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A compilation of the videos, blog posts and photos produced by the 2018 YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs media staff.

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July 5, 2018

Blue Ridge Journal Final Daily Video for July 5, 2018

Dear CONA Video: Blue Ridge Journal staff thanks conference

2018 Plenary photo album

2018 Awards and Closing Ceremonies photo album

July 4, 2018

Blue Ridge Journal Daily video for July 4, 2018: Our show is taken over by ALIENS! Get your latest updates on General Assembly, a day of free time on the mountain (and off), as well as another one of our Delegate Spotlights!

2018 General Assembly photo album

CONA democracy undergoes changes By Beth Walker, NM Third Committee voting changes from ranking each proposal on criteria to ranking all proposals in committee based on which should see priority.

CONA celebrates another Independence Day by Offering Gifts to America By Ashley Hatch, CO, and Gloria Ogunlade, TX | Photo by Amelia Blair, AL

America’s Birthday Gift Video: 2018 CONA delegates tell the Blue Ridge Journal what present they’d like to give to their country.

When decorum deteriorates, division follows By Sarah Jones, DE | Photo by  Amulyah Anken

Former delegate serves country this Fourth of July By Ashley Hatch, CO Eddie Fantauzzo, a Colorado delegate to the Youth Conference on National Affairs, instead of attending the conference enlists in the Navy.

‘Merica photo album

Delegate’s story sparks a special bond in Committee X By Erin Gretzinger, WI

July 3, 2018

Blue Ridge Journal Daily video for July 3, 2018: Seersucker Tuesday, Mascot contest, making the food

P.O. Deen Haleem returns for fifth year By Gloria Ogunlade, TX

Carolinas come together to strengthen each other’s conferences By Sarah Jones, DE | Photo by Caroline Bell, NC

Azia Greenman, delegate spotlight

National Y settles YIG vs. YAG debate By Sarah Jones, DE

Blast from the past causes buzz By Sarah Jones, DE James Jandro from Michigan prefers a typewriter to a laptop | PHOTOS by Brittany Wrzesinski, WA

Holiday Hoopla: Annual dance aims to refresh delegates By Gloria Ogunlade, TX

Delaware shirt wins retweet contest By Ashley Hatch, CO

July 2, 2018

Blue Ridge Journal Daily video for July 2, 2018: Conference photo, Wednesday activity signup, delegation T-shirts, 2nd committees, Mariya Todorova delegate spotlight

P.O. Grace Miller shares her CONA experience By Gloria Ogunlade, TX | Photo by Caroline Bell, NC

Let’s meet P.O. Blake Sloane By Ashley Hatch, CO | Photo by Abbie Skladan, NC

Meet Zoe Bloomfield, 2018 Presiding Officer By Sarah Jones, DE

2018 Committees photo album

Excitement builds as Seersucker Tuesday approaches By Gloria Ogunlade, TX

July 1, 2018

Blue Ridge Journal Daily video for July 1, 2018: Arrival, reception, opening session, BEAR!

P.O. Lainey Newman Delivers Important Message to Delegates By Ashley Hatch, CO | Photo by Abbie Skladan, NC

Will Lowry details CONA and P.O. experience By Ashley Hatch, CO | Photo by Abbie Skladan, NC

DELEGATE SPOTLIGHT: Hardships lead to purpose for Jariah Cole of Texas By Gloria Ogunlade, TX

A coin toss for change Story and photo by Erin Gretzinger, WI

Opening Ceremony photo album

2018 Proposal Sharing Groups photo album

Delegates inspired at Sunday worship By Caroline Bell, NC | Photos by Abbie Skladan, NC

Options abound for CONA Wednesday activities By Delilah Rose, WI



Tuesday, delegates from around the country experienced a new method of voting for Third Committee. Last year, Third Committee entailed ballot voting after each proposal, much like First and Second committee this year.

The new model implemented this year was based on a ranking system. At the end of the day, each proposal author was allotted a 30-second speech to refresh the delegates’ memories of arguments made in debate throughout the day. The delegates then ranked each proposal on a scale of 1 to 20.



