Shyam Kannan Elected Secretary of State at Prestigious Missouri Boys State

Posted on 08/15/2017
Shyam Kannan (left) with Missouri Governor Eric Greitens (right) at Missouri Boys State

The American Legion’s Missouri Boys State is a prestigious program that brings together the best and brightest high school juniors in the state every year, designed to foster individual success and leadership. Participants not only learn how to make a difference in their world, they actually practice it. Using the United States’ democratic system of government, MBS attendees construct their own state, and Francis Howell North student Shyam Kannan was elected as one of its leaders, Secretary of State.

Kannan wasn’t sure what to expect when he first learned about MBS, but after hearing some American Legion representatives speak and watching their videos, he began to imagine the possibilities. “I just thought how much fun that would be,” Kannan said, “and what I could accomplish with that experience – how people were working together and gaining leadership skills.” In addition, he’d always been interested in civics. “You can ask my government teacher, friends and I talk about politics before class all the time.” He even volunteered for a candidate in the 2016 state elections, doing door-to-door canvasing.

The political angle was an obvious attraction, but something else piqued his interest. “The other bright spot was making friends with all these people,” he said. “You are assigned a certain ‘city.’ So there were about five people who went from (FHN), but none of them were in my city. I was living with people I didn’t know, and it was a chance to learn how to make friends again, because I had been with the same group of people going through high school. I think I was able to make friends with almost everyone there, so it really builds your social skills. It was kind of like going to college before actually going to college.”

Social skills are important, but Kannan also used his creativity and perseverance to get elected to one of the conference’s leading positions. He didn’t anticipate much success prior to running, however, citing his novice public speaking skills. He focused on writing positions, instead, but was unsuccessful. Shyam took the losses as victories, though, wisely picked up a pattern among the winners and losers. The losers of the elections were focusing too much on what they had accomplished in the past, forgetting that they were speaking to fellow high-achievers. “Everyone there already a great list of accomplishments that would make them a good choice for a position. You were supposed to tell your voters what you were going to do.

Finally, his perseverance paid off. He won a council seat, refreshing his confidence. For the Secretary of State position, however, Shyam had to do some hustling – both literally and figuratively. He had to run from city to city, and get signatures from his assigned political party. Additionally, just like a real politician, he also had to raise funds for his campaign. “After I paid all my fees and taxes for running for different offices, I had about $30 left.” As a politician, wasn’t he supposed to be running a deficit? He joked back, “Well, the food was free.”

Shyam Kannan (center) gets congratulated by his peersHumor and charisma will take a politician a long way, which was another lesson he learned. He went up for his speech wearing sunglasses, and told the crowd he’s wearing them because they’re all so bright he couldn’t see. But that was just the primary election. He stepped it up a notch for the general election ... by singing. “I remembered Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ had a nice line to use for an election, about how I’m ‘never gonna let you down.’” Shyam’s rendition had the crowd singing along, earning him a standing ovation.

“We are so proud of our son,” said Shyam’s mother, Sreedevi. “He gained more friends in just eight days, gained public administration skills, and worked hard to get elected as MBS Secretary of State. We are also happy that Shyam met our honorable Missouri Governor, Mr. Eric Greitens, at MBS, and took a picture with him. Our sincere thanks to Francis Howell North School and the MBS sponsor for providing this great opportunity to Shyam.”

Kannan takes so many skills back to the classroom from MBS, such as leadership and collaboration, but the bonds he created with his fellow attendees will go with him beyond school. “If I ever go into politics or office,” he said, “I’ll think Boys State was what kick-started it.” And he’ll go back next year to help guide other students.

“Every legionnaire will tell you it’s a life-changing experience,” he said, and then added with a laugh, “and at first you’ll roll your eyes. But when you actually go through the program and participate, you’ll gain a lot.” Shyam pointed out that students do have to participate in the activities, and not just attend, to get the most out of it. “If you go and participate and try to make a positive difference in your city, it will be a life-changing event.” And that applies to not just to MBS, but right here in our community, every day.

Several Francis Howell School District students attended MBS this summer, five from FHN alone (Kannan, Grant Freitas, Ian Perry, Colby Winner, and Michael Murphy, Jr.), as well as one student from Francis Howell High School (Matt Bahan).

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