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Leah Schweibinz, NC
Staff Writer

As a medium of connecting people from around the country and even the world, social media enables users to interact with anybody almost instantaneously. It is an unarguable fact that social media has a large impact on people of all ages. Social media allows friends and family who live miles away to stays penchant for sharing pictures, it is easy to see what everyone is doing.

As with anything, social media has positives and negatives. On the bright side social media, especially at CONA, is an easy way to share our ideas and opinions with many people. At CONA social media allows delegates to see what others have done, are doing, and will do. It also allows delegates to connect with others, to combine proposals, or get advice for their proposals. Some proposals may make it to General Assembly or even Plenary thanks to the exposure and guidance they receive through social media. Simply by using #CONA2014, we can easily meet new people who may live across the country but have the potential to become lifelong friends.

Use #CONA2014 for the chance to be retweeted by The Blue Ridge Journal (@BRJCONA)!

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Anna Mayer, OK
Staff Writer

Cowboys, surfers, Disney-obsessed and small-town folk live together under one sky, on one land, in one country. They have gathered on the same mountain, prepared to either defend or dispute the image given to their state. CONA welcomes many stereotypes waiting for their chances to be noticed.

Some of the most prominent stereotypes have attached themselves to states such as Texas, New York, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Florida.

“Some people think that Texas is really conceited and that all we care about is state rights, like we’re against the federal government,” Texan delegate MaKayla Goertz said. “They’re all stereotypes. We are actually really diverse, not all of us are conservative. Not all of us are cowboys. We don’t ride horses to school, well, not all of us.”

The intermingling of all the diverse delegates serves to create a more visible juxtaposition that highlights individual distinctions. A conversation between someone from Wisconsin and someone from Florida can expose the subdued accents and opposite interests.

“It’s really interesting to see all these different backgrounds come together,” Oklahoma delegate Rachel Martin said. “Sometimes you can tell who is from what state just by their look, but they still always manage to surprise you by showing you, you’re not as different as you think.”

These stereotypes do not always do justice to their owners. Not all New Yorkers are from New York City, not all Oklahomans live in tepees and hardly any Amish live in Pennsylvania. “We all have various stereotypes, but they are not always accurate,” Pennsylvania delegate Taylor Palmer said. “At the end of the day, we all come together and unite as one.”

Whether or not delegates choose to accept these labels, they all have one stereotype in common: They are all CONA crazy.

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2014 Presiding Officers: Emily Vigliotta, Kyle Denman, Libby Wuller, Spencer Perry, Amanda Johnson, and Zijie Yin

By: Gregg Sullivan, PA

After a spirited roll call of delegations, presentation of the American flag, and reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, the 2014 Conference On National Affairs officially commenced with a series of inspiring speeches from the Presiding Officers.

Emily Vigliotta of New York, spoke about the significance of the conference. “We unite on this mountain as one nation.” After a brief history of the Blue Ridge Mountain Assembly, fellow Presiding Officer Zijie Yin of Alabama took the floor, encouraging students to forget about social media in order to make genuine connections with the wonderful people at the conference.

Presiding Officer Amanda Johnson of Michigan then talked about how delegates’ differences should not be seen as labels for alienation, but as wonderful and unique qualities. “Our differences can unite us,” she said.

Libby Wuller of Oklahoma counselled that even if things at CONA don’t go the way delegates might want, everyone at the conference should embrace new opportunities and believe that they can still benefit from their experiences.

Kyle Denman of Ohio spoke about the uniqueness of the chance to attend CONA, the chance that all of us have been given and recommended that delegates do their best to make new connections with those around them. Finally, Spencer Perry of California closed the ceremony with an anecdote about how the Youth and Government program helped him find his voice, and urged the delegates to remember, “Your words have the potential to change the lives of those around you.”

By Kacey Reeves, TX

The idea that the YMCA Youth and Government program solely prepares students for the political world is a common misconception. Although delegates do learn about the political process and become more aware of pressing issues, the core values and skills learned in the program hold relevance for all vocations.

Michael George, a freelance photographer and self-titled adventurer, is an alumnus of the Florida YIG program. George, who served as the Florida Speaker of the House in 2007, graduated from New York University in 2011 with degrees in photography and psychology. He currently runs his own business, Michael George Photography, and has published work in several popular magazines, including Runner’s World and Popular Mechanics.

One of his recent projects, Portrait of a Pilgrim, documents his journey on the Camino de Santiago. The Camino, an ancient highway that spans from France to Spain, used to attract religious pilgrims but now appeals to people of all backgrounds. National Geographic has procured the story and will be releasing it in an upcoming issue this fall.

