“I almost broke down outside one of the committee rooms thinking about how far I’ve come from as the kid who didn’t know anyone, or anyone he really connected with, and found that group of people in YIG.”
Deen Haleem, Opening Ceremony
For Deen Haleem, arriving on The Mountain for his fifth YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs is a different experience. As opening ceremonies unfolded, for the first time, Haleem found himself not watching from the seats of the amphitheater but from the stage, serving as a presiding officer.
After being a part of the Massachusetts delegation and serving as lieutenant governor his senior year, his CONA journey continues as a P.O. He fell in love with CONA from the start, drawn by the debate and public speaking.
“I was always ready to debate proposals so much. I would prepare my research in the weeks before so I could be on absolutely everything,” Haleem said. “I was always that kid who just had to raise his placard.”
While the debate was always lively and intriguing, the larger reason he longed to return each year was the relationships he made. He took solace in the “amount of peace and comfort” he found talking to random people on The Mountain, and making connections with people all over the country; these connections are even harder to leave behind, making closing ceremonies his favorite bittersweet moment at CONA.
“All these people are going back to their states and you have to have to say goodbye to them,” Haleem said. “You are just clinging onto the last moment.”
Off The Mountain, Haleem is studying economics and history with hopes to go on to law school. He plans to work as a lawyer for a nonprofit organization and eventually make his way back home to Massachusetts to run for office. As the week continues, he hopes he can give back to the program that has meant so much to him and carry on the legacy of the people he has met in YIG that have shaped his life.
By Erin Gretzinger, WI