As he was growing up in Green River, Wyo., Chris Andrews’ perception of the happenings in places like New York City and Washington, D.C., was that they were almost occurring in another country.
“‘This is a big issue for people who are making big decisions, this isn’t for us.’ So coming out of that environment is pretty challenging in a lot of ways,” Andrews recalled.
But his experiences at Wyoming Boys State and American Legion Boys Nation in the summer of 2009 opened his eyes.
“I get to participate in this world as much as anybody else, and there’s no reason that a kid from a small town in the middle of nowhere can’t be a part of this. On the other side of that coin, a kid from a small town in the middle of nowhere has a responsibility to be a part of this,” said Andrews, who was elected Boys Nation President a decade ago and credits his participation in the programs to helping shape his career as a public servant.
“I am a far better person today for having gone to Boys State, and a far better person for having gone to Boys Nation. It’s absolutely a life-changing experience,” he said.
Today, Andrews works for the federal government in Washington, a city he never expected to go to when he first heard about the Boys State program from his high school history teacher, Nathan Loe, and then-commander of American Legion Post 28 in Green River, Harry Holler.
“I didn’t actually know about Boys Nation prior to going to Boys State; I thought it was just one week and it was a civics course for students who were in the state, so my scope was limited to Wyoming,” Andrews said. “I think it was the second to last day that we were there, the Legionnaires gathered us all into the assembly area and said, ‘OK, we’re picking the people who are going to go to Boys Nation. You should cast your vote based on who you think best exemplifies the values of Wyoming Boys State, who will represent us well.’ And of course, I was amongst some very impressive people, and I voted for two guys that I thought were just really outstanding people that I had got to know over the course of the week, and who I’ve since come to know a little bit better since we left high school and kind of moved on with our lives.”
While Andrews thought the opportunity to spend a week in the nation’s capital with other young men from across the nation sounded great, he wasn’t sure he knew enough to be picked.
“They tallied the votes and did a little curating, come to find out my name was one of the two that was picked. I said, ‘OK, I guess my plans (for the summer) have changed a little bit,’” he said.
At Wyoming Boys State, Andrews had lost in the race for governor. But he didn’t let that prevent him from eyeing a run at the presidency of Boys Nation.
“I thought, ‘Might as well toss my hat in the ring. I’m going to be involved somehow, so this election, I’ve got as good a chance as any of winning this one,’” he said.
Plus, there was the chance to make a bit of history.
“I had been told before going to Boys Nation that there has never been a president from Wyoming. I thought, ‘Oh, this would be a neat point of pride for me and could mean something to folks back home. This is something I really ought to do,’” Andrews said.
Andrews had to work to earn the Federalist Party presidential nomination — “I think I had the least number of votes allowed to still stay in the running for two rounds of voting” — but he took the time in between votes to reach out to voters and get to know them.
“Worst-case scenario that comes out of this, I meet somebody that I can become friends with,” he said. “Pretty soon the votes started coming in, and then, lo and behold, I got the party primary and I was just over the moon. I had no expectations going in, and so I was just extremely excited.”
Andrews defeated Tim Schwan of North Carolina in the presidential election.
“The first thing when I got elected I went and called my mom, stepped outside for a minute, ‘Hey, mom, you’re never going to believe this.’ She didn’t for a second. I was thrilled to be elected,” Andrews said.
While Andrews was always interested in politics and public service, with teachers like Loe and others inspiring him to care about history and a citizen’s role in the government, he called his time at Boys State and Boys Nation “an invaluable experience” in shaping his future.
“First of all, it put me into a network of people who have a shared interest and enthusiasm for civics and participation in social and government life. Even years later, it’s been 10 years since I went to Boys Nation, I’m still meeting people who say, ‘Oh, I know what Boys State is’ or ‘I had a really great time there.’ It’s really brought me into a family of sorts.
“But for the program itself, it really sort of stoked the flames that I already had for my interest in civil service and wanting to participate in something that’s bigger than myself. It really instilled in me values of patriotism — not in the sense of beating the chest and parading the flag around, but in committing to working and trying to make life better for others, and not being selfish, being the best person that I can be so that others might have a little bit better life. That really was a foundational part of the values set at Wyoming Boys State — especially in such a sparsely populated area, people have to care for each other. That was really a core part of my education; I tried to take that with me to Boys Nation and then to college and my professional life and beyond. It really was a life-changing experience,” he said.
Having the experience of Boys State and Boys Nation is “very much a feather in the cap,” Andrews added.
“When people see Boys State and Boys Nation on a resume, they immediately see this person has an interest in leadership and leadership potential. The programs have been around for such a long time and they have such a great reputation that people are bound to take a look at that and say, ‘Wow, this is somebody that I might have a shared experience with,’ or ‘This is somebody whose experiences would be a valuable asset in my team, my company.’ It’s absolutely a career booster, and if nothing else, it gives you a connection that might open doors somewhere else,” he said.