By Pat ShermanIncoming La Jolla High School seniors Connor Hallman and Adam Hersko-RonaTas got a firsthand education in the workings of government this summer, after being selected in May to participate in the American Legion’s annual Boys State program for high school juniors.
Students are typically nominated for the summer leadership and citizenship program by their history teachers or other school administrators. The program was started in 1937 and is held on college campuses through the country (excluding Hawaii).
Adam and Connor spent the last week in June at Sacramento State University with 1,000 other boys from around the state also chosen for the honor. There, the students were divided into dorms considered makeshift counties. Clusters of dorm rooms served as cities, with each holding elections for municipal officials and representatives to a mock state legislature.
Connor, who said he hopes to study math or business in college, roomed in the makeshift city of Burbank, where he campaigned for and won the position of county treasurer. He said he was amazed at how much paperwork there was to process.
Part of his duties as treasurer, he said, included collecting a flat property tax of $10 in Boys State money that each student was given when entering the program.
“I was in charge of handling all the fake money and getting it to where it needed to be — and did all the math,” Connor explained. “I helped set up the county budget. We collected taxes and set up county-level jobs for the people who didn’t have elected positions and paid them with the taxes that we collected — (and also) paid people to make decorations for our county.”
Adam said students began campaigning for city, county and statewide offices (including governor and attorney general) on the second day.
With an interest in law and law enforcement, Adam ran for attorney general. Though he didn’t win the post, he said the overall experience was transformative, and included helping create a seal for his own city and county.
Both Adam and Connor said the best part of the experience was forging friendships with guys from around the state.
“It was just a very pleasant learning experience, with people who were so accepting, supportive and fun to work with and hang out with,” said Adam, who hopes to pursue economics and/or film in college. “I think a good word for a lot of the kids there was ‘motivated.’”
Connor said he enjoyed the networking aspect of the week.
“At the beginning they told us that we would make friendships that would last a lifetime and I really didn’t believe them, but by the end of the week I met a lot of cool guys and still talk to them.”
Renowned La Jolla physician Dr. Herman Froeb, a former commander of American Legion Post 275, is in charge of his post’s Boys State nominations, and helped interview this year’s candidates at La Jolla High School.
Froeb, who helped found the pulmonary department at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla and has served as an associate clinical professor at UC San Diego, said Boys State candidates are chosen by school administrators for “their outstanding performance, both academically and for their participation in organizations.”
“I think (Boys State) gives them confidence to work with large groups of people, to talk in front of a large assembly, (and to) be administrators and work with people to get something accomplished,” he said.
“We’re interested in (boys) who present themselves well, whose elocution is good, who seem to know what they want to do and seem to have their act together.”