As a senior at the George Washington University, I look back at my college experience and can confidently say that my life has forever been altered for the better because of my involvement with Young America’s Foundation. Prior to coming to GWU, I had always considered myself right of center, but never as a conservative. It wasn’t until I joined GW YAF that I realize and began to understand what being a conservative meant. Not only has Young America’s Foundation given me a conservative philosophy to study and advocate for, it has given me the opportunity to develop my own beliefs, create amazing connections, and have experiences that most 21-year-olds only dream of.

There is no other student organization that takes the time and effort to ensure that students are learning and advocating conservative principles as well as Young America’s Foundation. Through YAF’s seminars, conferences, speakers, and reading material, I’ve come to learn that conservatism is more than just saying you support conservative principles; you have to understand why you support them. I have learned that in order to be a true conservative I need to be able to articulate my beliefs and defend them with legitimate facts and arguments. I have learned to challenge myself to push back against the ever so popular and accepted norms of progressivism on campus.

More importantly, YAF has taught me to be brave. It’s not easy to stand up to professors or friends, but my experience with YAF is that if I don’t say something, no one will. My favorite Ronald Reagan quote is “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”, and that still holds true today. After 4 years of being involved with YAF, I know that we must be the happy warriors that continue to fight for our conservative beliefs, because if we give in and settle for apathy, we are not holding true to ourselves and we are letting down those who do not have a voice for freedom.

While I have learned to challenge myself to be a brave individual in my conservative activism, it is a characteristic I have applied to all aspects of my life. I am more confident in what I believe in and more confident in myself because of my experiences with YAF. Additionally, my time as president of GW YAF has given me the opportunity to develop my leadership skills. When people ask me what I learned at GWU, I tell them that I learned my most valuable lessons not from the classroom, but from my experiences as a member of GW YAF.

Because of Young America’s Foundation, I have been able to travel to places all over the nation that I otherwise would have never seen. I have heard from individuals like Art Laffer, Ben Shapiro, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Forbes, and Vice President of the United States Mike Pence. I was able to visit the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara, and even the White House in Washington, DC. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would ever have those opportunities.

Lastly, I have found my closest friends through this organization. I have heard so many people say that they would have transferred out of GWU if they hadn’t gotten involved with YAF, and I am one of those people. I found a home at GW YAF and I found people who have supported me through my time at GWU and who will continue to support me long after I graduate.

I am so proud of how much Young America’s Foundation has grown and so proud of the new wave of conservative student activists who are ready to take on the fight. I am truly blessed to be a part of this organization and I thank God every day for everything YAF has given me.

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Shannon Bell is the Chairman of the George Washington University Young Americans for Freedom.