By Saskia Ghosh, OK

It seems fitting that the Youth Conference on National Affairs is held on the grounds of the now dormant Black Mountain College. Founded in 1933, Black Mountain College was somewhat of an experimental liberal arts school. Owned and operated by the faculty, the college revolved around the belief that the arts were central to one’s learning experience. One of the key founders, John Andrew Rice, was fired from his previous tenure at Rollins College for his objection to many policies in place at the college.

As written by author Alessandro Porco: “Rice [took] a stand against a new regimented eight-hour school day, the presence of sororities and fraternities on campus, and the practice of competitive debate. Instead, he followed a Progressive teaching creed. Rice espoused intellectual autonomy over objective measurement of standards. He valued personal engagement over adherence to rigid instruction. Aiming to facilitate human capabilities, Rice insisted students pursue their own interests.”

Attracting up-and-coming poets, designers, artists and composers, Black Mountain was more of a community than a college; faculty and students thrived and created new ideas, living communally and working together. A multitude of great minds such as Joel Oppenheimer, John Cage and Clement Greenberg attended. However, due to its experimental nature, much of its creative output received backlash during the period it was published. Its countercultural, avant-garde product was labeled as misfit art and literature. Although frowned upon by many, great artists, composers, and writers eventually blossomed as geniuses in the artistic world for their uniqueness, new perspective and imaginative ideas.

As we congregate here this summer, one should have a certain level of awareness of the seemingly endless extent of creativity and positively impactful ideas that were cultivated at Black Mountain. We are not so different from the faculty and students who came to this very same spot only a few decades before us. We too have passion for what we enjoy and believe in. As youth, we have the chance to make a mark on the world we live in, be it in art, science, or politics. So, as we come here for this eventful week, let us remember why we are here: to make a difference through exchanging, cultivating, and supporting new ideas with our peers, to embrace the differences that we all have, and to feel comfortable in expressing oneself no matter the criticism faced