Josie Schieffert wrote about her participation in a journalism and media conference in Washington, D.C.

Growing up in small town Sleepy Eye, I never thought at the age of 17 I would find myself flying independently to our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C.

In November of 2014, I received a gold, foil stamped envelope with my name on it. Inside I found an invitation to be a National Youth Correspondent at the 2015 Washington Journalism and Media Conference. I had no idea if this was even a real event or if it was a just a mistake, so with my busy schedule, I chose to put it on a shelf in my room that would not be touched again for a month or so. Time passed and one day I thought about the envelope that was still sitting there, so I opened it again and finally read through it, but this time brought it to my school counselor to discuss the content. After much discussion, research, mixed feelings, and encouragement from my parents, I applied to attend the conference. I had been nominated to attend by George Mason University located in Fairfax, Virginia, which is also where the conference was hosted.

In December I found out I had been selected to attend the conference during the week of July 12 through 17.

In May I began to check out books from the library, read suggested blogs, and research some of the individuals that would be speaking at the conference to prepare myself for the rigorous week.

The morning of July 12 came fast and extremely early as my family and I left at 5 a.m. for the Minneapolis airport. Our arrival came sooner than I hoped, as I was beginning to be swallowed by feelings of nervousness. Once I was all checked in and said the difficult goodbyes to my family, I realized that my journey was just beginning, and I had already grown so much.

I survived the flight by myself and arrived at the DCA airport in Virginia. The conference would host 296 Correspondents from across the country, and I was one of two from Minnesota. We were shuttled to George Mason University where our journey would truly begin.

Walking into an unknown university with 295 unknown teenagers can be a bit intimidating when you come from a small town and know nearly everyone. However, not long after our arrival, I made some of the best friends that made my week even more memorable.

We gathered that evening at George Mason campus. The conference started with an opening ceremony and a wonderful meal. We listened to two of D.C’s own news broadcasters tell their story, as well as the Dean of Admissions at George Mason.

Day two consisted of touring the Newseum which is one of the museums within the Smithsonian. It is a six-­story museum filled with thousands of news headlines from historical events, a 911 tribute, a Pulitzer Prize photography display, and many inspiring pieces of media and news.

That evening we had a moon­lit monument tour, which included the Washington Monument,World War ll memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and finally, the FDR Memorial. I have seen many pictures and heard many stories about these monuments, however, it never dawned on me that they would be so breathtaking in person. Each monument is unbelievably humbling in its own way and overpowers you with an enormous amount of American pride.

By the third day I was starting to get the hang of things. The day started off bright and early just as every other day had and would. The first stop for the day was the National Geographic Headquarters where we listened to an interactive presentation given by Susan Goldberg, the Editor in Chief of National Geographic. We toured their museum and explored the newest addition: the Indiana Jones exhibit. We then headed to one of my favorite parts of the week, the National Press Club Building.

This is the building “where news happens.” I was in awe from the moment I took my first step into the building. I was greeted by a large, shiny gold door and couldn’t take it all in fast enough. From floor to ceiling, the building was so precise. Not a single thing was misplaced or dull. Once again, the feeling of American pride rose strong and fast within me. After all of the correspondents overcame the stunned look, we had a panel with Sonya Ross, as well as a reporter from the Washington Post and the Huffington Post.

We returned to George Mason where we listened to a sports panel that featured one individual from ESPN as well as two others in sports broadcasting from the Virginia area. After this compact, exhilarating day, I don't think it took longer than five minutes for every correspondent to be fast asleep.

Day four at WJMC was a day of realization for some of us; a day that started out being only the halfway point, and ended with the thought of our experiences nearly coming to an end. Early in the morning we heard from David Culver from NBC Washington on his excerpt “Rediscovering Cuba: A Journey Home”, followed by an emotional rollercoaster presentation done by four time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Carol Guzy. We soon realized that a picture is truly worth a thousand words, and emotions can jump through pictures more effectively than the usage of words.

After lunch we youth correspondents conducted our own press conference simulation, each of us required to take on a role in the particular case of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Miss.

The Dean of Admissions at George Mason University spoke about what universities look for in individuals and how we, as students, should prepare. We skyped across the world to Spain where we spoke with Kevin McCarthy, an entertainment reporter and film critic. We were fascinated by his never ending enthusiasm and passion, along with his humor.

That night I was able to listen to Kevin Loker, Program Coordinator, American Press Institute, as well as Lisa Bonos, writer and editor, Washington Post. They spoke about the paths their lives have taken and willingly shared advice with us. I remember this most vividly as a night of reflecting; I began to step back and look at all of the incredible experiences I encountered so far and all of the wonderful things I could take with me after the conference to make me a better­ educated, more well­-rounded person.

On our final day at George Mason our large group attended a session with C­SPAN’s Brian Lamb and then headed to Capitol Hill. While wandering around the National Mall and Capitol Hill, I was able to meet with Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar's Deputy Press Secretary for 40 minutes as a part of my experience in D.C.

Three of my closest friends and I then ventured to the Library of Congress where we were screened for a pass into the reading room. (This is the library in the movie National Treasure). The reading room was absolutely breathtaking. I have never seen such beautiful architecture in my entire life as I did in that library. It was truly stunning.

My day on Capitol Hill was one that I will never forget. I was in awe with the beautiful city. Each sidewalk consisting of perfectly placed cobblestones, building after building standing tall and proud on every side, hundreds of business people each with their own mission at hand, and a correspondent like myself completely in awe with the incredible sense of American pride as I walked from building to museum with my head nearly spinning trying to take it all in. After being fascinated by the patriotic scenes at Capitol Hill, we then traveled to the White House. What a sight!!

We ended our final night at WJMC dressed formally at a youth gala. We were served a wonderful dinner and were given the opportunity to enjoy ourselves all together one last time. One thing they didn’t tell us on Sunday evening, upon our arrival, is how hard saying goodbye would be on Friday when we would have no choice but to go back home.

All of the knowledge, wisdom, individuality, friendships, exposure and experiences I gained throughout this week were absolutely incredible.

I look back at the month of December when I was hesitant about attending the conference because of all the things I would have to do outside of my comfort zone and I am so happy that I made the decision to attend. WJMC truly changed and impacted my life as well as the decisions I will make in my future. Words do not fully explain what a wonderful experience this was for me, as well as the other 295 National Youth Correspondents. This was an experience of a lifetime and I would wish it upon everyone. Who would have thought someone from Sleepy Eye could survive a week in the nation’s capital, and enjoy it tremendously?

Schieffert is a senior at Sleepy Eye High School.