This summer I experienced the most impactful, influential and memorable week of my life at the NRA Youth Education Summit (Y.E.S.).
I and 46 other high school students were granted the most wonderful opportunity to participate in this expense-paid, week-long program. While the program centers around competition for scholarship money, anyone who has participated will tell you it is much more than that. Trends emerged and wove throughout the entire week: a deepened pride for our roots, a strengthened appreciation for our differences and similarities as citizens, and a sense of comradery and family among the students.
Growing up I saw pictures of Mount Vernon at sunrise, the Lincoln Memorial illuminated by lights, and the Capitol Building busy with people. But not until I was there, standing in the awe of these great architectural feats, did I realized why we learn about them as children. These are not just buildings and statues but our history – my history. As I heard the guides tell us stories of bloodshed, of irony and of tremendous achievement, I began to realize that I and my 46 peers were living out the freedom that was battled over.
I distinctly remember one memorial standing out in particular. The sun had set and all of the Y.E.S. students were walking circles around the Lincoln Memorial. After we all soaked in the marvel of the memorial, we took a seat on its marble steps. With the Vietnam Memorial off to our left and the moon looking down on the water of the Reflecting Pool, we gazed at the Washington Monument. I have never felt so American. I sat in complete peace knowing that as Americans we have a history of accomplishing anything we set our minds to. The pride that swelled over me felt like courage and confidence.
Kaitlyn Callaway, 2017 YES Participant
Attending an NRA program I completely expected to agree with everyone on the topic of firearms. That proved to be correct, but just because we all shared a view on the Second Amendment does not mean we agreed on everything else. Within our diverse group of 47 high schoolers from across the country, views ranged from conservative to liberal and everything in between. Discovering our different views and learning to appreciate and respect our differences greatly enhanced my experience. Many of us agreed that we grew more when we had to defend our stances to someone who completely disagreed. I vividly remember having discussions over religion, pro-life or pro-choice, climate change, manners and education. We came from so many different backgrounds that the demographics represented were too many to count.
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