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I made the decision to come to the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2008. When I told my grandfather, who has two degrees from CU, he was thrilled.

My grandpa is a teddy bear of a man, and I’d bet he gives the best hugs this side of the Mississippi. When he found out that I would attend his alma mater, he pulled me in to one of those big hugs, then put on a stern manner and a furrowed brow and said, “Now Hadley, there’s one thing you have to remember at CU. No matter what you do, you have to volunteer for the Conference on World Affairs.”

When my grandfather attended CU, from the fall of 1959 to the summer of ’64, the CWA was just a hint of what it is today. Still, it left an impression on him that would last into a new millennium.

This year, the conference celebrates its 64th year of bringing in participants from all over the world to speak on any topic imaginable. And as with most events that pack in the masses, behind the conference is a staggering amount of work done mostly by volunteers. I am one of those volunteers.

A year’s worth of work goes into the planning and execution of the CWA, starting as soon as the first panel ends. Each panel is ranked by the people running it, which helps the committee analyze what worked and what didn’t for the next year.

The CWA has seven subcommittees, each representing various areas of expertise: Arts, Business, Human Condition, International Affairs, Politics and Media, Science and Technology, and Students. Each subcommittee has student editors and editors from the community. These editors run weekly meetings, at which other student and community volunteers decide who will be invited to the CWA.

The decision process takes almost the entire first semester, and is handled with extreme care. Before a participant is invited, he or she must be approved by the group of editors. The editors discuss each potential participant, ruminating on types of panels they could speak on and what they would contribute at the conference. Once the participants pass the gauntlet of editor voting, they are formally invited.

The next step in the process is the fun part. The committees get together and discuss what topics will be interesting, thrilling, thought-provoking, inappropriate, funny and relevant come April. As a freshman, it was these meetings that inspired me to volunteer for the conference for the next four years of my life. These brainstorming sessions overflow with topics and titles. The topics are born from ideas that conference participants suggest themselves, and then are molded into panels by the committees.

In mid-February, the committee meets for “Planning Weekend,” where from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every panel that has been concocted is presented, complete with a tentative title and at least four participants. The participants are checked and double-checked to ensure that they will be able to speak well on the topic, and that they are all on at least one panel per day. The process of placing panels correctly takes hours, but by the end of Planning Weekend, a skeleton schedule for the entire week of the conference is complete.

Though these are the main meetings involved in putting together the CWA, many others occur to ensure that the whole week runs smoothly. One whole meeting is devoted to tweaking titles, while others are held to coordinate housing for the participants, plan out the schedules of the student volunteers, organize producers and moderators for each panel, design marketing, choose the conference theme, and much more.

Without the work of the volunteers and the staff who have made the conference their life’s work, none of it would be possible.

P.S. If you want the advice of a true CWA veteran, these are my Grandpa’s picks of panels to attend for the week:

Monday: “Can the Center Hold: Democracy and Governance in a Polarized America”

Tuesday: “Is Anybody Normal?”

Wednesday: “A Spiritual Soup: Defining Faith”

Thursday: “Prisons: The Caging of America”

Friday: “Shifting Sands in the Middle East: New Players, Policies and Directions”


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