This past summer was one that enriched me considerably. I learned new things, met new people, and found out a lot about who I am.
It sounds cliche, but having a summer where you can have experiences like that is critical for anyone coming of age. That’s why it’s important to start looking now for a program that you’re interested in participating in during the summer.
According to the conference’s website, “The annual Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference program targets rising high school seniors who are interested in pursuing a career in journalism and who demonstrate qualities of ‘free spirit.'”
That’s an example of something that sticks out to me. It’s important that you find a program with a mission statement that appeals to your values and to the things that you enjoy.
After the application process came the email that contained my acceptance. That was one of the most fulfilling moments of the experience for me. If a summer program has you incredibly excited before you even take part in it, then you can tell you’ve picked a good one.
Once I got to Washington, D.C., there was an immediate sense of culture shock. I was alone, in a place I’d only been once before, and I was unsure about how I’d be received by people from other states.
Making you feel uncomfortable is the second hallmark of a good program: it forces you to adapt, meet new people, and find out more about yourself than you could otherwise.
Each day, the conference continued to impress me by offering me experiences I would have never dreamed of having. One incredible experience followed the next, from a taping of “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd followed by a Q&A session, to getting compliments about my tie from Chris Berman, to having a conversation about vintage drums with Civil Rights Movement leader and Freedom Rider Ernest “Rip” Patton.
There isn’t really a way to fully describe how alive I felt during the conference. Every step I took led me to another incredible experience. The way in which the conference was set up encouraged much intellectual growth, with some Q&A sessions placed after lessons to allow the scholars to continually learn from multiple people with varying points of view.
After these sessions, there were many opportunities to go out into the city to experience the unique culture of politics, journalism, and architecture. The week gave me an incredibly comprehensive experience.
The time I had at the Free Spirit conference taught me so much about the world around me, the way that people outside of the bubble of the North Shore think, and the things I believe in.
I consider it to be America’s premier Journalism student enrichment program, founded on benevolence and furthered by excellence. Anyone involved with making this program happen deserves immense credit for making a tangible difference in not only my life, but the lives of all Free Spirit scholars.
The small size of the conference helped, too. I was able to make friends with the other 49 delegates there, one from each state, and a group that size has the effect of making you feel like you’re a part of a big family for the week. The conference provided us innumerable opportunities to grow closer to each other, and many of us are still in contact.
When you’re looking for somewhere to spend time this summer, take into account whether you want to be swamped in a crowd or in a small group all week. I went from the Free Spirit conference to another camp that had over 2,000 in attendance, and I had fun at both.
If you are particular about size, however, looking for camps now can mean that you will be able to get priority before a smaller camp fills up.
If you take anything from my experience, it should be to start looking for programs that involve the things you love and take the responsibility to do them seriously. That’s how I felt at the Free Spirit and Journalism Conference: cared for, appreciated, and treated to a week where I felt very important to the people there.
Everyone deserves to feel that way once in a while.