POLAND — One thing that Poland Central School District senior Dominic Altamura Jr. learned while attending American Legion Boys State during the summer was that the best way to grasp an opportunity is to reach for it.

When Altamura, 17, applied to write editorials for the Boys State newspaper, he initially thought it might be similar to many school clubs where you just volunteer for a role and you get it.

He, however, found out there were about 20 people trying for two positions, so he had to sell himself to decisions-makers.

"You learn that stuff isn’t going to just come to you," he said. "You have to really go for it."

Boys State teaches students who just completed their junior year of high school about government, physical fitness, teamwork and more under the guidance of American Legion counselors and U.S. Marines.

Altamura decided to apply for Boys State after receiving a pamphlet at school, and he interviewed for the spot in front of members of the American Legion. He was accepted and made the trip to Boys State on a bus, thinking the experience would mainly be sitting in a room learning about the government.

"I didn’t know what to expect," he said.

When the bus arrived, a man in a military uniform was blowing a whistle and yelling at the attendees to get off the bus. One student left his bag on the bus and was made to do pushups while everybody else watched. The attendees were assigned rooms and roommates, and where they lived was divided into cities and counties to help them learn about the government and elections. They don’t stay with people they know, Altamura said, noting he only saw the one person he knew before Boys State a couple of times. You also learn to live with some people that you don’t like, he said.

A Marine assigned to Altamura’s living area found one of the roommates didn’t make his bed as is required, so the Marine threw the bed in the hallway. When the Marine found another attendee brought snacks even though snacks weren’t allowed, he dumped out the snacks. And when attendees were required to march, if they messed up, they had to do some running, Altamura said.

The military aspect of Boys State helps you gain a better understanding of what the military does, Altamura said. "You will have more of an appreciation for the military and the country," he said.

Some attendees were already signed up for the military, and some were inspired to join during or shortly after Boys State, Altamura said, noting he received information in the mail afterward. He put some thought into it, but knew it wasn’t for him.

Altamura plans to either apply to Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business for marketing and advertising or go to Herkimer College for two years and then apply to RIT.

There were many opportunities during Boys State that attendees could apply for – such as running for office or joining yearbook, video, newspaper and lawyer teams. Altamura successfully joined the newspaper and lawyer teams — including taking a bar exam — and wanted to run for office until he found out you couldn’t run for office if you were part of the newspaper.

One of Altamura’s opinion columns was about a student who was 10 minutes late for an event and said he was late because he lost his pants. The student was then nicknamed "Pants" and turned it into a run for governor that was almost successful. The column was about how the pants incident ended up giving the attendee more confidence in his public speaking.

Altamura also wrote about a variety of other subjects such as whether Boys State and Girls State should be merged and how the student who was elected governor wasn’t that different from the candidate he defeated — a column the student governor told him he wasn’t too happy about.

Altamura learned not only what it’s like to work for a newspaper, but also some aspects that relate to his goal of working in marketing and advertising.

Boys State also helped students who didn’t initially interact with others to do so, Altamura said.

"It was a good experience to just get out there and talk to people," he said.

Altamura created new friendships during Boys State, and he keeps in touch with other attendees he lived in the same pretend county as through a group chat.

"You meet a lot of people there that you have fun with," he said.

Altamura said he would recommend Boys State to others. "You get a lot more than you initially think you would from it," he said. "It’s a lot more fun than they make it sound."