Zach Vajda, 17, Buffalo High School senior, spent a week immersed in government, business and leadership at Missouri Boys State. Boys State is an eight-day program to show high school boys leadership and how government works.
Throughout the week, the students, or citizens, create a mock Missouri government from cities, to counties, to the state.
American Legion Post 19 of Buffalo sponsored the $400 program fee, and Vajda was recommended to the program by principal Keith White.
“Government class teaches one thing, but it’s not tangible. It’s just knowledge,” Vajda said. He now has experience campaigning for an elected office, as well as participating as a voter.
One of the most practical takeaways, Vajda said, is learning how to contact his representatives and letting them know how he wants them to vote. Each housing group at the Central Missouri University event was equal to a ward, similar to city wards in Buffalo or Fair Grove. Citizens were assigned political parties, then tasked with creating a party platform from scratch and electing officials.
“It wasn’t just political,” Vajda said. “I ran a business called The Irony. It was a theater and ironing service.”
Through his business endeavor, Vajda met a new friend, Jackson Reed of Bolivar. Reed was the advertising manager at the event’s radio station. Vajda learned the advertising side of radio to add to existing knowledge. Also at the event, he took courses in radio and television.
Volunteer leaders acted as “camp counselors” for each group of boys, all on a strict schedule, Vajda said. At the beginning, citizens were told their counselors were Boys State alumni, but nothing more. He thought highly of them and was surprised to learn their ages.
“My counselors were 21, 19 and 18,” Vajda said. “You don’t expect leaders to be in your age group.”
A group of strangers became a family of brothers, Vajda said. They created a community and shared deep, trust-filled moments. Being forced to be with people and create a government pushes typically quiet students to interact and build new relationships, he said. Overall, Vajda now vividly realizes the ability to choose your own government is good, he said.
Vajda was the only Buffalo High School applicant, and admits Boys State was one of the best weeks of his life. He learned more about leadership, honesty and future opportunities.
After graduating next spring, he plans to attend Washington University, where he would receive a $2,000 scholarship simply for attending the Boys State event.