It was a simple question: what is the one thing that you want out of the Conference on National Affairs? Most snickered at the idea of such a simple question; but when asked, they found themselves searching for words because, as humans, we generally want multiple things out of an experience. As I asked various delegates what they wanted most, I was able to see the true passion of each person shine through. When forced to choose solely one goal for their entire term at the conference, they chose their words carefully.

I had preconceived notions that delegates’ top priority would be to have their proposal advance as far as possible (and pass, of course!). Instead, I was astounded to find that the majority of those that I interviewed expressed a need for something more than just a good debate. These delegates had been working their fingers to the bone typing away on their computers in the hopes that their proposals would stand out, be of significance, and worthy of recognition. I figured that the meeting of new people and the bonds created over the duration of the conference would simply be a bonus, and that success with their proposals would be most important to them. During my interview process I identified four distinct CONA personalities, each of whom wanted something different from our week on the mountain.

The first type of delegate is one who wants to know more about the people of our country. Katie Van Ginkel, California delegation, noted that she wanted to “walk away with a broadened perspective of teenagers’ views on United States issues”. The second kind of delegate is striving for personal growth, with a desire to “see myself challenged on a level that I haven’t been able to anywhere else because I am surrounded by the most intelligent and rigorous kids in the country” says Sierra Parker, California Delegation. The third kind of delegate genuinely wants to make life-long friendships and absorb the “Blue Ridge spirit” as much as possible. Max Susko of Pennsylvania wants nothing more than to meet new people and build strong bonds with them because this is his last year rocking in the legendary rocking chairs. Tyler Govek of Wisconsin mentioned to me that “while [he] would love a free Eureka Treat the most, [he] mostly wanted to meet new friends, get to know people, and actually talk to all of them after the conference”. This seems to be a trend with many of the people that I came across: if they were to make any friends at all, they would be people that the delegates would keep in touch with for many years to come, held together by a bond that, as most of the return-ers will note, cannot be described. This brings me to the last of the four kinds of delegate: those that want to experience what cannot be expressed. I asked Mariah Corso of Pennsylvania about the one thing she sincerely wanted out of her time at Blue Ridge, and with no hesitation she conveyed that she wanted to experience “whatever anyone couldn’t describe.”

Interesting to me was that while most of the delegates undoubtedly wanted their proposals to excel, their hopes for a life-changing experience exceeded their hopes of getting their proposal to Plenary. The delegates genuinely wanted CONA to be about bonding with fellow delegates, building inexpressible bonds, learning more about the people around them, and improving their character in the way that only the Blue Ridge experience can.

Video by: Amber and Steph

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