Last week, students from 31 states and 75 different high schools descended upon our nation’s capital for Young America’s Foundation’s 22nd National High School Leadership Conference.

Students heard from leading conservative speakers such as Rep. Steve Perry, Rep. Paul Gosar, Bay Buchanan, Tim Goeglein, and many more. Students were armed with knowledge of topics such as abortion, immigration, free markets, the Second Amendment, and leadership.

“You have to learn to speak your mind, to be bold, and to stand tall,” Bay Buchanan told the eager students. “So how do we get there? The key is speaking. The key is standing up.”

For many, this was their first exposure to conservatism. As our nation’s schools are plagued with Leftist teachers and administrators, some students traveled hundreds of miles just to hear a new, conservative viewpoint.

Olivia Dinkel, a student at Urbana High School, said she’d never experienced being surrounded by people with the same perspective as her. “It’s refreshing to be able to have cordial discussions with people. I’ve been sharpening my ideas and expanding my thinking- while also not having to worry about offending anyone!”

Students had the opportunity to build on their knowledge of conservatism in multiple breakout sessions, where they defined what it means to be a conservative and presented their ideas to YAF President Ron Robinson and their peers.

YAF better prepares you for situations and conversations you don’t even realize you’ll have yet,” said Taylor Austin, a student at South Caldwell High School.

Rep. Scott Perry encouraged students to defend liberty from leftist peers, teachers, and government officials who may be trying to take it away. “Freedom is under assault, in every way that you look at it…being conservative, caring about your country, caring about your freedom takes courage.”

In addition to three days of speakers and interactive discussions, students ended the week with a twilight tour of Washington, learning more about America’s rich history while exploring the nation’s monuments.

“I’ve been to a lot of leadership conferences but here you’re actually able to have substantive conversations about the issues,” said Carlie Steele from Oregon Connections Academy. “In Oregon, I’m called a racist and a bigot for being conservative; here, people are tolerant and accepting of different views even if they disagree.”

YAF recognizes the importance of educating bright high school students with conservative ideas before they enter the liberal safe spaces of higher education, where conservatives are often discriminated against.

This conference marks the second of five high school programs Young America’s Foundation has planned for this year. In two weeks, YAF will welcome over 400 college students to the annual National Conservative Student Conference in Washington, DC, to hear from speakers like Ambassador John Bolton, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Marsha Blackburn, Michael Knowles, Lila Rose, and more.