Conference on National Affairs

I was one of the lucky few to attend the Conference on National Affairs (CONA) in 2012 after I graduated high school.

Here is excerpt from their website[1] about the conference:

"This program offers unusual opportunities for a young person to do research in the area of National and International concern; to organize this information into a documented proposal; to engage in intensive discussion and to debate these proposals with understanding young people from other states.

Young people who have participated in the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs are unanimous in their belief that this experience makes a vital contribution in helping young citizens to learn more about the democratic form of Government."

I'm such a firm believer in the value of the conference, not just for informing me abou the democratic form of Goverment, but also for helping me become a more well rounded person that I'm going to present to you all an article that I wrote while at the conference.

For context, I participated in Youth in Goverment and Model United Nations most years I was in high school. However, instead of attending as a delegate that would write and defend proposals, I spent most years as part of the press. During those conferences the press is responsible for keeping track of all the major events and releasing videos and articles throughout the week. Since even back then I was a tech nerd, I helped on the video side of the press department and even had a lot of really incredible opportunities to step up as a leader. Every year Tennessee selects a group of representatives to send to CONA and they rarely pick people from the press team to go. I was fortunate to be selected. However, while I was going to be TN's press representative, I was also a delegate. As a result, I was required to not only write for the newspaper, I was require to stand infront of large group of people and present a proposal on anything that I wanted to be part of our democratic process.

Below you will find the article that I wrote during my time there. I found a copy of it in my bookmarks[2]

The Journal of a CONA Delegate


I woke this morning super pumped and excited to start the greatest leadership experience that I’ve been offered in my life. As we make this excruciatingly long trip I began to hear more details about the trip that help to sweeten this already great deal. Then it came, the sign to YMCA CONA Blue Ridge Assembly! Overwhelming emotions of joy and excitement and the feeling that I’m sure everyone felt, fear. We slowly maneuvered our way with the massive bus on one of the tiniest roads I’ve ever seen up the mountain to something that shocked me. This antique building that would be my home for the next week so famously known as Lee Hall. From there everything started to go downhill…or should I say I started to go up mountain. We took our first steps off the bus to discover that the boxes that we had so recently placed on our bus had to not only be unloaded, but carried up a hill up 3 flight of steps in what was probably the most excruciating feeling that my legs had felt in quite some time; however, by the time I had made my way to the first flight of stairs, there was a group of eager delegates ready to assist me with the grueling experience that they had dealt with only a few hours ago. Then the fear struck through as my advisor said, its time for the new delegate meeting. I realized that I wasn’t prepared for this- no opening or closing statement, not enough research to be ready for my presentation (after all, what do I know about politics?) I’ve always been a press kid. I walked over to what I hoped was Heaton Hall where I discovered 6 individuals on a stage totally prepared for this week and then it began. Our PO’s began to tell us all sorts of things about what we should do and how we should do it, but then they told us about something at this conference that makes it a little bit different than any other conference I’ve been to- the famous Blue Ridge Spirit. I recalled something my press advisor was telling me about, something about “this weird feeling you’ll get inside, but it’s not describable.” Even as I go to bed tonight I wonder what is the spirit. I know they told us about what it is, but I’m curious as to whether or not it’s really a thing or is just something they say to try and get us to be more friendly.

Sunday morning

Ugh, I couldn’t sleep a wink last night. It was so hot and the hallways outside my room were always making some creaky or banging noise as people walked in and out of their rooms to and from the bathroom. I’m really starting to regret the fact that I missed a great research opportunity at home to come to this thing….wait its Sunday! That means that I have to present today! I’m so exhausted and I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do, let alone say. Man this is going to be one awful day ahead of me.

Sunday afternoon

So I know this is going to sound weird, but I think I’m starting to understand this Blue Ridge Spirit thing. My PSG went great. Everyone asked some really good questions that got me thinking about how to amend my paper to make it a more appropriate issue and what kind of questions to research. Who knew they would be that obscure? In addition, the opening ceremony was strangely comforting; it made me feel like I could work past my fear of public speaking. I know people always say the same things to try and make it easier, but for some reason it was more comforting this time. Now, I just sat down with a few of my state’s delegates who have worked with parliamentary procedure before (aka everyone but me) and they’ve given me some great tips on what to say in my opening and closing and now all I have to do is speak…. AHHHHH I have to get up in front of a group and speak, this is worse then taking all that luggage up to the rooms. Okay got to stay calm here I go.

Sunday after dinner

Woo hoo, I can’t believe I just got up there and spoke in front of that many people, and I wasn’t even that nervous. I think I was able to answer most of their questions, at least I hope. Everyone made it so easy, just like what they said in the opening ceremonies, “Everyone here is accepting and inquisitive so don’t be afraid to get out there and give it your all!” This gathering feeling, this feeling of unity, it’s great. No one to judge, just to help, its nice and somewhat homey. Could this be this Blue Ridge Spirit they were talking about? That weird sense that makes you want to be here, that sense that makes you actually enjoy stepping out of your comfort zone. I don’t know… I’m still trying to get past the fact that I spoke in front of people. It’s time to head back to committee!

Sunday night

It’s nearly midnight and I just finished talking to my roommate for the past 30 minutes about completely random facts and the hour or so before that out in the hall joking around with my new friends. I came into this conference completely disconnected from the other delegates from my state, always thinking, “They were delegates and I was a press kid. What, if anything, could we have in common at an event like this?” I don’t know what happened but since I’ve gotten here I’ve sort of been a little more outgoing and open, ready to take another step into the world of CONA. Ask me a day ago and I would have said, rank me really, really high. I don’t want to ever do this again, but now, well, I’m oddly comfortable with standing in front of this group of people and debate my ideas to see its weak and strong points. Even today I was willing to go out onto the porch of Lee Hall and introduce myself to completely random people and discuss my proposal. I don’t know something about this environment and the people in it. Everyone says that the Blue Ridge Spirit affected them throughout their week here, so I can’t wait to see what it’s got in store for me!


This is my first conference so even I don’t know how this story ends, but I hope that each and everyone of you gets the benefits of this experience from as the “veterans” like to say, the Blue Ridge Spirit, but as I like to say, you the people here at the conference. You are the ones who make the real difference in the environment that surrounds us, whether it be helping us present a proposal or even just the move in for the week. I look forward to the rest of my time with all of you and welcome to the 45th annual YMCA Conference of National Affairs.

Looking back

Most importantly, I know this is cheesy, but I was super proud of it. As far as articles go, it was ranked super highly during the conference because it seemed like I was the only person to connect with the feeling even though most people weren't press kids. (Plus let's be honest, I'm not much less cheesy now adays either)

Jokes aside, I'm greatful for the expierence. This was one of the first times where I didn't feel this overwhelming urge to run away right completing a presentation in a group larger than 30 people. I truely believe that this was a pivotal part of my journey that has lead me to the point today where I know present to C-Suite level executives and entire departments of staff on a regular basis. Thanks to my delegation for the experience, this will always be the rose that help bring me out from behind the camera!

Also, just for fun, here is a small video from that year:

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