KUNA ‘24 Through My Lens

A Recap of the KUNA 3 Conference and How it Changed my Life
Seniors Hanna Grass, Harper Lewis, and Ella Hustead embracing one another in a General Assembly meeting (Mar. 25). Photo courtesy of senior Harper Lewis.
Seniors Hanna Grass, Harper Lewis, and Ella Hustead embracing one another in a General Assembly meeting (Mar. 25). Photo courtesy of senior Harper Lewis.

“KUNA 3, can you do sum’ for me?” an eager junior candidate for presiding officer asked the conference jokingly at the conclusion of her campaign speech. I smiled, taking note of their allusion to the trendy lyric sung by singer-songwriter Drake in his song “Rich Flex” with fellow star 21 Savage. Their callback, as some might say, was “cringe-worthy,” but also courageous and memorable. To stand up in front of hundreds of judgemental teenagers in an attempt to receive their vote as a future presiding officer takes some guts. You can’t take charge of the podium and ramble on using academic language and references too intricate for our generation to understand. No, to campaign for a leadership role like this you need social awareness, charisma, and confidence. Honestly, to embrace the true value and purpose of a conference like the Kentucky United Nations Assembly (KUNA), you will need these qualities. Even as a mere delegate myself, sitting amongst the crowds and raising my placard in support or opposition to the resolutions proposed by student representatives, I was channeling a sense of maturity few scenarios demand. The debate and passing of a resolution on behalf of the United Nations may be a “mock” experience, but the respect and focus required in doing so are real.

The Y-Club of Central Hardin is composed of some of the most wonderful individuals I have had the privilege of spending time and growing with over these past few years I have been a member. Y-Club is in correlation with the Kentucky YMCA which hosts multiple immersive conferences throughout the year, focusing on different areas of government and public policy. Club members participate in community service, practice public speaking, conduct officer elections, and prepare material to present at the two conferences we attend each year: the Kentucky Youth Assembly (KYA) and KUNA. For more information on KYA and the Y-Club, I encourage you to explore The Central Times’ previous content and coverage. Additionally, our club advisors and social study teachers Katherine Graybeal and Tyler Vessels are always open to discussing Y-Club affairs and interest with prospective members. As a Bruin student, you are encouraged to get involved and learn what this organization is all about! That being said, here, I will primarily be examining my experience as a senior delegate attending my last KUNA conference.

It was Sunday, Mar. 24, 1:00 p.m., and our bus was packed full of professional attire, exorbitant amounts of caffeine, a trifold and flag representing the country of Australia, a bottle of vegemite, a stuffed koala, and other miscellaneous travel items. Seats were filled, cameras charged, and spirits excited for what was yet to come of the next few days. About 45 minutes passed and at last, our bus arrived on the downtown streets of Louisville outside the Marriott hotel we would reside in. 

Immediately stepping into the lobby of our location, I knew this conference would be different. We were no longer in the pale halls of Central or the typical tan ballrooms of the Crowne Plaza we have been placed in for the last few years of KUNA. This setting was modern, extravagant, and some might even say grand. There was a Starbucks downstairs where baristas blended espresso mixtures for overpriced sums. As my eyes drifted around, I watched groups of attendees like myself lounge around in nooks with leather couches and coffee tables costing more than what was in my wallet. My group and I indulged in a refreshing glass of fruit infused water offered by the front desk as we waited for the elevator to deliver us to our room. I took note as a guest beside me pressed the button for the 14th floor; the Crowne Plaza had stopped at three.

My three roommates and I were pleased with the quality of our room, and entered our first general assembly (GA) with optimism. The standard procedures and introductory ceremonies went as planned, and I soaked the drawn-out moments in, knowing that these next few days – my final opportunity to experience KUNA – would fly by.

“At KUNA, students will participate in one of the Program Areas the Assembly offers based on their grade and experience. These Program Areas align with the UN Principal Organs and each area is led by Presiding and Supporting Officers, with a variety of Ambassador Roles available to participants,” kyymca.org explains.

The primary organ of the UN, and the largest program area at KUNA are Ambassadors. They will research, write, and debate resolutions on international policy issues. Delegations can sponsor 1 resolution in the UN General Assembly for each country they are representing. This year, Central was representing Australia, and we had a very own Australian native sponsoring our resolution with vigor. 

Central Hardin’s World Expo Display representing Australia with a variety of detailed descriptions and visual aids that embody the country’s culture (Mar. 24). (Hanna Grass)

Junior Emerson McNeilly was a core part of our delegation, success, and KUNA experience. She took charge during World Expo as students of any program area mingled, observed, and questioned the exhibition factors of each country’s display. Seniors Harper Lewis, Aubrey Konwinksi, and Chad Fredrick were the primary creators of our trifold display and visual aids. Fredrick was able to 3D-print models of the Sydney Oprah House and Sydney Harbor Bridge which in combination with vegemite and the Australian chocolate snack Tim Tams, caught the attention of a variety of delegates.

Seniors Sydney Higdon, Harper Lewis, and Kayla White posing in front of the Australia World Expo Display (Mar. 24). (Hanna Grass)

The following day, the main debate and resolution presentations would occur throughout multiple sessions of committee meetings and GA discussion. McNeilly, along with her fellow resolution sponsors senior Garret Milby, and juniors Harper Warell and Ryah Rodriguez delivered their resolution representing Australia with pride and grace. In short, their resolution was proposing a framework be implemented within the United Nations to help alleviate the problems invasive species were causing for each country’s environment. For Australia specifically, McNeilly explained how invasive species like the European rabbit have had devastating effects on crop production and sustainability, local biodiversity, and the extinction of some native mammals and birds of the outback. Central’s sponsors answered questions of the committee with expertise, respect for the chair, and responded to negative feedback to the best of their ability. I was grateful to be able to witness their resolution presentation firsthand, smiling honorably as Milby commanded the room with his strong speaking voice. His ability to draw power and energy from his audience was inspiring and absolutely influential on the success of Australia’s resolution. 

