Jack M. Densmore, TX
Staff Writer

In 1968, 62 delegates came together in Stone Mountain, Ga., to celebrate the first YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs (CONA). They traveled from eight different states. In 2016, 637 delegates from 39 states, the District of Columbia and the Model United Nations have come together in Black Mountain, N.C., to celebrate 49 years of intense debate, long-lasting friendships and a feverish desire to better our country and our world.

Since CONA’s founding, there has been an effort to involve all 50 states, an aspiration being emphasized as the 50th anniversary approaches. Progress continues as Nebraska joins the conference for the first time, and North Dakota returns for the first time since 1981. Even states without Youth and Government (or Youth in Government) programs can participate. This year those states are Alaska, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Utah. Collectively, they are known as the Ambassador delegation.

Since CONA moved to the Blue Ridge Assembly in 1972, delegates look forward to certain traditions every year. You already experienced the reception, where strangers become acquainted, old friends reunite and everyone is encouraged to trade state pins and shirts. Delegates can also indulge in tasty sweets during their down time, such as the chilly and creamy Eureka Treat or a cold Cheerwine, a North Carolina native beverage. Each morning delegates wake up to the sound of “Carolina in the Morning.” As the sun rises over the Blue Ridge Mountains, some sit in the green rocking chairs on the Eureka Hall porch to take in the magnificent view.

The most important, yet intangible, tradition you’ll encounter is spirit. You’ll discover the Blue Ridge Spirit for yourself, through thoughts, words and actions, all of which should spring forth naturally from the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the inspiring people around you. Spirit fingers substitute for clapping. Delegations battle each other with state pride through chants at breakfast, lunch and dinner. While displaying regional pride, delegates seek ways to improve our nation as a united whole.

Whatever state or delegation you represent, make your own mark and make your own traditions. Today’s the day you become a part of CONA history.

An abbreviated version of this article appears in the first July 3 edition of The Blue Ridge Journal.