- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2016

Hundreds of young conservative activists converged on Washington over the weekend, still pleasantly stunned from Donald Trump’s election victory but ready to discuss ideas and values at a two-day conservative forum.

“I still can’t believe it,” said George Washington University freshman Diego Rebollar, one of about 200 students who attended the Young America’s Foundation’s special postelection retreat. “As I started to realize Donald Trump was actually going to win, there was just shock and utter disbelief.”

Students from more than 70 universities, including Notre Dame and the University of California at Riverside, gathered Friday and Saturday at the Hyatt Renaissance in Reston Town Center for the YAF forum, which many had thought would be a somber occasion because of an impending Clinton administration.

“There are people like me who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump but now realize the historic opportunity of having a Republican in the White House,” said Mr. Rebollar, 18. “We can now show the country how conservative values can benefit all Americans.”

The college students listened intently as speakers such as writer Stephen F. Hayes, national security analyst K.T. McFarland and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a potential Cabinet member in the Trump administration, echoed Mr. Rebollar’s point.

“You’re living at the right moment,” Ms. McFarland told the crowd. “This is your moment. When it happens in your lifetime, you want to be part of it.

“It’s not going to be easy for the next two years, but I can tell you, as someone who’s been through it, it gets better,” said Ms. McFarland, who served as a defense official under President Reagan and is now a contributor for Fox News.

The students appeared up for the challenge, and their enthusiasm for the future of conservatism was evident throughout the two-day strategy session.

“[The election] has given me hope that anything is possible,” said Emily Hensler, a junior at Liberty University, where some evangelical students expressed ambivalence about supporting Mr. Trump.

“A conservative can come in so many different shapes and sizes, so I’m hopeful that more people will be flexible and open-minded with the Trump administration,” Miss Hensler said.

Speaker after speaker implored the young conservatives to increase their campus activism and use the Republican victory to further their cause.

“We don’t wait every four years to fight for what we believe in with Young Americans for Freedom,” said Ms. Hensler. “In between elections, we’re fighting for our conservative values and championing them the best we can on campus each day.”

Across the country, hundreds of Young Americans for Freedom chapters hold events such as the 9/11 Never Forget project, No More Che Day and Freedom Week, when students re-create the Berlin Wall and tear it down.

Each week, chapters host conservative speakers such as writer Ben Shapiro and former Rep. Allen B. West for lectures on hot-button issues such as immigration and “safe spaces.” These lectures often result in uproar from YAF students’ left-wing counterparts.

“On a lot of college campuses right now, students are being taught to cry when they don’t get their way and to throw a fit and play victim,” said Ms. Hensler. “And we need to break that habit.

“That’s why I like being part of YAF: because we know that conservatism presents an alternative lifestyle that leads to a more fruitful and successful life,” she said.

The organization was founded in 1960 by conservative writer William F. Buckley Jr. Today, high school and college chapters work together with Young America’s Foundation to champion the legacy of Ronald Reagan, teaching conservative values to a new generation of young politicos.

“President Reagan famously warned Americans that ‘freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,’” Young America’s Foundation President Ron Robinson said in a press release. “That means these students are on the front lines of the fight to preserve our country.

“The strategies they develop and the bonds they form at this retreat will be the foundation upon which the conservative youth movement of the future is built,” he said.

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