One boring day in November, I was staring dejectedly at a pile of homework when my mom handed me a letter that would change my life. I had been invited to the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C.
At first I was skeptical. I wondered why I was nominated, because I didn't see myself as a leader. I was more of a follower who would do the work and would usually let someone else take charge. Still, I was excited to go. Other students from my school who had been before said they had a great time at the conference.
On Feb. 18, I found myself in the nation's capital, not knowing anyone else except one senior from my school, Danny Kimbrel, and facing two feet of snow, more than I had ever seen in my life.
I was somewhat nervous at first, but my fears quickly abated as I began to meet people. My two roommates were friendly, and my small group, named Franklin, quickly bonded and became great friends.
The purpose of the conference was to strengthen our leadership qualities and to learn about world leaders. We learned about the inner workings of our government as we simulated the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial).
Our group took on the roles of the president and his cabinet during an international crisis, in which North Korea was suspected of shipping weapons to the Middle East. Having only an hour to produce a solution, we learned how many people's thoughts and ideas go into the president's decision.
We also presented a mock trial, simulating the Supreme Court. Our case dealt with a violation of privacy pertaining to the Fourth Amendment.
Our biggest simulation was the Model Congress, in which we were presented a bill about education. Each small group at the conference wrote amendments to the bill, which we then debated at the Department of the Interior at the end of our week. In the end, the bill failed 180-162, but we all learned and appreciated the work that went into our amendments, speeches and debates.
We also got to tour the city.
Our final day together started off with the Model Congress, and ended with a farewell dinner and dance.
Before I knew it, the week had ended, and my friends and I were off, going back to our own homes all across the nation. If you ever get an invitation to attend this conference, seize it. It will change you, and leave you with a better understanding of the future, because you have the power to shape it.
Teen Board member Justine Lewis, 16, is a sophomore at Aquinas High School.