By: Carter Coudriet, NJ
A vital facet of the Blue Ridge experience, a delegate’s sense of social responsibility is fostered with each step of the CONA journey. While the fact that the conference’s participants are some of the most intelligent young minds in the nation, the conference leadership looks not only to develop skills, but to learn how to use these skills to benefit society. “[CONA] gives them an opportunity to expand their horizons beyond their backyard,” commented Jaspreet Bains, Louisiana advisor. “If they didn’t have firm [ideals] established already, they will establish them here.”

The perspective gained through the uniquely diverse debate at the Conference on National Affairs serves as a primary medium for sharing ways to become more community-minded people. “I think the most important thing that debate at CONA teaches us is that our differences in opinions and values don’t separate us but unite us as a global community,” commented New Jersey delegate Shyamala Ramakrishna.

In addition to moderated discussion, interaction outside the debate room provides avenues for delegates to discover different sides of their social responsibilities. By casually swapping stories and comparing reactions to events like Hurricane Sandy or the recent Supreme Court decisions, each individual can learn to consider a different point of view when working in their own communities. “I’ve learned that you have to be responsible with your actions,” said Teddy Hamilakis from Connecticut. “I’m not the most outspoken person, but through CONA I can explore the option of discussing my views, and I can use that in my town to help my community.”

Many delegates have grasped this important part of conference and have made social responsibility a focus of their own lives. By empowering New Mexico’s youth, delegate Carlos Vigil has epitomized the purpose of the YMCA programs in which he is involved. “I serve on the Board of Directors for the New Mexico Extreme Sports Association, which teaches an empowerment of youth to go out and do sports they would not do normally.” Vigil also serves on the Junior Board of Directors of the US New Mexico Federal Credit Union, where he “[develops] a product that teaches New Mexico youth financial literacy and awareness.”

Advisor Eddrick Martin from Louisiana reflected on the powerful effect of CONA’s diversity on one’s feeling of civil duty, saying, “From conference, they gain a heightened sense of civic engagement to take back to their locales. They really get to see a varying level of viewpoints.”