In early March I had the honor of being invited to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Policy Conference 2012. The Policy Conference is held each year to educate men and women from around the country about the importance of a strong Israeli-American relationship. The conference is three days of big speeches, breakout sessions, and opportunities to lobby one’s representatives to ensure that a strong Israeli-American relationship is one of America’s continuing priorities.
Every year, AIPAC brings out hundreds of student delegates to attend the Policy Conferences. This year, I was one of 217 student government association presidents invited to spend the weekend in Washington D.C. learning about AIPAC’s mission and all of the ways in which I—as a student, as a member of a community, and as one of the youths that is going to propel our country forward—can make a difference.
The theme of this year’s Policy Conference was “Shared Values, Shared Vision” and the majority of the speakers used this theme to highlight all of the ways in which Israelis and Americans have continually worked together to ensure the safety, health and vitality of our nations. We heard tons of stories about how Israel and America have worked together in the past, and we heard pleas for this continued relationship to stand strong against Iran, making sure that Iran is unable to make a nuclear weapon.
That was the big picture AIPAC experience: major speakers, heartfelt stories and calls to action. In the smaller picture though, I had some amazing experiences:
- I got to hear President Obama, Israeli President Peres, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and countless other politicians speak. All of them took the stage and their first remarks all made a point about how many students, especially SGA presidents, were in the room.
- I sat in a breakout session about Arab Spring and got to see what I’ve learned in Core in action. The speakers were discussing “being on this side of history,” and I was able to see what they were saying in the context of what I’ve learned in Core.
- I got to meet 216 other SGA presidents and spent the weekend learning from them. We shared stories of our experiences with each other, and gave each other advice for how to make changes on our campuses.
- I spent a beautiful spring weekend in Washington D.C. and was able to squeeze in a little bit of amazing sightseeing. My favorite part, outside the conference, was going to the Newseum. As a media studies major I walked through a museum dedicated to chronicling the changes to the news media since its inception. It was like walking through a textbook, in all of the best ways imaginable.
As I was leaving D.C., I thought about everything I’d done and learned over the weekend. I had definitely figured out what AIPAC wanted me to walk away with from the experience. I’d learned about the importance of staying informed, making sure that I used my voice, and staying involved. As cliché as it sounds, I walked away with a renewed understanding of how I can make a difference. And whether or not I choose to use my abilities for furthering American-Israeli relations—or for making sure other students have the same Oglethorpe experience I love—as long as I am fighting for something I’m passionate about, I’m doing everything in my power to make a difference. And that is what is truly important.