Conference offers eye opening experience

From left Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, Jr., Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, Hanna Torline, Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, Natalie Gallatin and Dr. Bill Raymond pose for a photo at West Point during last year's conference.
By Hanna Torline, Special to the Circuit –

There are some experiences that expand your worldview and others that allow you to dive deeper into the world with which you are already familiar. Last fall, I was able to attend the Student Conference on U.S. Affairs (SCUSA), a conference which afforded me an opportunity to do both, at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY.

Through an application process, 2016 graduate Natalie Gallatin and I were chosen to represent Benedictine College as student delegates at the largest student-run conference in the world. As the entire trip was fully funded, we were only responsible for becoming familiar with the conference topic: Confronting Inequality: Wealth, Rights, and Power.

From left Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, Jr., the commandant of Cadets at West Point, Hanna Torline, Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State Natalie Gallatin and Dr. Bill Raymond pose for a photo at West Point during last year's conference.
From left Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, Jr., the Superintendent of Cadets at West Point, Hanna Torline, Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, Natalie Gallatin and Dr. Bill Raymond pose for a photo at West Point during last year’s conference.

The student delegates were divided into round tables to discuss current U.S. topics. My table discussed the treatment of women in the Middle East, and consisted of experts in the field who were guiding the discussion, as well as students from countries around the world. Despite this diversity, we all had in common the drive to learn from one another and engage in meaningful discussion.

Upon arriving at West Point, the imposing stone buildings amidst fall leaves that scattered the campus set the tone for a conference that was undoubtedly unique to the Military Academy. We drove past cadets dressed in full uniform; a few marching back and forth on the pavement, some sweeping the leaves from the street, and others whose job was strictly to greet those attending the conference.

I had the experience of staying in the barracks with West Point cadets, eating in their dining hall, and even watching the parachute team practice in the afternoons. I made friends from all over the world that I continue to keep in touch with. I was not only able to hear from Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State, who gave a speech during the banquet dinner, but was also able to personally meet her.

Even before beginning my freshman year three years ago, I have always been told that college is about experiencing diversity. People tend to say that an important part of these four years is about having new experiences and meeting people with different backgrounds, beliefs, and values from your own.

Although Benedictine attracts students from all over the United States, and even all over the world, I have found that many of my classmates have similar beliefs and experiences as myself. Not exactly the same, but nonetheless, not the same type of diversity for which I have sometimes longed.

I firmly believe that Benedictine offers its students a safe haven in which to grow into the men and women whose convictions are strong enough to influence the world. But we are also challenged to go out into the world and learn from and share with those who are different from ourselves. SCUSA is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen one’s knowledge about the world and share our own perspectives.

This year’s conference takes place November 9-12 with the topic of Democracy & Democratization: Challenges & Opportunities. All those interested in politics and policy, international studies, justice issues, and human rights are encouraged to apply. Though a 600-word essay may sound daunting, the experience of attending SCUSA is well worth it.

The essay describing why you should represent Benedictine at the conference is due Friday, Sept. 30 to be turned in to Claudia Crifasi in the Student Success Center.

Contact Mrs. Crifasi  at ccrifasi@benedictine.edu or Dr. Bill Raymond at braymond@benedictine.edu in the Political Science Department for more information.