Elkhyn Raphael Rivas-Rodriguez was one of 98 high school students throughout the U.S. chosen to attend the American Legion Boys Nation, from July 18-25 at Marymount University in Arlington, Va.
“To have been a part of this program has completely changed my life,” said Rivas-Rodriguez, a Fort Mill resident and senior at Nation Ford High School.
Rivas-Rodriguez, 17, was one of two delegates selected from the state based on leadership skills, academic record and activity at American Legion Boys State.
The week-long program introduced the delegates to the structure and function of the federal government while combining lectures and forums with visits to federal agencies, institutions, memorials and historical spots in and around Washington, D.C.
In South Carolina, delegates are nominated by a counselor or staff member and interviewed by a panel of senior staff who run the program.
Rivas-Rodriguez, who was already an active participant in mock trial, Model UN and the Young Democrats, said his high school activities greatly aided and prepared him for participation in the program.
“Had it not been for Model UN, I would not have been familiar with the parliamentary procedures necessary to run an efficient Senate (and) had it not been for mock trial, I would not have learned how to debate, make an argument or write persuasive arguments,” he said.
While at Boys Nation, Rivas-Rodriguez and the other delegates participated in debates, ran political campaigns and developed party platforms on numerous issues.
Although Rivas said he was most excited by visiting Congress and meeting legislators, he also enjoyed learning in detail just how our country’s legislative process works.
That knowledge will come in handy for his college and career plans.
“My dream is to go to Yale University,” said Rivas-Rodriguez. “If I get into Yale, I’d like to major in ethics, politics and economics.”
Which he’d like to follow up by possibly going into corporate law or lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Rivas said the Boys State and Boys Nation programs have not only helped him develop leadership abilities, but also allowed him to join a bigger community and foster a sense of camaraderie with his peers.
“These programs have allowed me to meet and visit (with) numerous persons and locations that I may not have been able to see otherwise, including the Pentagon, White House, members of Congress and the president himself,” he said.
“I can’t stress enough just what an impact these two weeks have had on my life.”