I remember my first trip to Blue Ridge, two years ago. Nervous. Unsure of what to expect. Half-hoping the bus would break down. (The bus didn’t, but the AC did.) Since then, CONA has become one of the most-anticipated weeks of my high school years. For first-year delegates, here are a few suggestions of what you should do to make the most of your CONA experience:

  1. Meet new people. Actually, this is almost unavoidable. As an officer on the media corps for the past two years, a large portion of my 1week has been spent in a subterranean room in the Blue Ridge Center, glued to my laptop. Personally, I made a lot of my CONA friends in the bathroom, wiping away smeared mascara after an emotional roundtable or waiting in line for the shower.
  2. 2Have a Eureka Treat and/or Cheerwine. Yes, one of the missions of the YMCA is “Healthy Living.” But did you walk that cursed slope between the Blue Ridge Center and Lee Hall? You earned it.
  3. Trade pins and T-shirts. It’s a great way to meet new people, acquire fun souvenirs, and display your Blue Ridge Spirit when you return home.
  4. Take time to admire the mountains. And take lots of pictures. (Fun fact: Cheerwine and good company have been proven to better the view from the Lee Hall porch in four out of four delegates.)
  5. Embrace everything CONA. Friendships. Spirit fingers. Seersucker. Eureka Treats. Tears. Darting. Chanting. Blisters. Moments. Accept it all as part of the CONA experience.
  6. Don’t miss your daily edition of The Blue Ridge Journal and our news show (a link will be posted on all our social media6 sites). The media corps devotes itself to capturing memories of your CONA experience. For photos, videos, updates, and maybe a few surprises, follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@BRJCONA), like us on Facebook (The Blue Ridge Journal), watch videos of each legislative session on our YouTube channel (CONAmedia), and read our blog (ymcaconablog.org).
  7. Find your Blue Ridge Spirit. I can’t give you the Buzzfeed-style “12 Ways to Find Your Blue Ridge Spirit (number 7 will blow your mind!).” You have to find it for yourself. However, it seems to surround delegates who allow themselves to be authentic and vulnerable. Open your ears, mind, and heart this week. The Blue Ridge Spirit is all around you. Usually, you will find it with honesty, respect, responsibility, faith and caring.

In the Blue Ridge Spirit,

Ali Renckens, 2014 CONA editor-in-chief