senators comprised of two students from every state, except Hawaii, and Washington D.C. engage in an experience-based approach to learn how the U.S. Senate and the federal government function. This year, some states didn’t participate due to COVID-19 meaning other states sent more delegates to make up the difference. The delegates are divided into two political parties, Federalists and Nationalists, and each party conducts a party convention, sets a platform, and elects offices including a president and vice president.
Each of the 100 senators also writes, introduces and debates a bill before a Senate committee and if their bill passes through committee, it is voted on by the entire Senate. Bills that are passed by the Senate are later signed or vetoed by the delegate who was voted as the Boys Nation president.
Chadwell drafted a bill that would provide more mental health funding in schools. His bill passed the committee level with an amendment, sending the bill to the entire Senate where Chadwell defended his piece of legislation. His bill passed, becoming only one of 24 to do so, and was subsequently signed into law by the Boys Nation president.
“I’m grateful that my [bill] passed because I think it demonstrates that we as youth recognize the need for more mental health support in our schools and in our lives,” Chadwell said.
In addition to engaging in the governmental process, delegates at Boys Nation had the chance to explore D.C. and see landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Washington Monument as well as to meet the national commander of the American Legion, James W. “Bill” Oxford.
Usually, students are able to go to the U.S. Capitol and meet their state senators in person. However, this year the meetings took place virtually. Chadwell said that during his virtual meeting with U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester, Daines lamented the fact that the boys had come all the way from Montana and they still couldn’t meet in person.
In short order, according to Chadwell, Daines made some calls and sent cars to pick up Chadwell and the other three boys from Montana. The four delegates from Montana were then treated to a private tour of the Capitol by Daines.
“He [gave] us a full tour of the Capitol, which was really truly spectacular,” Chadwell said. “That was certainly a highlight.”
Reflecting on the experience, Chadwell said his favorite parts were having his bill passed and getting to hear some of the legislation and concerns from other student senators representing everywhere from Alaska to Florida.
“Attending Boys Nation meeting kids from all across the country, you learn that if you really immerse yourself, involve yourself, get to know people, understand their perspective, and really let them speak and hear what they have to say, then you can relate with them and their perspective a lot more than you would have thought,” Chadwell said.
He added that it was a pleasure to attend and he is very grateful to have had this opportunity.
“It was truly an honor to go and be able to involve myself in [Boys Nation,]” he said. “I’m really thankful to Montana Boys State, to American Legion Post 99 in Big Sky and I’m thankful to Mr. [Tony] Coppola and all those people for helping me out and getting me involved in Boys State.”