Students learn lessons in leadership
Every vote counts is one of many lessons John Marrero learned when he and two classmates from San Benito High School attended 2012 Texas Boys State.
“It was amazing meeting new people and the trip and the leadership was just awesome,” Marrero, 17, said. “We had a chance to feel like a part of a big group of great students.”
The event, held this year June 3-8 at the University of Texas at Austin, is sponsored by the American Legion-Department of Texas and seeks to “develop leadership and pride in American citizenship, arouse a keen interest in the detailed study of government, and develop a full understanding of American traditions and a loyalty to the United States of America,” according to the organization’s website.
Matthew Garza, also 17, said the event was attended by 900 students who were separated into about 20 mock cities. Students learned about government by running for political office.
“I ran for House of Representatives and I won,” Garza said. “There were three openings and about six of us ran, and it was within our own city so there were about 40 of us in our city. I was just giving my speech on how I would run the city as a whole and I would listen to their opinions if they needed me to listen.”
He didn’t prepare ahead by writing a speech, he said, explaining, “I pretty much did it on the spot because I prefer to do it that way than think about it.”
Not only did Garza serve in the mock government’s House of Representatives, he and the other students visited the House chamber in the Capitol.
“We actually had our own meeting,” he said. “We had bills to pass. There were a lot of bills we had to go through in an hour. They separated us into committees as well, in the House. And I was chairman of the border issues (committee). They didn’t get to my bill, but I created one that was trying to keep families together that would cross over but they were separated here.”
Garza learned through the experience that there’s more to government than he thought.
“I learned how the government works and how there’s more to it than people think,” he said. “It’s not as easy as some people might consider because there’s a lot more rules behind what they have to follow.”
There was more to the mock governments than just mock cities, classmate Jason Santana, 17, said. The week-long event included extensive classroom work with their cities and their precincts.
“We just discussed and elected different officials, like mayor, precinct chairman, things of that sort,” Santana said.
He was a candidate for two different offices. First he ran for county constable, which he didn’t win, but he was successful in his bid for a position on the rules committee.
What made the difference?
“It made me realize that I could’ve done much better,” he said. “I had no experience as far as how to give a speech.” He added, “Well, not so much having to give a speech but asking for somebody’s vote. I had never run for anything in my life. It was a different experience, and that’s something that stuck with me, how to convince people, how to talk to them properly and get their vote.”
Marrero learned an important lesson about attention to detail. He ran for both county sheriff and county commissioner, but he didn’t win either office.
“I told everybody my name was Woody, and that was my nickname, so everybody knew me as Woody,” he said. “I forgot to tell them that my real name was John Marrero, so I lost all the people that were in my group. I lost all of my votes.”
The experience did inspire him to do more for his community. He plans to emphasize to his friends and relatives the importance of voting. He also wants to do more community service, such as helping at homeless shelters.
“That’s what I plan to do this summer,” he said. “I’m going to sign up to do more community service with the shelters in Harlingen and here, homeless shelters or the food pantry.”
Santana felt inspired by some of the speakers.
“We had a former CIA agent and we had a nationwide motivational speaker,” he said. “They really got in our heads in the way of seeing life in a different way, of learning that everyone is capable of doing something great. It will definitely help me because I won’t feel at a loss from the beginning at anything that I do. No matter how I do it, I’ll always remember that I am capable of doing anything because I heard stories and people from experience that came from nothing and became something.”
Garza said he plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin and possibly major in nursing.
The Boys State experience will help him become a leader, he said.
“I’m kind of a shy person in high school,” he said. “It will help me come out more and not speak so softly. It will make me speak louder.”
All three young men enjoyed meeting new people, and said they plan to stay in touch with many of them.
“I pretty much enjoyed spending the whole week with my city because as a city we were having fun and we became really close as a family,” he said. “All the guys in the city, all of us are going to be in touch. They’re Facebooked pretty much. Most of ‘em.”
June 17, 2012 10:06 PM
By TRAVIS WHITEHEAD / Valley Morning Star