By Ali Renckens, FL
Editor in Chief

Every time someone poured out their heart at a delegation meeting, every time I passed someone with soft, tear-stained eyes in the hallway, every time the gorgeous mountains made me catch my breath, every time I found myself in a conversation with someone

I would not have usually spoken to, I felt it. Over the past three years on the mountain, I have cried, shaken hands, laughed, reflected, worked and hugged. CONA delegates understand why James Taylor wrote Carolina in My Mind. It isn’t a sweet-sounding description of a beautiful place; it describes the heartbreak of missing home. To me, it describes the Blue Ridge Spirit.

“Whisper something soft and kind.” The Blue Ridge Spirit is encouragement and support, not just through words, but people going out of their way to let you know that you are worthwhile.

But it is also standing up and yelling. It is pride. Not arrogance, but pride in heritage and legacy, pride in fellow delegates and pride in your delegation.

It is the core values: respect, caring, honesty, responsibility and faith.

The Blue Ridge Spirit is a spirit of acceptance. It is embracing those who spoke against your proposal, who disagree with everything you stand for and still being able not only to tolerate them, but find a respect for and strength from them. More than that, it is friendship. It is knowing that you are not alone, “With a holy host of others standing ‘round me.” It is connecting with people you would not have usually spoken to. It is the people you bond with, the family you create by finding the deepest part of the Blue Ridge Spirit: love.

“There ain’t no doubt in no one’s mind that love’s the finest thing around.” Without it, none of the other aspects would function.
The Blue Ridge Spirit is not confined to the white porch of Lee Hall. It is not affected by how many Cheerwines were drunk, or how loudly a delegation chanted at mealtime. It is something around and inside us every day. We can go to Carolina in our minds because it is in our minds and hearts. And we can carry it with us everywhere. Even when we do not see it or cannot find it in ourselves, the spirit that we always find at Blue Ridge is made by the people, not the mountain.

“Walk her way and watch it shinin’.”

“A silver tear appearing, now I’m crying  … You must forgive me … I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind.”

Photo by Ja Kaufmann, MO