WINTERPORT — Peter Van Overbeke, 17, was selected from the Dirigo State competition to attend Boys Nation in Washington, D.C., where he competed with students from all over the country during the annual national competition.

The Winterport teen was able to visit the White House and other national sites during the week-long competition July 22-30, he said.

Dirigo State is a program run by the American Legion where high school kids participate in a competition modeled after the Maine state and municipal governments.

In most other states, the American Legion runs a boys’ program called Boys State and the American Legion Auxiliary sponsors a separate but similar program for girls called Girls State, according to the American Legion website. Boys Nation is a similar program but modeled after the federal government.

The soon-to-be Hampden Academy senior was not well versed in how local, state and federal governments operate, so he was unsure about entering the competition, he said. Soccer, winter and spring track, French Club and the Bee Keeping Club take up most of his extra-curricular school activities and his job at Dunkin’ fills another chunk of his time.

A cousin in Minnesota encouraged Peter to compete despite his lack of knowledge of the state’s democratic process, he said. When he got to the competition at Thomas College, he excelled throughout program.

Students were divided into groups called towns of 20 to 25 kids and also given a party, he said. His town was called Chamberlain and his party was the Federalist. He ran for as many elected positions as he could and was voted to be he head of the Federalists. Then he was elected vice chairman of his party.

Ultimately, Peter won the senate president seat. He thinks he won because of his strong, confident speeches and the fact that he ran for many seats from the start of the competition. He was then chosen to represent Maine at the Boys Nation competition in Washington, D.C. in July.

When he got to the nation’s capital, he found the competition to be similar to Dirigo State. Peter said he felt little pressure going into the national competition but used a strategy similar to that of Dirigo State and ran for multiple elected positions. He was elected as the FBI director but did not win the other positions he ran for, including party chairman, party secretary and president.

In between vying for elected positions, there were mock senate sessions where students introduced bills, he said.

The atmosphere was more competitive than at Dirigo state, Peter said. He gained a firsthand look at how the democratic process works and why some bills get passed and some do not, despite the amount of time elected officials put into drafting them.

“Even if your bill seems like a good idea and you’ve spent hours researching, it can just not get passed,” he said.

Peter also had time to explore the capital, visiting Arlington Cemetery and the White House, among other landmarks.

Peter Van Overbeke, right, poses for a photo with other students surrounding Sen. Susan Collins, center, during the Boys Nation competition in Washington, D.C., in July. Courtesy of Peter Van Overbeke

As much as it can be taught in school, actively participating in mock senate meetings, giving speeches and participating in the program gives students a deeper understanding of how the government works, he said.

The program helped him build confidence and allowed him to learn from other students’ successes and failures, he said. So he can use techniques learned from other students to be successful in the future.

He encourages other students thinking about competing, to just do it despite their level of knowledge about the government, he said.  “I think everyone who has the ability to go to Dirigo State or whatever state program is offered in your state. You should absolutely do it,” he said. “It’s incredibly worth it.”

Peter Van Overbeke poses for a photo at the White House during the Boys Nation competition in July. Courtesy of Peter Van Overbeke