Politics have never been my thing. Whenever anything government or politics-related came on the news, I usually would turn the channel to something else or change websites to avoid reading anything related. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about my country and what was going on. I guess, as a journalism major, I realized to an extent how skewed and biased the news and media truly are nowadays.

For someone who wants a career in media, that’s frustrating and a little bit annoying, especially when people have long, monotonous and, at times, demeaning and downright ugly political “discussions” on Facebook or Twitter or any other means of communication.

Today’s media, doesn’t really case government in a flattering light for those like me, listening across the nation.

So, I admit it was kind of ironic for me when I received an electronic invitation to attend the 2013 Collegiate Presidential Inaugural Conference in Washington, D.C. Sure, I was extremely honored to be considered smart enough and accomplished enough to be have been invited to such a prestigious event handed to me.

But then, it is politics.


Hesitant, I wasn’t psyched about going. I’d have to miss classes, and I’d have to find a way to get to the airport and back. I’d have to network and open up in order to get to know a large, random group of people from all over the world for a few days, with my expectations of the whole experience being fairly low/neutral.

I should know by now that if my expectations are one thing, then usually the opposite will happen. Or at least everything will work out for the very best.

Even if it is politics.

Actually, I really enjoyed not having a clue what was going on flying into Washington early in the morning. Not having any knowledge of who the speakers were outside of their names, or not knowing anyone there, or not knowing much (if anything) about our political system and why people liked or disliked Barack Obama. It’s humbling not being the knowledgeable one in any given situation, but the unknown actually is quite enjoyable….at least I thought it was.

The schedule itself was intense and chock-full of activities, speakers and events all four days of the conference. From the very beginning, the conference put a number of us nervous, anxious scholars at ease. Our first group meeting and a separate networking event late at night helped lighten the mood a bit and allowed the scholars to get to know somebody to give the conference more of a comfortable and a more familiar feel.

Those group meetings also struck a chord during the long weekend. I’ve been to conferences just as large and what makes me anxious more than anything else is gaining a new group of great relationships and friends, especially in such a small window. Are we going to connect? Will conversations be deep and insightful? Will we want to be with each other and hang out with each other? Because of the six scheduled meetings in four days, this almost could set the tone for the conference. If I enjoyed the meetings, I would enjoy the conference as a whole a lot more. I hoped for a ‘yes’ to each of the above questions, but, looking back, I am still awestruck by the resounding ‘YES!!!!!’ that resulted as the answer to my questions.

At a conference like this, it is so easy to get lost within the enormity of the crowds and feel alone, especially when not knowing anyone. Blessed, encouraged, thankful don’t really begin to cover how I still feel to this day weeks afterward. We have a Facebook group, we exchanged numbers and contact information, we had fantastically deep conversations, we hung out with each other and wanted to be with each other for the most part even when we didn’t have to be.

326The inauguration and conference itself was of course fantastic. It’s the inauguration…it’s really hard, (even when one wakes up at 4:30 in the morning), to not have fun and enjoy the spectacle that is the Presidential Inauguration itself. The sunrise over the capitol building and the quiet before the big, climatic ceremony (and the early access to the Museum of Natural History) made waking up at such an absurd hour worth it all. Sure, we weren’t right up close to the president, but we were close enough where we saw the building and the podium and were in a central location to fully enjoy the experience.

This country has its faults. That’s a given….we have issues and we have problems that we as Americans are (and will be) dealing with. On a cool Monday morning on the National Mall, however, there was a rejuvenating feeling of hope and (more importantly?) of unity. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people, Americans and non-Americans, gathered together, all with American flags waving back and forth, in one moment of celebration. Democrats were there. Republicans were there. Moderates were there. Many different races were there. Many different ethnic groups were there. For a short moment, pride and joy about being a citizen of the United States of America was displayed for miles and miles. Despite our problems, a sense of ‘there’s no other place I’d rather call home’ swept across the crowd. At least I felt it…can’t speak for the almost one million other people.

Do I love politics more now? Not so much, but I definitely feel have obtained a keener interest in the state of the country and now, at least, I care about what’s going on.

For pictures that I took during the event (there are a lot of them), go to this site or copy and paste the link into your browser:

Robby Veronesi is a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, studying Journalism and Electronic Media. He’s a member of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars and a regular contributor to their blog, TalkNerdy2Me. He has his own blog where he mainly writes about sports, but he also loves writing about places he’s traveled.