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Bryan: Practicing To Lead

Most people can’t tell you instantaneously exactly what they were doing on the evening of each and every third Wednesday in June going back more than thirty years – but I can.

Because that’s the date for the inauguration ceremony for the newly elected student Governor and other students elected for state-wide offices at Vermont Boy’s State. It’s sponsored by the American Legion, and for years now I’ve been invited to give the key-note address to the boys assembled expressly for an exercise in democracy. Now it’s held at Lyndon State College.

The Legionnaires of Vermont have been sponsoring Boy’s State for 77 years. It’s a simulated legislative session over five days during which executive officers and legislators are elected, committees are formed, hearings are held, policy is debated and laws are passed.

A similar event is held for girls at Vermont Technical College, sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary.

As I drive to Lyndonville in the gathering twilight I’m reminded that I will be speaking to these young legislators in Lyndon College’s Alexander Twilight Theater. And it also strikes me that Twilight was the very first person with African American lineage to be elected to an American state legislature .

Vermont! You can’t make it up…

I’m also convinced after driving to Boy’s State on this same evening for three decades that this is the very greenest moment of the year in Vermont. How deep, rolling, complete and pervasive it is. Even the June grass still looks new. Everything is so green you hardly dare breathe.

Vermont - the green mountain state. Oh yes. Yes, indeed.

Then I have another thought as I drive northeast. Green might as well be the designated color of Vermont politics, too. But it must be a non-partisan green. Let the Democrats who now are more apt to claim it remember that it was a century of Republicans who (in their small towns and small farms) preserved the green in the first place. And let the Republicans remember that it is the Democrats that took up the challenge in the critical decades of resettlement that closed out the last century.

Hey. Nothing is more non-partisan than an evening’s ride to the kingdom in June. Of course, the boys I’ll be speaking to are as green to politics as the evening ambiance.

Enough. Speaking of green reminds me of a one liner I always manage to slip into my remarks at Boy’s State. I got it from Mo Udall, the Arizona congressman best known for championing environmental causes. At the beginning of my talk I offer a quick series of widely divergent definitions of democracy from notables like Churchill, E.B. White and Jefferson.

I always finish with Udall, who said, “Democracy is like sex. When it is good it is very, very good. When it is bad, it is still better than anything else.”

The boys applaud with gusto - pretending they’re in a position to make a judgment.

While the parents just look nervous.

Frank Bryan is a writer and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Vermont.
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