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Del. Chris Obenshain was one of eight Virginia lawmakers who came to Radford University's campus to address and field questions from this year’s 470 attendees.

According to Virginia State Del. Alfonzo Lopez, of Arlington, the average male who wants to run for public office needs to be encouraged by seven separate people before they finally take the plunge into politics.

“Consider this one of those times,” Lopez told a group of young men attending the weeklong American Legion Boys State of Virginia on Radford University’s campus on June 17. “I’m serious. Run for office. Keep it in the back of your mind.

“Because the world needs Boys State delegates,” he said. “And Virginia desperately needs them.”

Lopez – whose talk was introduced by his son, Aaron, himself a Boys State attendee this year – was one of eight Virginia lawmakers who came to town to address and field questions from this year’s 470 attendees.

Other visiting legislators included Sen. Travis Hackworth, of Richlands; Del. Joe McNamara, of Roanoke County; Del. Chris Obenshain, of Christiansburg; Del. Sam Rasoul, of Roanoke; Sen. Aaron Rouse, of Virginia Beach; Sen. David Suetterlein, of Roanoke County; and Del. Wendell Walker, of Lynchburg.

All found a particularly attentive audience – each rising high school senior who participated was selected because of their academic achievements, their civic engagement and their leadership potential.

During the seven-day event, Boys State’s “citizens” are grouped into teams identified by fictional town names, and they assemble their own government to support a hypothetical 51st state. They hold campaigns and elections for sheriff, mayor and governor, among other offices; create their own platforms, philosophies and legislation; and engage in activities that range from law enforcement and athletics to performing music and reporting each day’s happenings.

“Everybody in here, you would not have been selected by your teacher, your guidance counselor or your American Legion post to come to Boys State if you were not already a leader,” speaker Scott Maddrea assured them as he addressed the entire group in Preston Auditorium.

Maddrea, who served for more than 18 years as a Virginia House of Delegates deputy clerk and is now a legislative consultant, advised them to treat their upcoming elections like numeric calculations.

“Part of your strategy needs to be: How do I solve that math problem?” he asked, adding tips that underscored the challenges of the political process: “If you are only campaigning among your friends, you are going to lose.

“Campaigns are won and lost on personal connections.”

The Boys State “citizens” also got the opportunity to ask questions of Executive Director of the Republican Party of Virginia Ken Nunnenkamp and William Mims, a former Virginia Supreme Court justice. Lines for the microphones during those sessions were long, and the queries were substantive, covering subjects from career planning to literature.

“The last question was about Plato, and this one is about Dostoyevsky,” Mims marveled during his Q&A.

He also urged the boys to follow three specific pillars – to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly – under the auspices of servant leadership.

“If we focus only on our own desires, we’ll never be satisfied,” the former justice advised the young men.

Other speakers across the week included former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, author Jason Wright, former Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, numerous local mayors and prosecutors, Attorney General Jason Miyares and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears.

Earle-Sears invoked a quote from Thomas Jefferson and issued it as a challenge for the students: “Make your life count so that it will be said of you [that] the world is better off because you were in it. The way to do that is not to look out for self, but it is to ensure that others are safe and that you serve more than anything else.”

Boys State elections were held on Thursday, with Owen Hupp of Charlottesville named governor; Virginia Beach’s Aaray Rajashekara as lieutenant governor and Austin Clayton of Fredericksburg tapped for attorney general.

Additional candidates were chosen to fill a dozen positions on the governor’s cabinet and seven Supreme Court seats.

“These are really smart kids from every corner of the state,” said program coordinator Dan Combs. “Our goal is to teach them about state and local government in Virginia … and then they serve in those positions themselves and really get a hands-on sense of how government works.”

Other functions during the week included College Day, in which the students met with representatives from Radford and other colleges and universities; a talent show; instructional sessions with speakers, including the director for the joint staff for the Virginia National Guard and the secretary of National and Historic Resources; moot court proceedings; American Legion Night with the group’s Department of Virginia Commander Sondra “Sonnie” Dickerson; Hall of Fame presentations; and awards and recognitions for athletics, reporting, moot court, parliamentary procedures, constitutional officers, the best city, Boys Nation and the Dr. George Blume Best Citizens Award.

While in town, Boys State contributed 2,550 food and paper donations to Radford-Fairlawn Daily Bread.

“Our pantries are full, and we will also be sharing with the Women’s Resource Center, the Bobcats Backpack program and others,” board member Peggy Taylor told the Radford News Journal.

This year marked the 81st anniversary of the Boys State of Virginia event, which has been held at Radford since 2013.

“We are honored, once again, to support this important and impactful educational program,” President Bret Danilowicz told attendees.

“Since you come from all corners of the state — from Southwest Virginia to Virginia Beach and Northern Virginia — and everywhere in between, your unique backgrounds and perspectives will be a wonderful source of education and inspiration.”