As my plane sped along the tracks from the Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, I smiled. One day after Christmas I flew to Washington, D.C., for the winter leadership conference hosted by American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
My knowledge about the American-Israel relationship was nonexistent at the beginning this four-day conference. But with the help of Andy Andrew, my field leader, and other AIPAC representative I learned a wealth of information.
AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobbying group focusing on strengthening, protecting and promoting the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that will enhance the security of Israel and the United States. While we focused on lobbying for Israelis’ rights, the most amazing part of the conference were the student participants.
AIPAC brings students from different races, ethnicities, backgrounds and religions and teaches them how to coexist and support each other. When Kendrick “KK” Smith, a Grambling State University December 2013 alumnus and former member of the GSU Student Government Association, told me about this program, he told me I would be surrounded by students from predominantly white, Ivy League schools. I was a little worried. But, KK reminded me that I would represent our university well.
He was encouraging, and he was right. I quickly learned upon my arrival that the experience was quite a dream opportunity. I was surrounded by people from nearly every walk of life. In a good way, I could hardly sleep. It was hard to separate from my new friends. I never expected to bond with people like this. I now have the coolest Mormons as friends, and they teach me a lot about faith and truth.
These young women, and other students, from institutions such as: Howard University, Brigham Young University, Yale University, Florida A&M University and Tennessee State University, taught me about culture, diversity and religious tolerance during casual conversations, formal workshops and during late night walks. These interactions with students so unlike me were life changing.
Some students have been a part of bringing creative ambassadorship to their campuses. Some campuses began to sell Israeli food and newspapers. Others have study aboard programs in Israel. I hope that one day our school can replicate some of these ideas, or create our own.
It’s important to focus on educating college students on foreign policies and issues of Israel, in part because 100 percent of the members of Congress attended college. Campus leaders are the future policy makers and will be leaders in law, business, journalism, medicine, sports and other careers.
The American-Israeli relationship is mutually beneficial to Israelis and the United States. Even more, it is the one-on-one college student relationships upon which the two nations can build, and preserve, a strong future.
Tierra Smith is a junior mass communication major from Milwaukee.