Jakob Pyeatt wasn’t particularly interested in pursuing a career in politics when he signed up for the American Legion’s Evergreen Boys State program, a week-long study into civics and government.
After spending a week this June with other high school students at Boys State, however, and then another week on the East Coast this July at Boys Nation — as one of just two elected youths from Washington state — Pyeatt says he’s had his eyes opened.
“They say it’s a week that changes a lifetime, and I would agree,” says Pyeatt, a Sequim High School senior.
“This (experience) definitely changed my perspective on many things. It was an experience I wouldn’t have had anywhere else.”
Pyeatt says he was looking for something to add to his high school resume as he seeks an appointment to the West Point Academy in 2019. Someone mentioned that Boys State — a program that simulates Washington state government through activities such as running for office, court proceedings, creating and enforcing laws, public speaking and more — would be a good option for displaying leadership skills.
Pyeatt joined about 120 other junior-level students from across Washington at the Warm Beach Conference Center in Stanwood for a week of civics — mixed in with pizza parties, recreational activities and other fun activities.
At the end, Pyeatt was one of two representative selected to participate in Boys Nation week, held July 21-28 at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., and in Washington D.C., where 98 Boys Nation senators each year are chosen from a pool of more than 20,000 Boys State participants across the country. (The American Legion Auxiliary hosts a Girls Nation program at the same time.)
During the Boys Nation week, each delegate acts as a federal senator. The young lawmakers caucus at the beginning of the session, then organize into committees and conduct hearings on bills submitted by program delegates. The young students learn the proper method of handling bills according to U.S. Senate rules., and participation in the political process is emphasized throughout the week.
Boys Nation alumni include former president Bill Clinton, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, astronaut Neil Armstrong and journalist Tom Brokaw.
Lorri Gilchrist with American Legion’s Jack Grennan Post 62 in Sequim says the post has been sending youths to Evergeen Boys State since she’s been there (16 years), but that Pyeatt is the first local youth to be selected for Boys Nation.
The Sequim Gazette asked Pyeatt about his experience at both Boys State and Boys Nation:
Sequim Gazette: Did you have to do anything to prepare/qualify for Boys State?
Jakob Pyeatt:I had to write a bill on any topic I chose; then, I would turn it in the first day or so, and it might have been brought up at our mock House of Representative meetings. It (was) along the lines of increasing school security.
SG: What did you do at Boys State?
JP: The beginning was about how we were supposed to run our meetings. We were put into five cities. The first thing we worked on was getting our mayor and city councilors elected.
During our city meetings, we would work on laws our cities would have passed (and) policies. Then we’d run for governor and lieutenant governor and (positions) like that. We had to make a political party, and we had to make it better than other parties. We had party conventions. I believe my party was better — we had balloons and music for our candidate.
Once the governor got elected, we ran for positions like senator and for House of Representatives. If you didn’t run, you were put in a job like waste disposal.
SG: Did you run for office at Boys State?
JP: I ran for mayor, I ran for governor and I ran for House of Representatives. I lost almost every single one, except for House of Representatives. But I enjoyed it the whole time, because I was learning. I enjoyed giving speeches … talking to people, debating with people. All of it was a lot of fun.
A big thing they said at Boys State was, “Trust the process.” And that meant that even if you lose an election, it’s not a big deal. You’re learning. A lot of people who run and lose at multiple positions learn a lot more than those who won in the beginning. I wanted to add on to that saying with “Enjoy the process.” Because you only get to go to Boys State once.
Toward the end, once we had our governor elected, we focused mainly on passing bills and writing bills, shaping how our state government would run. It also focused on who goes to Boys Nation.
SG: How was getting selected for Boys Nation?
JP: That was very nerve-wracking for me. We wrote our applications, and then the went on to an interview. I’d never heard of Boys Nation until that Wednesday, when we filled out applications. When I found out I was being considered to go, that was an honor in itself.
(Being selected for Boys Nation) was one of the happiest moments. That was one of the greatest honors. The Boys State experience in itself, even if I didn’t get to go to Boys Nation, (was) one of the greatest weeks of my life.
SG: What did you spend your time on at Boys Nation?
JP: We had committee meetings in the senate. The bills that were passed in the committee went to the whole senate.
A lot of bills had total agreement … in committee, and then the senate would vote it down. That was weird. At senate meetings (bills) would get explained more. There would be a questioning period; eight guys would come up and have questions. That was pretty much where the bills were decided.
Going through these senate meetings, now I know why it takes forever for bills to pass.
SG: We’re you surprised that someone was able to change your mind?
JP: Very much so. I’m more moderate (politically) than anything, and that’s what I liked: they all could have compromised (on their bills). There were bills I didn’t agree with and someone would say, “Well it sounds weird, but this (bill) helps a lot.” And I would agree. That surprised me.
My bill didn’t get passed. I learned that if I would have revised it, they would have said “yea.” There were so many smarter people than me there; they looked into it and said, “It’s a good idea but it needs work.” If I went home and revised it and brought it back, maybe it would have passed.
SG: Did you meet any significant political figures?
JP: We got to meet (Sen.) Patty Murray; that was very cool. We met the Vice-President (Mike Pence); that was big. A lot of people (don’t agree) with the president or the vice president but these boys and girls are so professional, so mature … they respect the position. It was just an honor to meet someone like this. There was one guy who was a full Democrat, and he was the most excited to meet the vice president.
SG: What were some of your personal highlights from Boys Nation?
JP: At the end of every day, we sat in our common area and talked, pretty much about how the day went. Hearing everyone’s perspective in (my) group, that was amazing.
In life, especially nowadays, people get put into groups. If it’s political, you’re a conservative or you’re a liberal. There are people on one side who will not like you because you’re on the other side. But (at) Boys Nation, there were so many people with so many different viewpoints from all different sides of the political spectrum. I talked with one guy from Kansas — he didn’t agree with anything I said — but it was an awesome conversation.
These 100 boys that went to Boys Nation and the 100 girls, too, that went to Girls Nation, they’re kind of our future. Boys Nation taught us how to be a leader, because when you’re a leader you have to be set in some of your ways but you can also have a little leeway and compromise.
I enjoyed every conversation I had, whether it was someone who agreed with me totally or someone who didn’t. That was probably one of my best experiences there.
SG: Has this experience changed your career goals?
JP: It’s definitely put (politics) as an option. My goal ever since I was little was military, but I’ve also wanted to become a pastor. I’ve also wanted to be a historian. Before Boys Nation and Boys State, I’d never wanted to pursue government (work). I want to do everything I can to help my nation.
SG: Would you recommend this program to other high school students?
JP: I would be willing to talk with anybody about this. I’ve already talked to some people who are going into their junior and sophomore year, saying, “Boys State will teach you more about government (in a week) than any high school class will in a year.”