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The City Journals

Waterford senior represents Utah at Boys Nation; introduces a bill to create more STEM grant programs in schools

Sep 09, 2021 11:02AM ● By Julie Slama

During the second day of American Legion Boys Nation, Waterford senior and Utah mock senator Roman Schlichter applauds during the first senate session. (Photo courtesy of American Legion Boys Nation)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

While Boys State 2021 was virtual and “a little lackluster,” American Legion Boys Nation turned out to be “incredible,” according to Waterford School senior Roman Schlichter.

While virtual, Boys State couldn’t have many of the opportunities and camaraderie that students experience in person, Schlichter said, he was grateful to be elected to go to Boys Nation, July 23-30 in Washington, D.C. 

Boys Nation is an annual American Legion program that includes civic training, leadership development and a focus on Americanism.

“I felt like I went from being the big fish to being the little fish when you’re surrounded by 99 other individuals who are just as smart as you are,” he said. “The program itself, it had us working like 18 hours per day; we barely had time for sleep. It was jammed pack, working in committees to pass legislation that we all had written.”

During the eight days at Boys Nation, 100 students or mock senators learned a hands-on approach how the U.S. Senate and the federal government function. They were divided into two political parties, the Federalists and the Nationalists, and each conducted a party convention, set a platform and nominated members for elected offices. 

Schlichter, and other senators, wrote, introduced and debated bills of their choosing before an appropriate Senate committee, and if successful at that level, the legislation will be voted on by the whole Senate. Bills passing the Senate are later signed or vetoed by the Boys Nation president. 

Schlichter’s bill was on creating a STEM grant program to help fund Title I school STEM programs.

“It really targets that bottom quarter of schools to create more options for them to get grants so they can increase their STEM program,” he said. “You can learn there’s so many schools that can’t even afford computers for students. In a world like ours where technology is so fundamental to everything we do, I think not being able to have access to technology is such a detriment for students that it just needs to be addressed.”

Bills ranging from minimum wage to insulin price caps were on the schedule to discuss. Thirty-eight bills passed during the week-long session; Schlichter’s didn’t make it onto the floor.

“It actually was way more divided than I expected. I expected the education bill to pass easily, but there are a lot of people who are against it because it’s providing funding to Title I students than some of the larger public schools,” he said.

During the week, he spoke with Utah Sen. Mike Lee about their shared Boys Nation experiences, Lee’s policies and about his view of the economic side of the Choice Act., which he introduced into legislation.

Schlichter said he contacted Lee’s administrative team about his STEM bill.

“I want to actually try to get it into legislature. Hopefully in the next month or two, I actually can talk to him about my bill and, hopefully, get his approval where he could take it to Congress,” Schlichter said. “I think the biggest takeaway [of Boys Nation] was just insight into the political system. I think the biggest thing for me was just learning how the Senate works, how your actions happen, where power comes from in government, and I think they honestly fostered more of a love for politics.”

In addition, the group visited the National Mall and discussed a lot of history, such as the Vietnam War and World War II.

“I’ve already been to D.C. so a lot of it wasn’t new, but I learned so many things from the leaders of Boys Nation,” he said, such as “how grassroot movements had the impact on politics.”

He also learned about experiences of those in the Legion who served in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

“When we were at the Vietnam Memorial, we had one of the staff members telling us about someone’s name who was on that wall and his story. That’s something you don’t get to experience if you just go on a school trip or go on your own,” he said. 

With all these experiences, Schlichter said that the highlight was meeting other students at Boys Nation, many which he stays in touch with through group chats.

“These people are some of the most determined individuals. When you get to know them, they’re not cutthroat or anything; they’re so supportive. They want everyone to succeed and when you talk with them, you can really have some intellectual conversations about everything from agricultural subsidies to historical figures and political agendas. You can have some really cool conversations, just hearing about topics of all facets of life. You would never think about if you weren’t meeting people from across the nation,” he said.

Schlichter, who is a scholar with distinction at Waterford, plans to study law after graduation. As a student, he runs cross country, is a national debater, competes in his school’s science Olympiad and ethics bowl and has been a volunteer with Bad Dog Arts.