SWEDESBORO — While many people have to wait a little longer to find life-changing moments, Kingsway High School senior and future Harvard University student Dillon Dukes said he found his last summer.

Dukes said participating in New Jersey Boys State and being selected to represent the state at the prestigious Boys Nation in Washington, D.C., both put on by the American Legion, was a game changer.

Dillon Dukes with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. Photo courtesy of Dillon Dukes.

As he now wraps up his senior year to go into another life-shaping experience as a student at one of the most acclaimed universities in the country, Dukes said he feels he is prepared for just about anything.

“[Attending Boys State and Boys Nation] taught me how to work with other people, how to public speak, build my character, and the confidence to go into places where I don’t know anyone and be successful,” Dukes said.

Part of that comes from his upbringing. His parents, Damon Dukes, Sr. and Shana Dukes are founders of RockLife Church in Swedesboro. The elder Dukes is a former mortgage banker and his wife is an educator. Dillon Dukes said learning from both indelibly molded him.


“I grew up in a very Christian household,” Dukes said. “My motivations come from that background. I strive to live for Christ in everything I do and it’s important for me to shape all of my decisions from that. I wanted to be able to find interests so I can make an impact on the lives of other people in a positive way.”

Dukes said he has an interest in business and the law, and he is already contemplating attending law school or graduate school after earning his undergraduate degree. He said, though, he is open to where God takes him.

Photo courtesy of Dillon Dukes.

“I know the fields I want to get into but I don’t know exactly what in those fields,” Dukes said. “My interest in business probably came from my Dad because he put that business mentality into me a little bit. If you’re good in business, you can be good in a lot of things.”

Dukes said New Jersey Boys State and Boys Nation were eye-opening experiences for him — and helped define who he is as a person.

“Boys State was at Rider University with 700 others who have already been pretty successful guys in their communities,” Dukes said. “They all have already done some pretty impressive stuff.

“Everyone was on an equal playing field because no one knew each other and you’re on your own. I got to run for a position and was selected as one of two people to represent New Jersey at Boys Nation.”

At Boys Nation, Dukes met other accomplished teens from across the country and they learned about government, policy and how legislation works. He said the networking experience along the way was worth the trip.

Photo courtesy of Dillon Dukes.

“It allowed me to build my character and change my network forever,” Dukes said. “I met five guys who are going to be at Harvard with me in the fall. Now I know people who will be there before I even set foot on campus.”

That trip last summer seemed to be what Dukes had been building for. At Kingsway, he served as president of the New Jersey Association of Student Councils in 2022. He served as the student southern region vice president of the New Jersey DECA.

“New Jersey has the best public schools in the nation and I was fortunate to be at a high school where I had the opportunity to take AP classes that really challenged me and have clubs that you can really get involved in.”

Dukes is also a track athlete at Kingsway, following in the footsteps of his brother Damon Dukes, Jr., who was one of the school’s top sprinters last year and now runs collegiately at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

“I’m a four-year varsity athlete but I was not one of the best my freshman year,” Dukes said with a big laugh. “I was this scrawny little freshman but now I’m one of the best sprinters on the team, which has taught me a lot about the value of hard work and trusting the process.”

Dukes specializes in the jumping events, particularly the triple jump and the high jump where he recently recorded a personal best 6-2.

While his parents will now have to drive six hours to catch up with his exploits, he said his parents have been supportive.

“I wouldn’t be going if they weren’t,” Dukes said. “My mom’s having a hard time with it a little bit but they are both behind me.”

The Dukes family has already witnessed what their youngest son can do when he is left to himself, and the results have been awfully impressive.

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