Last spring, I was invited to Washington D.C. to attend The Washington Journalism and Media Conference held at George Mason University, the week of July 7-12. When I first received the invitation in the mail, I was taken aback. I never expected to be asked to attend a conference of this magnitude, 1000 miles away from home with 299 strangers from across the country. At first, I thought this must be a scam. However, after doing some research, I decided to take a leap of faith. And, if I’ve learned anything in my life, the best things in life happen when you step outside of your comfort zone. With just a dash of fear, I signed up for this life changing event.

The conference is a six day marathon, packed with speakers, tours, interviews, classes and everything in-between. We were lucky if we got four hours of sleep (and every correspondent is still trying to recover those lost zzz’s). With our hearts full and our feet blistered, we’re still reaping the rewards of this incredible conference. From visiting the Capitol and National Mall to the National Press Club and the Newseum, to sitting down and listening to 11 different types of journalists tell us about their works and passion, our days were overflowing with learning and personal growth. We spoke to investigative journalist Marisa Kwiatkowski, who broke the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse case. We heard from photojournalist, Carol Guzy (a four-time Pulitzer Prize winner), who photographs and tells the human stories of devastating catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.

We engaged with political pundits and commentators such as Shermichael, who worked under Dr. Ben Carson during his presidential campaign and now is political analyst. We had a conversation with Lauren Ober, the podcast host of Spectacular Failures. Our days were full of engaging moments with individuals like Meghan ATB Reese, a photographer for National Geographic and producer of Finding Bigfoot. From Patrick Davis of CNN, along with the National Geographic Editor-in-Chief, we were encouraged to pursue our dreams of working in the journalism field.

Five students from each state were invited; and the best part, we not only spent six days learning and growing, but we also spent this time building lifelong friendships. It was an instant community of people, from diverse backgrounds and places, with one common thread -- a passion for journalism. I engaged in healthy conversations and developed friendships with people from Florida to California, Virginia to Alabama and everywhere in between.

We made so many great memories together culminating with an awe-inspiring WJMC Gala.

To say that this is one of the most memorable events of my life would be an understatement. I will cherish the lessons learned, the engaging and thought-provoking conversations and the collective belief that we are all different, but that is what makes this country great. It’s not about left or right, fake news or hatred, but about one country with great individuals that have a responsibility to be open, supportive and loving, to lift each other up and create a world where it is OK to have a different opinion or think differently, but it’s not OK to make others feel less than. We’re all human and we’re all hear to share this country together.

I will carry the lessons learned over this incredible six day conference with me for the rest of my life, and I would like to thank everyone in this community who helped me go on this amazing adventure!