11:54 p.m., Thursday February 19, 2015
I’m staring at my blank word document seriously contemplating whether all the work lying ahead of me will be worth the five bonus points in Mr. Hillinck’s AP US History course. The extra-credit is, of course, due the next day.
My simple task was to write the 250-word application essay for the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship Student Congress, a one-week summer program focused on compromise in Lexington, Kentucky. The prompt asked what the greatest conflict our nation will face in the next quarter century will be and how compromise will be used to solve it.
I began writing my very rough essay, only intended to be extra credit, on the danger of warring political parties and the idea that the lack of compromise in present politics will be our nation’s downfall. When I turned it in, I felt relieved to never have to think of it again. About a week later, though, Mr. Hillinck approached me in the library and urged me to consider actually applying to the program.
“Remember, if you get in, it’s completely free,” he added. (Most decent summer programs I had been researching had an average price tag of $2,000. Needless to say, Henry Clay Student Congress’s cost, or lack thereof, was appealing.) “Why not apply?” I told myself. I begrudgingly began to revise and actually put effort into my sketchy essay though I felt I had little chance of getting in. My acceptance in early May came as a very happy shock, and what was originally a flimsy, extra-credit essay was the gateway to one of the best experiences of my life.
My 30 new friends from across North America and I listened to lectures on various topics such as 2014 Supreme Court Cases, the Obama Presidency, water disputes in Israel and Palestine, and many others. We were split into four caucuses and each caucus drafted their own food policies. We then traveled to the old Kentucky Capitol Building in Frankfort where we presented these policies. Then, using compromise, we merged and cut until we had three policies we could all mostly agree on.
“MOM! MOM! They’re all like me!”
Despite the fantastic political education I received, the best thing about the Henry Clay Student Congress was the friends that I made. I had never been anywhere by myself before and I expected my nervousness to inhibit my friend-making abilities. To my surprise, I had already made many new friends within hours of arriving. I ecstatically texted my mom the day after I arrived, “MOM! MOM! They’re all like me!” Never had I been around so many people who enjoyed having deep conversations over breakfast one minute and the next initiating World War III over card games.
During my college search process, I had always imagined that I could only find people like me in the Deep South. Therefore, I had limited my search to southern-minded colleges and universities because I believed that I only ever wanted to be around southerners. But, spending a week with so many people not from the south made me realize I want, not southern homogeneity, but diversity in a college. I am forever grateful to the Henry Clay Student Congress for helping me widen my perspectives and also giving me friends and experiences to never forget.
I still talk to many of the friends I made there. Whenever I think about the program or one of the friends I made there, I always remember the late night when I chose to knock out a random essay for extra credit and how seemingly small decisions can bring about the greatest experiences.
Ally Below serves as senior class vice-president, lead ambassador, and Director of Volunteerism on the Youth Leadership Council. She is a captain for the Randolph Band and plays the flute and oboe. In the summer, she works as a manager at Greenwyche Pool. She also loves playing on the Randolph tennis team.