Cole’s Corner: The Time of My Life

I’ll never forget the longest walk of my life.

It began with me staring down the entrance of gate four at Terminal A in Ronald Reagan National Airport. Walking through the gate and onto my flight home to Kansas City, I wanted to cry. I just experienced the week of a lifetime and it was over in an instant.

I spent my week at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference in Washington D.C., being honored as Kansas’ representative for the conference by experiencing D.C. monument tours, some of the best lunches I’ve ever eaten, and seminars and panels on journalism.

From the moment I showed up to my hotel I was soaking in marvelous amounts of pure knowledge. And while knowledge isn’t always a high schooler’s most prized possession, it was something I couldn’t help basking in from the get-go.

Whether it be seminars on trends in technology or the five freedoms of the first amendment, or panel discussions with The Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic, Bill Clinton’s press secretary, or Chris Berman (Yes, that Chris Berman), there was always something to learn.

Quite frankly, learning was what I did most at the conference. With that being said, the things I got out of those experiences couldn’t add up to the most valuable part of the conference: the friendships.

The friendships I made in those six days were once in a lifetime. And not only did I make friendships, I learned a lot from them as well.

Staying up late at night discussing deadline processes for print newspaper with my roommate was just as valuable as hearing from some of the most respected journalists in the field. The people I befriended were simply the glue of the conference. I made friendships and discovered new people, but they taught me a lot about a field that I hope to make a career in as well. They gave the conference an added value that couldn’t be found anywhere else.

As I finished up the long walk and boarded my plane, I took the tears in my eyes and held them back. I realized, that flight wasn’t the end of a week, it was the beginning of an adventure.

I was coming home with a wealth of knowledge. Not only was I newly versed in the fine lines of journalism, I now had 50 friends who shared this incredible experience with me, and they weren’t more than a text or call away.

I’ll never forget the longest walk of my life. And how grateful I was for it. And how grateful I am to call myself a Free Spirit.