2017-2018 Youth Governor Sharif Long and veteran Legislative delegates Jariah Cole and Anastasia Sotiropoulos were among the 25 Texas YG students who attended the Conference on National Affairs, a national YG event that took place July 1-6 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  Like all our delegates, they excelled and made us proud!  Governor Long’s proposal to implement education programs to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline passed in the Plenary Session, the final and most prestigious Committee Hearing.  Jariah’s proposal thoughtfully considered elimination of the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons, and she presented a pro speech for Sharif’s proposal in front of more than 600 Plenary Session audience members.  Anastasia earned a spot as a pro intent speaker and advanced to Third Committee with her proposal suggesting changes to funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.  Below, these delegates reflect on the meaningful, personal impacts the CONA experience made and take time to thank their supporters and generous financial sponsors who make YG possible each and every year.

Sharif says: Love, collaboration, and passion are the three words that best describe the CONA experience. As our delegation rides up the mountain to Eureka Hall (at the top), I can feel the nerves and my adrenaline rush.

[This was] my third year, [but] the nerves were still there! However, this time on the mountain was different. Looking back over my past two CONA experiences, I was able to reflect on my growth, which helped facilitate me to be how I am today. My first year of CONA, I felt like I didn’t belong, that I shouldn’t have spoken up because “I’m not smart enough,” “I don’t know enough,” or my point isn’t “good enough.” I wouldn’t speak often.  I’d simply ask a few questions, but this year something was different! I actually stepped outside of my comfort zone and went out of my way to commit to excellence, as we learned to do on the mountain. In the past, I never made it out of First Committee, and I didn’t at all have the intentions of making it to Plenary this year. My biggest takeaway has been this quote: “You are stronger than you know, braver than you believe, and smarter than you think you are.” CONA has really blessed me with the opportunity to apply that both in and outside of committees as I make my way into unknown territory. I am motivated, excited, and passionate about walking into the unknown territory of governorship and can’t wait to serve this amazing program that has done so much for me. Words are not enough to express my gratitude to all of the family, friends, and mentors who’ve supported me in my personal growth in this program throughout the years!

A note from the State Office: Sharif had a chance to meet three of these mentors, 2012 Co-Youth Governors Jared McCluskey and Micah Peterson and 1993 Youth Governor Chris Applegate, during CONA 2017.  They are pictured above.  We are humbled by the continued support of our Texas YG alumni.  Thank you!

Jariah says: From attending CONA I learned to never give up. As the Conference progressed it got harder and harder to speak, but…I then realized that there would be no burden if I just lifted my placard, even if I didn’t get called on. My confidence grew from First Committee to Plenary. On a personal level, attending CONA meant that I am enough. I have always pushed myself in debate and helping my peers. When I received the acceptance email, my mind was blown. When starting this program in 8th grade, I would have never thought that I would make it this far. Attending gave me a major confidence boost.  One moment I will always remember from CONA is when I spoke at Plenary. It was the second to last proposal, and it was Sharif Long’s proposal…The chair called for the final pro speaker, and my placard flew up. He happened to call on the girl behind me who generously took me up to speak with her. My heart dropped, and I suddenly forgot everything I had written in my notes, just astonished that I would have a chance to speak. Although my tongue was tied, I presented a speech in front of 600+ delegates from across the United States.  To my sponsors: I am beyond grateful for this wonderful opportunity…for the knowledge I have gained to share with my delegation. Thank you for believing in me and for knowing that this would give me a different perspective on life. 

Anastasia says: It’s been two weeks since CONA and I have come to realize that that one week has impacted my life long term—and much more dramatically than I had ever anticipated. When applying, the Conference was hyped up to be a life-changing experience, but I wasn’t sure in what way a week on a mountain in North Carolina would translate into my routine back in Dallas. I learned that one astounding way it does so is through the Blue Ridge Spirit. I define it as a shared sense of selflessness and kindness that each delegate on the mountain feels at some point. When you arrive at the steps of the Eureka Hall, you quickly realize that everyone’s number one priority is everyone else—making your day wonderful, doing anything they can do to make you happy. It’s humbling and makes you want to reciprocate and treat others the exact same! I cannot emphasize enough what gems the people are, how civil they are when debating opposite viewpoints, how open and honest they are, and how you can learn so much from them. I met people from every end of the country (including Hawaii!), who I would have otherwise never had the opportunity to know, and I am eternally grateful for it.  Every single day stood out in some way. The whole conference sang to me on my birthday, people gave me honey when I lost my voice, held umbrellas over me when it was pouring, took time out of their days to help me research, wrote me notes, cheered me on when I presented in bigger committees, and above all, left me inspired to do the same for them. We had nightly circle discussions as a Texas delegation, and I’ll never forget one line graduated senior Jared said: “We’re not the leaders of the future, we’re the leaders of today.” CONA was the perfect place for today’s leaders to gather.


Interested in financially supporting amazing students and experiences like these?  We would love it if you would consider donating to our program.  We sincerely appreciate your support of our delegates!