In April of 2008, I took a vacation to Washington, D.C. for the National Young Leaders Conference. I was extremely nervous about my first flight, excited about spending a week with new people, and apprehensive because I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy myself. The week’s events were based around politics, and I wasn’t then and still am not a fan. However, I was looking forward to a new experience of new faces and maybe enjoying a subject I wasn’t so thrilled about. But I got something I didn’t expect in the least – a majorly life changing experience.
From the moment I landed, I was immersed in the culture that is our nation’s capitol. I could feel the history oozing from every nook and cranny of the city. Coming from a very small town, that was a major eye-opener for me. Just being in the city changed me in itself. That was the first thing I took away from this experience – that there’s so much more of the world for me to see besides my small town and surrounding areas. That’s when I decided I wanted to travel one day, and explore all the beautiful places this planet has to offer.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I learned quickly exactly what kind of personalities I was going to be exposed to over the course of the week. Living the sheltered life that I do, I’m exposed to the same personalities day in and day out, from people of the same walks of life. While in D.C., I got a chance to experience people who came from different backgrounds than my friends and I. Being around those students from all over the country helped me learn more tolerance for people who aren’t just like me.
While in D.C., we listened to several keynote speakers. These speakers were people who were particular to one of the three branches of government. Two of the three speakers were, not boring people personality wise, but, terribly dull speakers. The third speaker caught my attention. His name was Gresham Barrett, and he was the congressional keynote speaker. He was an average man, with the exception of his senatorial status. What I found particularly appealing about his speech was his background. He came from a small town just like I do; he was an average small town boy with big dreams. His speech inspired me to make the most of my potential, and to not waste it on something unimportant to me. His speech is the reason I decided to pursue journalism.
My leadership skills were also vastly improved during the conference. I’ve always been told I’m an exceptional leader and that I exceed in commanding the attention of a room when needed. Throughout the conference, each leadership group was assigned to play a different role in an election simulation. I was voted the president of my group, so I was in charge of not only my group, but also making sure the other groups were up to speed on what my group’s doings. Because I wasn’t as acquainted with these people as I am with my friends at home, I needed to devise a different plan to succeed in grabbing the attention of these strangers. I’m now a much stronger leader from having to do that.
The history of the city and my experiences in D.C. broadened my horizons in many ways. I was vulnerable to new cultures, unique personalities, and changing myself. What I learned from D.C. and the people I met changed me, and that’s something I will remember and cherish forever.
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