First, 17-year-old Simeon Toronto met the president. Then he was elected president.
The Andover High School senior-to-be represented Minnesota at the recent American Legion-sponsored Boys Nation in Washington, D.C. But his road to the White House, an audience with President Obama and his election as president of the 67th Boys Nation began years ago — long before he was voted Andover senior class president, became an Eagle Scout or was named co-captain of the high-school track and cross-country teams and president of his choral group.
“Sim is the second-oldest of seven children,” said his mother, Allison Toronto. “He learned the value of humility in a hurry.”
Toronto is ranked 10th in his class and is a member of the National Honors Society. But if you ask him, he tells you that there are smarter kids at Andover High.
He has run the half-mile competitively in 2 minutes, 9 seconds, but he prefers to talk about the teammate who has shattered the 2-minute mark.
He’s 6-feet-2-inches tall and loves playing basketball but would rather talk about his younger brother who is 6-3 and can outrebound him.
He is built like a thermometer, weighing only 145 pounds. Yet, when he speaks, the weight of his words makes a sound impression.
“I am self-confident,” he said. “It has nothing to do with thinking I’m the best — because that’s not me. But I’m confident in knowing that I try my best.
“And what I try to do is treat everyone with kindness. It’s almost a lost art. It shouldn’t be.”
Simeon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, hopes to attend Brigham Young University a year from now. He has the uncanny ability to remember the names and faces of everyone he meets. There were 98 representatives from 49 states at Boys Nation, and Simeon says he remembered them all.
Getting to know the other Boys Nation senators who would elect him was crucial. But it is Simeon’s positive message that ultimately has sold him to classmates, teammates, his choral group and his Boys State and Boys Nation peers.
Boys State is a program that simulates the democratic process. Boys State and Boys Nation got a boost two decades ago when a photo circulated of a teenage Bill Clinton meeting President John Kennedy at a Boys Nation gathering at the White House.
Simeon was sponsored by the Edward B. Cutter Post 102 in Anoka. Before heading to Washington last month, he stopped by the Legion hall and shook everyone’s hand. He wasn’t looking for votes.
“I wanted to thank them for this opportunity,” he said.
He was convinced that he had nothing to lose by running for Boys Nation president — just as he had nothing to lose when he ran for Boys Nation senator.
“Sometimes you have to shoot for the moon,” he said.
So he arrived in Washington with a goal and a message.
“I wanted to be genuine,” he said. “You can’t go wrong killing them with kindness.
“Looking back, I was definitely not the smartest or most eloquent guy there,” he said. “However, what I think helped me in my race for president was my ability to treat people as they deserve, no matter what background they come from. I’m able to connect with a wide range of people, liberal and conservative, and interact with them civilly. I tried to connect with people beyond just getting their vote.”
He met an alligator wrestler from Louisiana, a rancher from Montana. And he met President Obama.
“I don’t always agree with President Obama’s policies, but I have the greatest respect for him,” Simeon said. “It was the thrill of a lifetime to get a tour of the White House. But when President Obama walked into that room and smiled, the entire White House lit up. He was only with us a few minutes, but the memory will last a lifetime.
“He’s the leader of the free world! How great is that?”
Simeon made the trip to Washington without his family. (Parents aren’t allowed at Boys Nation.) But he was scheduled to return this week — part of a family vacation that was planned more than a year ago, his mother said.
From Washington, Simeon and his mother are to fly to Houston for another Boys Nation conference, they said. His mother isn’t worried about any of this going to his head. Nor has Simeon altered his goal to pursue a career in either business or television journalism.
“I’d like to create a TV show that emphasizes positive news,” he said. “Surely, there must be people who would welcome some good news into their lives.”