Hipple Patel with Al Neuharth.

Not many things can make me want to give up a Jersey summer, even for a week. Only Al Neuharth can.

It all started when I read Al Neuharths’ books in the summer, and made me realize, he was the person I wanted to be. It’s not easy to rock a red blazer, red pants, or red shoes. Al Neuharth is the prime example of the American dream - even in the face of adversity. He didn’t let failures or his upbringing in the farms of South Dakota knock him down.

As with anyone, he faced obstacles in his quest for success. Some of his startup newspapers like the SoDak, a sports paper- failed. But that made him tougher, in his 'in it to win it' attitude. But some 30 years later, that same man, the one who founded one of the most successful newspapers, USA Today, is committed to helping those who want to pursue a career in the world of journalism.

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Just over 6 months ago, I was one of thousands applying at one of 51 spots. At that time, I would have never imagined being chosen ... let alone- having my life changed by a man and a team of people dedicated to the world of journalism. Me, along with a person from each state plus the District of Columbia were chosen to attend the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference which recognizes outstanding students who want to pursue journalism.

It was an all expense paid trip to Washington DC, and each of us received a $1,000 scholarship. Over the course of 5 days, 51 complete strangers became family and thats where I met my Facebook wife, Victoria Posmantur from Georgia and the 3OG’s.

I guess some things are just meant to be.

The days were long with 5 a.m. wake up calls, and an 11 p.m. bed time but we learned and met so many influential people from across the country - Beltway and beyond.

Time was really of the essence. We attended a live taping of NBC’s Meet the Press with David Gregory, took a tour of the White House, Senate, USA Today headquarters, and had Q&A sessions with people like the Freedom Riders, PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff and of course, USA Today/Freedom Forum founder Al Neuharth. Most of our days were spent in fantastic sessions at the Newseum.

As a big traveler, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cooler place. The exhibits there were moving. Thanks to the Freedom Forum and their staff we were encouraged to promote the rights of free press and free speech in our future careers as journalists.

Many say that the journalism business is dying, but I think it's just changing. As people find different ways to get their news, it’s just evolving for the better. Its great to know there really are people out there who care about people like me, the next generation of news. As I embark in studying Broadcast Journalism next year in college, there isn’t another profession I could imagine pursuing. It’s a honor to tell peoples' stories, and hopefully make a difference in the community.

The things we learned, and the people I met are priceless. This was honestly a once in a life opportunity and thanks to the fine folks at the Freedom Forum, Newseum, and Al Neuharth- it will forever be one of the best weeks in my life.

If there's one thing I learned, it’s that you really can do anything you want, if you “Dream. Dare. Do.”

The next Al Neuharth Free Spirit Journalism Conference will take place in Washington, D.C. July 14-19 in 2012. The conference is open to current high school juniors. Students can apply online at www.freespirit.org by Feb. 15, 2012 for the next conference which includes an all-expenses paid trip to D.C. and a $1000 college scholarship.

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