Isaac Kim and Ansel Herrera-Garcia

Not all delegates voted “yea” for this policy. Isaac Kim, a delegate from Washington, said many delegates just went through and assigned numbers to the proposals with no regard to merit. Missouri delegate Ansel Herrera-Garcia said the number of proposals that needed to be ranked made ranking each thoughtfully difficult.

Caroline Borja, Maryland

Caroline Borja

On the other hand, Caroline Borja of Maryland, said she was a fan: “I personally liked it because I was able to decide who I wanted to see in General Assembly and Plenary, based on which proposals I thought were interesting. I considered some of the ideas more important or some of the speeches more powerful that I wanted everyone to see, rather than exactly the most feasible or the most original,” she said. Borja did say many were unsure of the guidelines on which the proposals were to be ranked.

In the end, many excellent proposals moved forward to General Assembly and Plenary, where the voting system is pass or fail with delegates standing up to vote either yea or nay for any certain proposal.

By Beth Walker, NM

YIG vs YAG photoSince the dawn of YMCA model government programs, a great debate has been going on, a debate that to this day is still just as heated as ever. Is it Youth in Government or Youth and Government? The answer might be simpler than you think.

Somehow one little word has been the source of much discourse throughout the program’s life, dividing delegates in a way that almost mirrors the divide playing out on the grand political stage of our own nation. Delegates are split almost down the middle with 40.5 percent of delegations opting for the use of YIG, 43.2 percent using YAG, and 16.3 percent opting for use of neither YIG nor YAG.

Those who use YAG claim: “I think it should be YAG, because ‘Youth in Government’ isn’t accurate as you can’t vote until you’re 18, therefore it’s not youth participating in the government.” Brittany Wrzesinski from the Washington delegation continued, “YAG is correct because in the program, youth are working in collaboration with the government.”

Alternatively, Seamus Mulready from the Michigan delegation, a strong supporter of YIG, had this to say, “I believe it should be YIG because a.) YAG rhymes with gag and b.) when you’re in the Youth in Government program you are in mock government.”

Despite the debate, there is a simple solution; all programs will change to YAG. A decades long debate is slowly drawing to a close as the YMCA of the USA is making a push for a universal change. It’s not for love or animosity towards one or the other, the change is meant to unify the brand of the YMCA’s youth model government program. The Delaware Youth in Government program is begrudgingly making the switch to Youth and Government in the coming years, its former director said. “To make branding easier, soon every state will make the switch to YAG,” he said. As passionate as people are about their respective names for their program, the YMCA of the USA has the final say, and their say is, YAG for all.

By Sarah Jones, DE

“I almost broke down outside one of the committee rooms thinking about how far I’ve come from as the kid who didn’t know anyone, or anyone he really connected with, and found that group of people in YIG.”

Deen Haleem, Opening Ceremony

For Deen Haleem, arriving on The Mountain for his fifth YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs is a different experience. As opening ceremonies unfolded, for the first time, Haleem found himself not watching from the seats of the amphitheater but from the stage, serving as a presiding officer.

After being a part of the Massachusetts delegation and serving as lieutenant governor his senior year, his CONA journey continues as a P.O. He fell in love with CONA from the start, drawn by the debate and public speaking.

Deen Haleem

“I was always that kid who just had to raise his placard,” said P.O. Deen Haleem

“I was always ready to debate proposals so much. I would prepare my research in the weeks before so I could be on absolutely everything,” Haleem said. “I was always that kid who just had to raise his placard.”

While the debate was always lively and intriguing, the larger reason he longed to return each year was the relationships he made. He took solace in the “amount of peace and comfort” he found talking to random people on The Mountain, and making connections with people all over the country; these connections are even harder to leave behind, making closing ceremonies his favorite bittersweet moment at CONA.

“All these people are going back to their states and you have to have to say goodbye to them,” Haleem said. “You are just clinging onto the last moment.”

Off The Mountain, Haleem is studying economics and history with hopes to go on to law school. He plans to work as a lawyer for a nonprofit organization and eventually make his way back home to Massachusetts to run for office. As the week continues, he hopes he can give back to the program that has meant so much to him and carry on the legacy of the people he has met in YIG that have shaped his life.

