Honored to be Honored
It was summer and I remember it like yesterday. I had enrolled in an American Legion Scholarship program called Boy’s State, and found myself accepting the “Outstanding Boy’s State Member” award, making me one of the 100 boys that would enter the Boy’s Nation class of 1994.
Boy’s State and Boy’s Nation are a scholarship based summer program where young men between their junior and senior years of high school are nominated by their local American Legion to participate in a week long mock election process. It is essentially a grooming process for prospective politicians. For more information on Boy’s Nation you can check this out.
As a member of the Boy’s Nation class of 1964, President Bill Clinton met President John F. Kennedy Jr., and he recalled to us in a speech in the Rose Garden, how affected he was by that moment. He let us know that he would take a picture with each of us so that we could remember our moment as well.
The Rose Garden
I recall that the Rose Garden seemed nearly antiseptic and would have been if not for the obvious care that the gardeners had given to every detail; even the detail of making sure it did not look too perfect. The roses were just high enough to get your attention but not so high as to block your view. With otherworldly reds and White House matching whites, each rosebush in the area had been placed in a specific spot after painstaking deliberation and fuss. The foliage was not as much foliage as it was toy-colored paper cut-outs. Even the Secret Service matched well with the environment. The chairs were placed in perfectly parallel rows with a perfect angle for the perfect view. I remember thinking that I had never sat on a lawn chair so comfortable. It was as if the cushioning was memory foam which hadn’t even been invented yet. The smell was hypnotizing. It was as if you could smell every rose individually, yet the aroma was never overwhelming. The scent was just enough to cause you to close your eyes and focus your senses so that twenty-two years later, you could recall the experience in its entirety. I do believe, it is because of the flawless smells that I remember that day in such vivid detail.
I have never met a man, in my forty years, with such large hands and firm grip as William Jefferson Clinton. The picture was taken, the moment a flash, and up next were the two boys from Mississippi. Fast forward twenty-two years and I still have the two, glossy, 8×12 photographs of me shaking the hand of a giant. With a momentous smile in each of our faces, you can tell in his eyes that it meant something. Not to meet me, of course, but to meet each of us, and share the obvious joy that was bequeathed to him from his experience.
After the ceremony, as the boys chattered away, my Minnesota Boy’s State cohort and I were interviewed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. After the interview, in order to catch us up to the rest of the boys, two Secret Service members brought us through parts of the White House that the public normally never gets to see. I was changed in that moment.
Did I follow my political aspirations? Nah, I soon realized that I hated the game, but I will always appreciate the gift of the memory of a lifetime.