Day 2 of KUNA was a whirlwind to say the least. I started my day waking at 6am to dress in my business professional fit, maintained focus through the seemingly never ending sessions of debate, and finally let down for dinner and free time a whopping 13 hours later. It is an exhausting experience, but one of pure humility and community with those around you. I adored watching the Dupont Manual High School delegation perform The Haka, a song and dance the All Blacks rugby team does in preparation for matches. The respect and effort they drew upon to represent New Zealand as a nation was beautiful, as was an Elizabethtown High School’s student performance of a Bob Marley song on behalf of Jamaican culture. There are so many high points of the KUNA conference, infused with cultural antiquity, but one of my personal favorites of Day 2 was the silent disco.

Senior Aubrey Konwinski enjoying her time at the KUNA 3 Silent Disco (Mar. 25). Photo courtesy of senior Harper Lewis.

A silent disco is when people are dancing while listening to music only through headphones provided by the host of the disco. Usually at these events, two or three different channels will be active, so that people with different music tastes can choose which music channel they want to listen to. As long as I have attended Y-conferences, which has been since 2021, the silent disco has been a fan favorite activity to participate in during our allotted free time. In these few hours of choice, students can do karaoke, watch a movie, play board games, perform in a talent show, or bust a move in the silent disco room. It seems that year after year, more and more people are choosing to get groovy with their friends at the disco; sometimes really feeling the music, and others simply embracing the hilarity of hearing the off tune singing and stomps when removing your headphones. This year, they played tracks such as “Dilemma” by Rihanna, “Stick Season” by Noah Kahan, “Heartless” by Kanye West, and of course, “Y.M.C.A” by Village People. It was a conglomeration of genres back to back, so you never knew if what was up next would be a tear jerking ballad or a booty-shaking banger. Nonetheless, my friends and I moshed.

After hour upon hour of patiently listening to speeches, advocating on behalf of an international country, and debating our hearts out, the feeling of jumping, swaying, and screaming song lyrics was truly freeing. I was exhausted, to the bone, but the sweaty energy and sincere joy encompassing that dark disco room kept me going. As the final track concluded and I emerged back into the real world, or in this case, the Marriott lobby, I was hit with realization and bittersweet sadness: that was my last silent disco with Y-Club. 

Before bed that night, I reflected on my day and how grateful I was to have had the opportunity to attend conferences like KUNA. I fell asleep that evening giggling while WWE Monday Night Raw played on the television and my friends chanted in support as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson defeated Cody Rhodes in a fight; nights like these are what life is all about. 

The next morning, final ceremonies took place, awards were received, and elections held. Junior Adelyn Johnson was running for presiding officer and had made it past the primary elections. She was one of the top candidates and our delegation cheered passionately as she gave her final speech in front of the conference. Frederick, Milby, and McNeilly received Outstanding Speaker awards, and Central was recognized as an Outstanding delegation, meaning our students participated and acted in accurate reflection of the YMCA’s core values.

We watched the recap videos/programs that seniors Kayla White and Sydney Higdon contributed in creating as Media Corps staff.

Pictures passed on the projected screen and “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield played in the background. The joy shining from the people in these images seemed to seep into our auditorium. I smiled as I saw myself in a few of the featured flicks, and I gazed across the aisles of teens in front, behind, and next to me who were watching with the same sentiment. We looked professional, serious, and as though we meant business in this slideshow, hence, I was taken aback as I realized the same people who banged the gavel in a pressed suit or spoke on women’s rights in a pair of pantyhose sat closeby in a hoodie, jeans, and Converse sneakers. The contrast? Undeniable; undeniably beautiful.

Johnson unfortunately did not get elected as presiding officer, but we were and remain so incredibly proud of all the effort and people she connected with during her campaign journey. It was an emotional rollercoaster of nerves and courage, just ask Warell who cried tears of joy after learning her friend had advanced to voting!

The final thing I want to touch on, the thing that made this particular KUNA even more special than it already had become, was the surprise guest speech from American politician from the commonwealth of Kentucky, Charles Booker. Booker served in the Kentucky House of Representatives, representing the 43rd district from 2019 to 2021. During his term, he was Kentucky’s youngest Black state lawmaker and years later, is remembered and respected by myself and many Kentuckians.

Booker stepped up to the podium and congratulated each school, delegation, special program, and student for all they accomplished this KUNA. He reminded us that the effort we put towards these events does not go unnoticed by him nor his fellow politicians. He admired our respect and professionalism as young adults, saying that we will be a leg above others in maturity as we enter our adult lives. He briefly explained his own upbringing and struggles he faced, wanting us to know we are not alone in these years of so much change. Booker encouraged us to feel the hurt, trust the process, and embrace our story, for it is what makes us special.

So KUNA 3, you did do sum’ for me. You did a lot for me, actually. You pushed me to be a better speaker, advocate, leader, and friend. You showed me a taste of the professional universe that is the United Nations and that change really can happen with time, effort, and drive. You drained me of sleep, but replenished me with inspiration and I want to thank you. I will miss you more than words can express, but I will cherish the memories made during all your glory.

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