The American Legion Jersey Boys State held its 76th graduation ceremony and continued a long tradition of inspiring the next generation of leaders.
Jersey Boys State helps young boys better understand the principles of government and citizenship through a week-long program. Only high school juniors are allowed to attend, according to the American Legion Jersey Boys State (ALJBS.)
The program’s graduation ceremony occurred on June 24 at Rider University in Lawrenceville, where the ALJBS program occurs each year. The 2022 program began on June 19 and concluded on June 24.
A session of ALJBS has occurred annually every year since 1946 and not only consists of educational and recreational activities, but hands-on experience in running for political office, according to its website.
Gov. Phil Murphy, a featured speaker at the graduation ceremony, said like any family, people have moments of exasperation with each other.
“But like any family we recognize, there is far more that unites us than divides us and that we all share common hopes and dreams and a common destination, even if we differ on the path that we believe will get us there,” Murphy said. “This hopefully will be one of the lasting lessons of Boys State.”
He described that real leadership requires “an openness to speaking with those whose life experiences differ greatly than yours.”
“An ability to make decisions on the facts as they are not as we wish them to be and a desire to see things through to the finish, yet at the same time with a willingness to correct course and ‘yes’ even admit when you are wrong,” Murphy said.
He noted an example from his experience, specifically on criminal justice reform in New Jersey. Murphy said he personally did not understand “the gravity, the scale and the need” of criminal justice reform in the state.
“I knew it was needed, but the scale had alluded me. As I engaged in conversations with those who lived the reality, I came to understand the realities of my life did not necessarily matchup with the realities of others,” Murphy said. “While there is still more work to be done, we have reformed our criminal justice system over the past four and a half years unlike any state in America.”
When Murphy was presented with a commemorative New Jersey Boys State Foundation moleskin notebook after his remarks, cheers and roars rang out from the young men graduating Boys State.
New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick J. Callahan in his speech, challenged the high school juniors to find something that they are passionate about and then make it their life’s calling.
“I hope the feels and the takeaways from this week are ones that last a lifetime. We are at a time in this country where we have a fascination with picking sides and teams,” he said. “If you are not on my side, you are on a dark side. We need unity and a generation of a room full of people like you to bring us together and that’s the challenge as well.”
In 2022’s session, Benjamin Duvelson from Union, was elected the 76th Governor of American Legion Jersey Boys State in the week-long program. He was sponsored by American Legion Post 35 in Union.
Also, four Jersey Boys State delegates, who were senatorial candidates, had campaigned during the week to be one of the two delegates selected to be New Jersey representatives at the American Legion Boys Nation conference held in the Washington D.C area, which begins on July 22.
Noah Morros from South Orange, Essex County, Kyler Zhou, Titusville, Mercer County, Raymond Hennessy, Paramus, Bergen County, and Edward Joel, Chatham, Morris County are the delegates that had been brought on stage during the graduation ceremony.
Morris and Zhou were then announced as New Jersey’s representatives to Boys Nation.
“Boys State has done so many things for me. I was so nervous walking in on Sunday and walking in with all 630 of you,” Zhou said. “At the end of this I have made friends for a lifetime. I have true friends and true brothers. Thank you all so much and thank you for trusting me to represent you all at Boys Nation.”
U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (D-NJ) sent well wishes to those graduating from the 2022 program. Both senators participated in Jersey Boys State as high schoolers.
“It is a special program and one you will remember no matter where you go and what you end up doing,” Menendez said. “All of you, who put yourself out there and ran for office, learned that you are not going to win every time. With the help of legionaries, you learned to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and get back in the game.”
Booker said he hopes the young men feel how “rich and invaluable” the program is as it was for him and the hundreds and thousands of Boys State alumni.
“This nation needs you,” he said. “We are facing serious, serious challenges. Your participation in Boys State I hope is going to even better prepare you to meet the challenges of today, so that we can have a better tomorrow. Stay involved and stay engaged.”
For more information about the American Legion Jersey Boys State, visit www.aljbs.org.