George is grateful for his years with Youth in Government and CONA as they allowed him to perfect his public speaking, an art he uses when approaching clients and presenting his work. “So much of YIG is sharing ideas… and being able to articulate them,” George said.

Adam Faulkner, a Texas YAG alumnus who served as the 2010 Texas Secretary of State, plans to graduate this December from the University of Texas with a degree in computer science. Faulkner is currently interning as a software engineer for Dropbox, a company based out of San Francisco. He is developing a search feature that is scheduled to be unveiled to private businesses this August. In the past, Faulkner has interned for Facebook, working with the Ads and Payments team. Faulkner also credits his YAG years for instilling in him relevant communication skills. “A lot of what software engineering is [involves] taking apart people’s ideas in way that doesn’t tear them down.”

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By Ja Kaufmann, MO

Carlos Vigil is a name unknown to the majority of the incoming crowd at CONA, but a name forever burned in the memory of those returning delegates who knew him.

Carlos Vigil was a 2013 delegate from the New Mexico delegation, a bright student who loved CONA and the chance it gave him to make a difference. Carlos attended last year’s conference with a proposal designed to educate schools on the harmful effects of bullying and instate a mandatory class in all public high schools to help prevent future bullying. Carlos’s passion for his proposal came from personal experience. His story was one of constant struggle and torment. Carlos told his story as part of his proposal and wanted to caution others on the horrors of
bullying.

Sadly, shortly after Carlos left the conference, he took his own life. This shocking act inspired many CONA delegates to rally together in support of his goal: To stop the bullying. Delegates created the hashtag #HopeForCarlos, and paired it with #StopTheBullying to share his message with everyone they could. Despite his personal struggles, Carlos always dedicated himself to aiding and assisting others. He was extremely active in his community and school. Along with the many other outreach programs he was responsible for, he served as:

 Secretary of Homeland Security of New Mexico YIG;
 An officer at Warehouse 508, a youth art and entertainment center in Albuquerque, and;
 A member of the board for his local recreation center.

“He was one of the friendliest and most respectful people I have ever met. He was always willing to help others, and made everyone feel like they belonged. He cared about everyone,” said Hallie Brown of New Mexico.

“Last year, I went into committee, and I was completely nervous,” remembers Alexandria Moore, another New Mexico delegate. “He told me everything would be OK and even offered to make a pro speech for me. He was always looking out for others.”

Because of Alexandria’s efforts following Carlos’s death, Oct. 19 is now Bully-Free Day in the state of New Mexico in honor of Carlos and his mission. Carlos inspired many young teens to better those around him and continue the mission of bully prevention, even after his death. His story showed many around the country, through social media, national news and word of mouth just how terrible bullying can be.

Hello, my name is Tom Ratliff, and I will be serving as media director for the 2014 YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs. With that said, I would like to welcome everyone to this wonderful mountain that we call home for one week every year. As we enter the 47th conference, let’s all try to make this one as, if not more memorable, than the previous 46. To both the CONA veterans returning to the mountain, and the wonderful new delegates who will be experiencing CONA for the first time: I hope your proposals go as far as you want them to, your memorable friendships last far beyond the reaches of the conference, and I especially hope that your Cheerwine cans may never be empty.
I look forward to meeting as many of you on the steps of Lee Hall as I possibly can. Whether you say  “Youth IN Government,” or “Youth AND Government,” I hope you have a blast this week, and good luck in all of your ventures.
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A group of 1990’s CONA alumni

By Tom Ratliff, MO
Media Director
The YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs convened for the first time in 1968 in Stone Mountain, Ga.
Financial support from the Sears Foundation made the first CONA conference a huge success for the eight states that attended. By 1971, the conference had moved to its current location, the Blue Ridge Assembly in Black
Mountain, N.C. This year, the 47th for the conference, CONA surpassed 15,000 delegates over its entire history.
As we begin to close in on the 50th year anniversary of this conference, the wide variety of delegations that have attended is truly impressive. What many may not know is that from 1987 to 1989 a delegation came over from France, and the following year in 1990, the former Soviet Union sent a group of students to participate.
States that have sent delegations include: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Model United Nations delegations, District of Columbia delegations and a Marshall
Islands delegation also have attended.
This year, more than 700 are attending the conference representing 33 delegations – 31 states and the District
of Columbia. What you accomplish this week will write the CONA history for 2014. Leave your mark on the 47th Annual YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs.