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While most of my friends were deciding how to spend their first Saturday of summer vacation, I was packing up my belongings for a week of hard work that seemed to have little reward. I was headed to Ripon College for the 66th annual Badger Boys State program. I wondered how I would last on my own for a week surrounded by over 700 strangers my age, while bringing only a moderate interest in government and politics, which I believed were the cornerstones of the program. Trying to keep an open mind, I left early that morning unsure of what I was truly in for.
Arriving in Ripon, I checked in, unpacked my belongings, and kissed my mother goodbye. I soon realized that everyone there was in the same situation, and from initial conversations I found out I was not the only one feeling the way I did. On the first night I learned probably the most important lesson of the week. The staff told us we were all selected to attend for a reason, whether it was excellence in academics, leadership, volunteering, or most likely a combination of all three. They told us to throw our egos out, and that it did not matter who you were or where you came from. When you are surrounded by the best of the best, a laundry list of accomplishments does not matter, because everyone else in attendance has one equally impressive. This wisdom gave me newfound confidence, and I realized I could make a difference that week.
As the week progressed, I began to make friends and ease into our rigorous daily routine. Each day I learned something valuable, often not about politics or the American government system. Instead, I learned how to live with people different from myself. Growing up in a suburban community with only 20,000 people, and attending a high school with around 750, I was not exposed to the diversity that our state – and indeed our world – has to offer. I was forced outside my comfort zone into the more challenging space where real learning takes place. I never considered myself narrow-minded or shallow, but these encounters opened my eyes to the beauty of diversity. Everyone had different beliefs and values, but I respected them all because the program and our personal qualities connected us.
Overall, my experience at Badger Boys State is one that I will never forget; more importantly, I believe it helped me prepare for life after high school. Although the camp’s emphasis was on patriotism and civics, I learned more from simple, daily interactions with the fellow Boys Staters. I am confident my experiences will allow me to contribute to the college community, and I know that I will not be intimidated by the excellence of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was surrounded by other young men at the tops of their classes, and I feel more confident than ever that I am fully prepared to join the best of the best at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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