(Originally published in the Telegraph on 8/27/08)
Alton High School's Class of 2009 president got a taste of national politics in Washington D.C. last week when he engaged in heated debates with students from across the nation and chewed the fat with America's foremost lawmakers.
Godfrey resident Trevor Paul, 17, visited the capital city from July 18 to July 26 for Boys Nation, an annual civic training event for upcoming high school seniors run by the American Legion. Two young men from each state except Hawaii attended, each with the opportunity to participate in political debates, vote on mock-legislation, sit in on the real Senate, tour national monuments and speak with U.S. congressmen and presidential candidates of the past and present.
"The sole purpose of these events is for students just to learn about diplomacy and the democratic process," Paul said. "It was really refreshing to be around these guys last week and see how promising our future really is."
"I wish every boy could go through (Boys Nation) because you learn so much about your country and the sacrifice all the veterans have given," said Julie Paul, Trevor's mother. "It was an unbelievable privilege."
Paul met briefly with Dick Durbin, Ron Paul (no relation), Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, George W. Bush and even Richard Simmons, who was lobbying in Washington.
"When I was on Capitol Hill, it wouldn't be weird to walk past Hillary Clinton," Paul said. "It was very surreal, especially meeting George W. Bush. I never expected to be completely overwhelmed by him, but he was affable, calm and funny."
Ron Paul impressed him, too.
"I always thought Ron Paul was kind of kooky, but he was one of the nicest guys I've ever met," Paul said. When a Boys Nation senator from Florida told Ron Paul he was "awesome," the U.S. Representative from Texas replied, "No, the constitution is awesome."
Council participants traveled, ate and slept at dorms in Arlington, Va.'s Marymount University free of charge.
Paul aspires to obtain a bachelor's degree in biological science at University of Richmond, graduate from medical school and become a doctor.
"After retirement, I'm thinking I'd like to get into politics," Paul said.
AHS's student council advisor Gail Burjes nominated Paul for Boys State. The American Legion selected him to represent Madison County at the state conference, held at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston from June 7 to 13. They awarded him the $1,000 Sportsmanship Citizenship Award, then chose him out of more than 600 Illinois candidates to attend Boys Nation - earning Paul yet another $1,000 scholarship.
Paul and the 97 other Boys Nation alumni are in good company. Former participants of note include Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw and Michael Jordan.
American Legion Auxiliary runs similar programs for young women called Girls State and Girls Nation.