By Erin Gretzinger, WI

CONA is known for many traditions, making the student government conference not only a way to debate, share and learn new concepts but also a way to socialize by taking part in tradition and having fun. Here on The Mountain, Seersucker Tuesday is a way for students across states and delegations to unite and show off their own style in the thin, patterned fabric.

Seersucker Tuesday is derived from the similar U.S. Senate tradition of Seersucker Thursday where, for the occasion, senators put on the material for a change from their usual business suits. Seersucker’s key trait is that it is a lightweight material, making it perfect for the humid heat of Blue Ridge Mountains. The popular tradition stems from the 1990s, when Mississippi’s U.S. Sen. Trent Lott designated a warm mid-June day to become a day of comfort. His goal was to make sure that people saw senators as more than stern lawmakers. This tradition is still around today, and, as it continues, so does the CONA tradition.

During the 2017 conference, Seersucker Tuesday landed on the same day as the Fourth of July.  Students either chose between the two outfit traditions or combined them. This year, the days are consecutive, so delegates will have the entirety of Tuesday to show out in their seersucker.

Delegates get excited every year to participate in this assembly-wide fashion show, and there is usually a large turnout of different seersucker attire. The same expectation for this year’s conference stands, and we’re excited to see what delegates have planned for tomorrow’s captivating tradition.

By Gloria Ogunlade, TX

On The Mountain, you find delegates of every background, all with a different story to tell. Sharing our stories can often help uplift or inspire another student which is why it is so important that we highlight the outstanding when we see it.

Jariah Cole (TX State 2018 House Speaker) with Speaker of Texas House of Representatives

2018 Texas Youth Speaker of the House Jariah Cole poses with her adult counterpart, Texas Speaker Joe Straus on the podium in the Texas House of Representatives. PHOTO contributed

Jariah Cole, a returning delegate from Texas Youth and Government, has had to overcome hardships to get to where she is today. In her second year on The Mountain, she has already served as a Proposal Sharing Group leader. Back home, she has served a multitude of roles including president of her own YAG club. At this year’s state program, she served as Speaker of the House. It is clear watching from a distance that Jariah is a leader.

“Life is filled with mistakes,” Jariah said. “When I was a sophomore at the state conference, I presided as a chair for a committee. Time was already an issue and I accidentally passed a motion that didn’t allow the remaining delegates to present their bills.”

While some obstacles have turned into learning and teaching moments in YAG, Jariah has also overcome her own personal hardships.

“When I was 14, my dad passed away, which was really hard for my family, because he was very involved and always in my life,” Jariah said.

Jariah said everything she has had to overcome gives her a purpose for her work as a leader.

“These hardships make me a great leader, because I can use my story to inspire others,” Jariah said. “I use my past to represent how relentless one should be in their life.”

There are many ways people display leadership and being a good leader means something different to everyone. Jariah has shown leadership, not only in YAG, but at her school where she is serving as senior class president and also is a part of a mentorship program.

“Being a good leader is being a mentor, selfless, relentless and self aware,” Jariah said. “I make it a goal to [train] a leader while I lead. I also make an effort to tend to everyone’s needs in the group. Everyone should feel needed and important.”

Jariah shared that to her, YAG is a family, and CONA is an extended part of that. In her final year of high school, there is much to look forward to but Jariah does not plan to leave Youth and Government behind.

“After high school, I plan to attend an out-of-state university to pursue accounting or business management,” Jariah said. “For YAG, I plan to train my younger peers so that the program can grow and stay healthy. I also want to give back after I graduate. I will come back to volunteer and just help out to the program that means so much to me.”

By Gloria Ogunlade, TX

The daily newspapers from the 50th Youth Conference on National Affairs:

Blue Ridge Journal Issue 1 – Sunday, July 2, 2017

Blue Ridge Journal Issue 2 – Monday, July 3, 2017

Blue Ridge Journal Issue 3 – Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Blue Ridge Journal Issue 4 – Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Blue Ridge Journal Issue 5 – Thursday, July 6, 2017