As captain of the Andover High School boys’ cross country and track teams, president of the student council and an Eagle Scout, Simeon Toronto is considered a leader of his peers.A majority of 97 other students from all across the United States that he barely got to know saw these leadership skills when they elected him the 67th president of the American Legion Boys Nation.
One of his favorite quotes from Thomas Jefferson is, “When people fear the government, it’s tyranny. When the government fears the people, it’s freedom.”
When someone asks if he is a Democrat or Republican, Toronto says he is an American.
Since the American Legion founded Boys Nation in 1946 to educate youth about the American government, program alumni have become presidents, congressmen, state governors and legislators.
A strong debater
Toronto is the second oldest of Allison and Jonathan Toronto’s seven children, the oldest being Anne Katherine, 19. Toronto is 17 years old and his younger siblings are Christian, Camille, Lorenzo, John and Abraham, who is five years old.
Whether it was getting the best seat or the last hamburger, he considered himself a strong debater as a child.
Although he loved a good debate growing up and he had gone to Washington D.C. with his family several years ago, he did not consider himself mature enough at that time to really appreciate its significance, according to Toronto.
Politics really became interesting to him starting in his freshman year American history class and subsequently when he got involved in the student council his junior year. He was elected president for next school year.
So when he heard about the Legion’s Boys State and Boys Nation programs, his interest in politics had grown to the point where he felt this would be a useful experience and he is incredibly thankful for the Anoka American Legion Edward B. Cutter Post 102 for sponsoring the trip to the nation’s capitol, Toronto said.
“The Legion has probably the most generous people I’ve ever met in my life,” he said.
A memorable part of the trip was visiting the war memorials with these veterans, Toronto said. “They gave everything to their country and they keep giving back to their community,” he said.
Toronto was one of 400 participants for the June 9-15 Minnesota’s Boys State program at Southwest Minnesota State University. The all-volunteer Boys State staff selected two students to travel to Washington D.C. to join a total of 98 delegates from 49 states, except Hawaii.
Anoka American Legion chairman Cliff Newman was excited to see Toronto elected president of Boys Nation. It had been 10 to 15 years since one of their sponsored boys made it to nationals of this 67-year-old program and 25 years since a Minnesotan was elected president, Newman said.
When Toronto arrived in Washington D.C. July 19, he was not already picked to be a candidate for the Boys Nation president. He had to earn the respect and trust of his fellow delegates, which the program calls senators.
The 98 senators were randomly placed in two fictional political parties — the Federalists and the Nationalists — so that not all conservatives or liberals would be in one party.
For two days, Toronto got to know his fellow senators and ultimately was selected to be the Federalists party nomination for president. He faced off in a debate against another fictional senator from California.
Toronto is undecided on his political future. His dream job would be to host a television news program that focuses on telling the positive stories of humanity. For now, his focus is on having a successful high school senior year before attending Brigham Young University in Utah, which requires a two-year missions trip.
Toronto like anyone has his opinions and reasoning, but his whole goal was to keep the race clean unlike many campaigns he has watched unfold in the media, he said.
“You can’t go wrong killing them with kindness. It’s a lost art,” Toronto said. “In a world of dirty campaigns and people who really disrespect each other, kindness is refreshing. If we can go back to that as a nation — to being kind to one another — it’ll be a truly sanctifying and refreshing experience for our country.”
These teenage senators had to offer some opinions on tough topics that the professional politicians continue to struggle with. A wide range of issues from the environment, to gun control, to immigration were addressed in the debate.
On immigration, for example, Toronto says America first must better secure its borders. For the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants already here, he supports streamlining the process so the hardest working ones can become citizens, he said.
After he was elected Boys Nation president, each of the 98 participants drafted a fictional bill on which everyone voted. Toronto’s bill was to balance the federal budget by establishing a requirement of equating spending and revenue by fiscal year 2025 through a constitutional amendment.
This failed in the Boys Nation Senate. According to Craig Roberts, a Capitol Hill and Pentagon correspondent for The American Legion Magazine, legislation introduced by senators in the Boys Nation and the American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls Nation programs is often killed or stalemated in committee much like what happens in the real Senate.
Toronto vetoed a proposed bill to legalize gay marriage across the country, but his veto was overridden by more than a two-thirds majority.
“I felt like, first it’s a state’s issue,” he said. “And then secondly, I think the traditional fabric of our nation is entrenched in that traditional marriage.”
While wrestling with this decision, Toronto had an opportunity to meet Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who did not tell Toronto whether his opinion was right or wrong. He just offered advice when Toronto sought it. One useful tip was that all answers can be found in the federal constitution.
Toronto could find no mention of marriage, so he argued this left the debate up to individual states.
It has been a tradition of the Boys Nation program to meet with the President of the United States.
“No matter what you feel on his policy, when the leader of the free world walks into a room, it will probably go down as my best memory of my entire high school career,” Toronto said of meeting President Barack Obama along with the other young senators.
Besides his parents, those who truly have inspired him are Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln. His religion is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Lincoln inspires him because he did what he thought was right, not what was popular.
“I’ve tried to teach my son that true leadership is nothing more than widening your influence for good,” Allison Toronto said.
“I think it was a tremendous program for him to participate in because it really teaches a rising generation the importance of our religious and civil liberties and that we need to protect the democratic process and defend freedom today.”
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org