From February 7 to 11, 2018, Lyon College student Taylor Donnerson visited Washington D.C. to attend the National Prayer Breakfast. Only 100 students in the country receive invitations to this event each year. The director of the Arkansas Student Leadership Forum first nominated Donnerson for an invitation, and then the Donnerson filled out an application that ultimately won her a seat at the annual breakfast where leaders from around the world gathered to pray. The event provided Donnerson a new, revitalized outlook on life and plenty of friends.
Donnerson and the other students of the National Student Leadership Forum stayed in the hotel where the event was held. They attended a mixture of lectures and meals where they could speak with religious leaders, political leaders, and other people of note. In their spare time, students socialized, learning about each other over games and ice breakers.
Donnerson appreciated the care with which attendees addressed each other, saying that they encouraged a polite, welcoming, and open environment. “Everyone was open to express who they were and what they believed in. It was made up of all religions – we had Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam and Christianity. Just having prayer as the focus of the event – prayer to whoever you consider to be your higher being – was very beautiful.”
Among others, Donnerson spoke with First Lady of Rwanda Jeanette Kagame and Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a humanitarian from Uganda who was voted one of Time’s Most Influential Peple in 2014. Honored to be in the presence of those with such influence on the American people and the world, she said, “It was life changing. I felt very humble to be among them, and it was almost mind-boggling how everyone could have a different view but could use prayer to come together and talk about certain things that we have questions about.”
When students broke into groups of ten people between meals, Donnerson learned a powerful lesson about the importance of people’s stories. These small groups contained strangers at first, but then group leaders asked every student to tell his or her story. This exercise helped Donnerson understand the difficulty in judging others once their past is revealed, and she now tries to keep each person’s untold story in mind as she meets him.
The exercise had one other beneficial effect. Donnerson said, “I think telling my story really allowed me to reflect on who I was as a person and how my story could seem to other people.”
Eager to get to know each other after this exercise and other bonding activities, the students discussed everything from vulnerability to friendship. By the last day of the event, they had become great friends. On the last night, they went to a barn to participate in a farewell dance. Taylor laughed, saying, “I had never line danced before.”
Taylor still keeps in contact with her group members and plans to exchange postcards with them soon. She hopes to do an internship with the National Student Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.
“I came back renewed in my spiritual life, and I definitely have a different view on it. I believe in so much more than I thought I believed in, and I have good reasoning for it now,” said Donnerson.
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