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Twinsburg -- Most young adults cannot claim to have been in the same room as the President of the United States, but Overlook Drive resident and Walsh Jesuit High School senior Thomas Imhoff can say that, and then some.
As an Ohio delegate of the American Legion Boys Nation conference, Imhoff, 16, recently spent a week in Washington, D.C., meeting officials, touring monuments, taking part in legislation-building simulations and representing his state, school and hometown in the nation's capital.
From July 18 to 26, Imhoff and the other young delegates from around the country learned valuable leadership skills and civic responsibility while networking with key decision makers inside the Beltway.
Imhoff was selected to represent Ohio in the Boys Nation trip during the American Legion Buckeye Boys State conference in early June. As a group, the 98 state delegates met with American Legion veterans, met Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and toured such buildings as the Library of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.
They also heard from President Barack Obama.
"We did, as a group, meet President Obama," Imhoff said. "He addressed all 98 of us as a whole. That was really cool. We were able to tour the Pentagon, which was awesome. That was a highlight for me. We talked to an adviser to the joint chiefs of staff, which was really cool."
Shaking hands wasn't all Imhoff learned how to do in D.C.
The Boys Nation delegates also formed their own model political parties, conducted party nominations and a general election and even drafted their own legislation for mock floor discussion, creating a hands-on governance learning experience. Imhoff and his colleagues discussed topics including immigration reform, voting reform, district regulations and more.
"It was cool to see first-hand how challenging it is to work in government," Imhoff said. "It gave me a lot of respect for elected officials and a look at how hard it is to be doing what they do on a daily basis. Really, it was like the entire congressional process, just in an abbreviated form."
Jacob Meade, a junior counselor and alumnus of the Boys Nation program, said Imhoff displayed noteworthy work ethic and leadership abilities during his work with the other delegates.
"What I've gotten from him this week is he's a very hard-working individual," Meade said July 24. "He takes initiative in that sort of a way, and he's been kind of a quiet leader. He leads by example. He's not necessarily getting in front and telling people what to do, but if I need to go to someone, I know I can go up to someone like him and say, 'Hey, this needs to happen, can you make sure that it does?' and he will pass the word along."
Returning home from the conference and looking ahead to his senior year at Walsh Jesuit, Imhoff said he learned the valuable lesson that becoming a national leader is an achievable but demanding goal.
"Seeing the people you always see on TV, seeing them personally, that was really cool to recognize that it's achievable, if you put your mind to it," Imhoff said. "Anyone really can do that, it's not like they're statues on pedestals. They're normal people, too. It really showed a lot of us that if we worked at it, we really can go very far in life."
Having participated in the Boys Nation experience in 2010, Meade said the experience offers considerable educational and career opportunities to those who excel in the conference.
"A lot of graduates of this program end up going to one of the military academies," Meade said. "There's a good network of Boys Nation alumni who have been in those schools. Also, with the respect that this program has among many of the legislators that we have ... doors will start flying open for many of these young gentlemen as long as they're willing to go through them."
With hopes of attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., after graduation, Imhoff said he left Boys Nation with leadership experience and first-hand knowledge of government processes that he intends to put to good use in the future.
"It was an honor to be there, it was awesome, it is an experience I never thought I would have," Imhoff said. "I'm very grateful to have had such an opportunity."
Facebook: Conner Howard, Record Publishing Reporter