Gone to Carolina in My Mind | My Family Travels
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It was a beyond-freezing night in Madison, Wisconsin. Despite record low-temperatures, and snowfall, a couple hundred teens from across the state gathered together in a cramped room at the Inn on the Park hotel, to finish up the weekend’s proceedings of their mock-legislature. This program, the YMCA’s Youth in Government, is a program that states “democracy must be learned by each generation”, and in order to fulfill that goal, every year, gathers Wisconsin teens together for a weekend at the state capitol in Madison, to take over the chambers, and debate our own legislation.

 

It is tradition for each state that participates in YIG to, at the end of every year, elect around 20 teenagers to go to the nationals of this program, the Conference On National Affairs. These teens are always elected by a jury their peers, to see who is most deserving of the honor that particular year. This year, I was overjoyed to find myself one of the few chosen to go. I had known many people who had gone to CONA, which takes place in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and many of whom said it changed their lives. The possibility of spending a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with teens from over 30 other states, debating topics of national and international importance, is certainly a great one.

 

So several months later, 17 Wisconsin youth along with two adult advisors, trucked out of the JC Penney parking lot on the east side of Madison, aboard a Lamers bus, and embarked on the 15 hour bus ride to Black Mountain.

 

Once we got there, we drove up a twisting and turning road in order to get to the place where the conference was occurring. As soon as we got to the top of the mountain, we had a beautiful view of the surrounding area, and were amazed at the antebellum buildings in which we would be spending the majority of our time (such as Robert E. Lee Hall).

 

Aside from our physical surroundings, the sheer kindness, and humanity of the other teens at the conference, some from as close to home (for us) as Minneapolis, some from as far away as Tupelo, was what really made this place unique. I do not know of any other place where teens from such opposing viewpoints, backgrounds, and beliefs, can get together, for a week, on a hot Carolina mountain, and yet (while staunchly debating political topics) be so respectful, and so friendly to each other.

 

It is experiences like CONA that cause me to have faith that, while many of my generation may belong to a “slacker generation”, it is young people like those found at CONA that will truly be the world’s future.

 

The last night of CONA, once the debate is finished, ends with a large bonfire, while the entire conference stands in a circle, holding hands, listening to Americana music. There is something about this time, that is one of the times in your life that you are able to look around, and notice things about yourself that you’d never have the opportunity to ordinarily. CONA changes you. Plain and simple. You can’t experience something that grand and not be unmoved. It is for this reason that I have since attended CONA again, and plan on it this July (my last). It is there that you can be a part of something greater than yourself, and be able to share that joy with others. You leave ready to simply be a better human being. I know I’ll always be goin’ to Carolina in my mind.

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