- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

A few months ago, Christian Mehigan said, he had never heard the word “conservatism.”

Now, he is taking part in one of the largest and longest-running conferences geared toward the advancement of the conservative movement among high-school students.

Held just outside the nation’s capital at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, the 2007 Gratia Houghton Rinehart National High School Leadership Conference put on by the Young America's Foundation offers students such as Christian an opportunity to explore conservatism from the various perspectives of such notable activists as Bay Buchanan.

Standing among the more than 100 politically passionate teens in attendance, Christian, a 16-year-old from Wichita, Kan., who says his family is “not into politics at all,” is an anomaly. Despite being a newcomer to the conservative realm, he is at the conference for the same purpose as the students who have been raised in a conservative environment.

“I’m excited to learn, give it a try and see what they have to offer,” Christian said.

Rachel Cook, a 17-year-old from Langley, Wash., is one of the politically savvy students typically attracted to the conference, now in its 10th year. Rachel can discuss the conservative-liberal divide on hot-button issues such as immigration without batting an eye, but she is quick to dispel the common notion that all conservatives are identical in belief.

“We don’t all agree; there is a great diversity of beliefs,” she said.

The event itself is becoming increasingly diverse, said Stephanie Acosta-Inks, a 26-year-old student at Georgetown Law School who attended YAF’s first high-school conference and now volunteers at the event.

“When I was here 10 years ago, it was mostly middle-class white kids; now there are blacks, Hispanics, and kids from lower-income families represented,” she said. “It’s definitely a positive step forward.”

The three-day conference, which ends today, serves an important purpose, said YAF spokesman Jason Mattera.

“When these students get to college, they will be bombarded with a leftist message,” he said. “They need to start learning now how to advance conservative ideas in a hostile environment.”