They call it “the city that never sleeps” and when a group of eight JMU SGA members headed into New York City for a conference as well as sightseeing, we didn’t sleep either. Although the American Student Government Association conference had most of Saturday booked, there was a lot on the weekend’s itinerary.
The conference crew – Aaron Brown, Taylor Vollman, David Scala, Vanina Waingortin, Alex Pate, Adam Miner, Kathy Cornea, and myself – drove up to good old NOVA. We all made it to the Jedlicka house safely, where a welcoming pot of chili was ready for our arrival. The six of us bunking at Executive Treasurer, Jake Jedlicka’s house got less than three hours of sleep before waking up at 3:30 AM to be shuttled to Union Station. Very few of us qualify as “morning people,” which made it fairly easy to fall asleep on the train.
For half of the group, NYC was a new adventure: one much different from the cozy streets of downtown Harrisonburg. Arriving at Penn Station in the heart of New York City, the group hailed two taxis and braced ourselves for the trip to Brooklyn along traffic-jammed streets. We dropped our bags at the Holiday Inn Express and headed for the heart of Brooklyn to find the cheapest Broadway tickets in town. While Aaron and I people-watched on the Polytechnic Institute of NYU campus, the rest of the group snagged discount tickets for Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. From here, we hopped on the subway and somehow found our way to Lower Manhattan.
The first item on our to-do list was the 9/11 Memorial. While waiting to enter, we went into St. Paul’s Chapel, which houses memorabilia from the tragedy. The 9/11 Memorial was arguably the best part of the weekend. The North and South pools sit where the towers’ bases once stood, and are surrounded by engraved names as well as onlookers from around the world. David and Alex talked about the meaning of the design, and the impact of that day, while others texted family members, attempted to take pictures, and silently reflected. Vanina and Adam lead the pack to the New York Stock Exchange and an authentic pizza shop around the corner. As an avid pizza-eater, I will argue that this place is the best – Pizza Italia, 11 Stone St. New York, NY.
On our second attempt at the subway, we made it to Central Park. Strolling the paths, Taylor told us about her favorite FRIENDS episodes and we talked about all the different movies and TV shows that had been filmed where we stood. Exiting the park on Fifth Avenue, we couldn’t resist some window shopping. After an exhaustive day in the city, one or two people may have fallen asleep on the subway like true New Yorkers, but I won’t name names.
We freshened up and officially checked into our rooms and headed back into the city. The Spiderman group found the Foxwoods Theatre while Aaron and I went around the corner to Times Square. Our first stop was the Toys-R-Us store, which housed a toy-themed ferris wheel, a talking dinosaur, and Wonka candy. We continued shopping and exploring until the rest of the group was out of the theater and we all reconvened in the heart of the city. From what I heard, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark was an awesome musical of set changes, cartoon-true costumes, and flight above the crowd, which the group loved. We didn’t get back to the hotel until midnight, once again setting our alarms for way less than the recommended amount of sleep.
The day that brought us to the big city had come: ASGA conference day! We donned our business-casual best and walked over to Long Island University. We chose the sessions we would attend throughout the day and entered the auditorium for the opener, emceed by Chris Irving. He introduced the other speakers, Rasheed Ali Cromwell and Suzette Walden, as well as speaker and founder of ASGA, Butch Oxendine, Jr. There were 16 sessions total: four options in four different time blocks. The workshops focused on diverse topics including communication, diversity within SGA, managing involvements, creating programs, turnovers and training, and what to do with the information we gained. There was also a roundtable period, where we mingled with SGA members from different universities to share knowledge and experience.
Each of the eight JMU members who attended the ASGA conference left with more confidence as leaders and new ideas to bring to SGA in the future. However, we also left with exhaustion. It had been a long trip already. Afterwards, we discussed our own SGA, where we can improve, and how each of us would continue to learn and improve within SGA.
After having a day filled with student government, it was time to celebrate and relax. We researched restaurants for an hour or so before making a last minute decision to go to a local spot a couple of blocks down the road. We gorged on pastas, sandwiches, specials, and managed to save room for dessert. As much as we all love D-hall and campus cookies, it was a nice change.
Once again, we rose before the sun and hopped on a train back to DC. After sleeping some more, we exchanged even more ideas about the future of our SGA before we all parted ways.