Sending a representative both Boys Nation and Girls Nation from the same area of a state is very unique, but it is even more rare to have them both come from the same American Legion post.
That was the case when Hailey Pitches and Ben Black were chosen to represent Post 129 in Jacksonville Beach during the 2023 program, which included a trip to Washington D.C.
Pitches is a senior at Nease High School and is a member of the school’s NJROTC program, and she has accepted a scholarship offer to attend the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, while Black is a senior at Ponte Vedra High School and will be attending the United States Naval Academy after graduation.
For both, the opportunity to take part in initiatives was an honor and something they will always cherish, and they shared their experiences and journeys to this point during Post 129’s meeting on Feb. 1.
“For me the coolest thing was getting to meet all the different girls and all their different backgrounds,” Pitches said. “It was completely unexpected for me, because I went in with a preconceived notion that it was going to be a hyper competitive environment and that the girls would all be fighting for these leadership opportunities. But I quickly realized that instead we were supporting each other and building bonds, which was the best part for me.”
According to Pitches, the fact that she had some leadership experience prior to it, she was able to fully embrace being a mentor to girls.
Black had a similar experience to Pitches and also cherished the amount of people he has had the opportunity to meet and interact with along the way, and he believes those relationships are ones he looks to build upon moving forward.
“It’s very easy when you’re here in Florida to see things from your own lens and the way you view things, but when you meet kids who grew up in the middle of Kentucky or California, you learn how they see the world as well,” Black said. “The spirit of Boys and Girls Nation is that you are talking about politics and current issues, and it becomes much easier to understand other viewpoints and come to respect those diverse opinions.”
Talking politics is not something that Black shies away from and he hopes to pursue a career in the social sciences and political science realm during his time at the Naval Academy.
Pitches wants to become an intelligence officer in the military, and she chose West Point over the other services academies due to it offering an international affairs major track as well as many other course paths that intrigued her.
Neither had parents who served in the military, but still found it their calling to serve their country the best way they know how, and they credit their involvement in Boys State and Girls State for helping define their path.
“For someone like me, a lot of my exposure to it has come from my interactions with veterans and people who are in the Legion,” Black said. “The projects they do and are involved with has really opened my eyes to how important they are to our community.”