The American Legion is founded on the principles of lifelong service and the betterment of our communities and our nation. In the spirit of service to our community, our country, and to our fellow veterans, we sponsor and support a number of programs.
Boys State / Boys Nation
American Legion Boys State is among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high school students. A participatory program in which students become part of the operation of local, county and state government, Boys State was founded in 1935 to counter the socialism-inspired Young Pioneer Camps. The program was the idea of two Illinois Legionnaires, Hayes Kennedy, and Harold Card, who organized the first Boys State at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
At Boys State, participants learn the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments. Operated by students elected to various offices, Boys State activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law-enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, choruses and recreational programs.
The American Legion has specific qualifications for prospective Boys State citizens. Following are the recommended guidelines employed by most Boys State programs:
Only males who have successfully completed their junior year of high school and who have at least one more semester remaining are considered. Only those who illustrate leadership, character, scholarship, loyalty, and service in their schools and community are considered. Merit and ability are the basis for evaluation during the actual citizens’selection process.
Girls State / Girls Nation
The American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls State program, first presented in 1937, is one of the most respected and coveted experiential learning programs presented in the United States.
The program epitomizes the ALA’s mission to honor those who have brought us our freedom through our enduring commitment to developing young women as future leaders grounded in patriotism and Americanism. The young women become knowledgeable of the democratic process and how our republic form of government works at the state and national levels.
Each summer, approximately 16,000 young women participate in weeklong ALA Girls State programs across the nation. Every American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program operates with the same patriotic values through a nonpartisan curriculum where students assume the roles of government leaders, campaigning in mock parties (often called “Federalists” and “Nationalists”) to become mayors and county and state officials of their ALA Girls State. The program is a weeklong immersive learning experience, often held on a college campus where girls live in “cities” within a dormitory-like setting. The learning, experience, memories, and friendships last a lifetime.
The American Legion Oratorical Contest exists to develop deeper knowledge and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution among high school students. Since 1938, the program has presented participants with an academic speaking challenge that teaches important leadership qualities, the history of our nation’s laws, the ability to think and speak clearly, and an understanding of the duties, responsibilities, rights, and privileges of American citizenship. The program has featured numerous politicians and prominent contestants over the years, including former presidential candidate Alan Keyes and CNN anchor Lou Dobbs.
Young orators earn some of the most generous college scholarships available to high school students. Over $138,000 in scholarships can be awarded each year. The overall national contest winner gets an $18,000 scholarship. Second place takes home $16,000, and third gets $14,000. Each department (state) winner who is certified into and participates in the national contest’s first round receives a $1,500 scholarship. Those who advance past the first round receive an additional $1,500 scholarship. The American Legion’s National Organization awards the scholarships, which can be used at any college or university in the United States.
High school students under age 20 are eligible. Competition begins at the post level and advances to a state competition. Legion department representatives certify one winner per state to the national contest, where department winners compete against each other in two speaking rounds. The contest caps off with a final round that decides the three top finishers.
Speaking subjects must be on some aspect of the U.S. Constitution, with some emphasis on the duties and obligations of citizens to our government. Speeches are eight to 10 minutes long; three- to five-minute speeches on an assigned topic also are part of the contest.
Youth Cadet Law Enforcement