Ben Diet­derich inter­viewed 2016 Lib­er­tarian Pres­i­dential Can­didate Gary Johnson at CPAC. Ben Diet­derich | Col­legian

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Pro­viding 56 Hillsdale College stu­dents a glimpse into the world of con­ser­v­ative pol­itics, this year’s Con­ser­v­ative Political Action Con­ference fea­tured a variety of speakers, including Pres­ident Donald Trump.

From Feb. 21 to 24, thou­sands con­verged upon the Gaylord National Resort and Con­vention Center near Wash­ington, D.C., to hear from White House staff and Trump admin­is­tration members such as Sec­retary of Edu­cation Betsy DeVos and White House coun­selor Kellyanne Conway, as well as Vice Pres­ident Mike Pence.

“I’ve never seen Trump in person, and it’s really dif­ferent than watching him on TV,” freshman Joey Sarno said. “When I saw him in person, he seemed like real guy, and his rhetoric was actually much better than on tele­vision. He really gave the impression that you were a part of some­thing bigger.”

Other guests included political com­men­tator Ben Shapiro, Fox News tele­vision host Sean Hannity, and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham.

“My favorite speaker was Shapiro. I’ve seen Trump before, so I think he was most exciting,” sophomore Patrick Farrell said. “I think he did a great job talking about a wide range issues from a con­ser­v­ative per­spective. He actually has a really objective take on every­thing.”

Stu­dents said they felt even more directly involved in the world of D.C. pol­itics when noticing the casual presence of these celebrity guests as they roamed the halls of the Gaylord Hotel and Con­ference Center, as well as sur­rounding restau­rants in National Harbor.

“It was really great seeing all of these famous politi­cians and speakers,” College Repub­licans’ Board of Trustees member, freshman Aidan Wheeler said. “We went out to lunch, and saw Nigel Farage eating. Walking throughout the Gaylord, I saw Ben Shapiro doing an interview at Radio Free Hillsdale. Later on, we saw Nigel Farage again.”

CPAC speakers shared a special con­nection with Radio Free Hillsdale. Hillsdale stu­dents junior Shad Strehle and sophomore Ben Diet­derich con­ducted inter­views with guests like Ben Shapiro, Rick Har­rison, and Gary Johnson.  

Other stu­dents found oppor­tu­nities to meet CPAC’s guest speakers by waiting back­stage or making acquain­tances in the general social areas.

Freshman Carl Miller took pho­tographs with numerous CPAC speakers, including Mark Levin, Ted Cruz, Ben Shapiro, Nigel Farage, and Rick Har­rison.

“During the 2016 election, I tried getting photos with all of the can­di­dates. My expe­rience with that really helped me dis­cover how to be at the right place at the right time,” Miller said. “But it really depends on a lot of luck. I really got lucky with a lot of the oppor­tu­nities to meet some of the guests.”

Stu­dents like Miller arrived at CPAC not only to grab unique oppor­tu­nities to meet con­ser­v­ative celebrities and listen to moti­va­tional speeches, but to find rebirth in the con­ser­v­ative movement, as a large majority of CPAC’s attendees this year were in fact College Repub­lican stu­dents from across the country.

“Not having been to CPAC before, what really struck me was the amount of young people,” Miller said. “It was really sur­prising, but really encour­aging to see the rising gen­er­ation.”

Stu­dents stayed a five-minute walk away at the AC Hotel on National Harbor. The Hillsdale College Repub­licans were able to reduce the cost from an esti­mated $930 per student to $180.

“I think it’s the best it has ever been, because we have been able to streamline,” acting pres­ident of College Repub­licans Rachel Umaña, a junior, said. “Each board had to focus on some aspect of fundraising and building up our bank account to make sure we can provide an event like this and make sure it is affordable. Stu­dents aren’t going to come if it’s not affordable.”

Stu­dents involved with College Repub­licans, espe­cially on the club’s exec­utive board, were held respon­sible for their dif­ferent com­mittees, each of which served a unique purpose in bringing together the overall trip.

“I joined the board in late December, and the respon­si­bil­ities I was given for CPAC had to do with fundraising,” said junior Jack McPherson, a Hillsdale College Repub­licans board member. “I sent letters to donors and par­tic­i­pated in a lot of member events.”

After months of fundraising efforts and a pro­posal to Student Fed­er­ation for $3,000 — one of the lowest amounts requested in recent years — the College Repub­licans CPAC trip became a reality. Fundraising methods included Buffalo Wild Wings, Panera Bread, and Domino’s fundraisers; a GoFundMe cam­paign, and 4,000 local phone calls on behalf of Michigan College Repub­licans.

“I helped with fundraising and some of the logistics of the CPAC trip,” said freshman Madeline Peltzer, member of the College Repub­licans Board of Trustees and Chair of the Connect Com­mittee. “I thought the energy and opti­mistic, upbeat envi­ronment was great. I’ve been wanting to go to CPAC for forever, and it was so great to see all of our efforts come to fruition and really enjoy our­selves.”

Despite a flat tire on the way back from D.C. which kept the group at a rest stop for nearly three hours, College Repub­licans Chair­woman Natalie Meckel, a junior, said the trip was an overall success.

“Every­thing came together incredibly well, and Rachel and I were thrilled, espe­cially since the two of us did just about all the planning our­selves,” Meckel said. “Ross, our Pres­ident, and Kaitlin, our Event Coor­di­nator, are on WHIP this semester in D.C., so we were down to two members of the exec­utive board on campus.”

For stu­dents who attended, the feeling was mutual, and many said they had had an overall pos­itive expe­rience.

“It’s a great oppor­tunity to connect with people out of D.C.,” Farrell said. “I def­i­nitely rec­ommend going, no matter who you are; anyone can get some­thing out of it.”