I hopped off the plane at LAX, and yes, as Miley Cyrus says in her song “Party In The USA” I did sing that as I went.

Here I was—as I often heard later—in sunny California, although the adjective was slightly off as Los Angeles was a bit overcast at the time.  Ready for a week of bonding with my fellow Key Club board members and an all-day park hopper pass to Disneyland, I jumped onto a shuttle bus and was on my way to Anaheim for the Key Club’s 71st Annual International Convention (ICON).

           My first day representing Fayetteville High School was spent greeting the Alabama board members and rehashing memories from our board meeting three months prior, as well as meeting Key Club members from other schools and districts. We passed most of our day wandering around the hotel and making plans to head to Disneyland the next day, for which we were going to wake up at 9 a.m. Excitement ran high as evidenced by the running tackles many of us exchanged when we saw each other, ones you would think only took place in the movies. Awestruck by our surroundings and our reunions, the overwhelming majority of our conversations consisted of squealing “I missed you!” and “Can you reallybelieve that we’re in California?”

The reality of our 2,000-mile trek didn’t start to hit home until we went out to dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp that evening. The restaurant was fantastic (of course we knew all of our Forrest Gump trivia) and it was amazing to sit down with the people I had been longing to see since I signed my registration papers and printed out my itinerary. What we forgot to take into account, however, was that we were Southern, and therefore extremely accustomed to sweet tea that is, unfortunately, nonexistent on the western side of the country. This proved to be an issue for the remainder of our trip and the wakeup call we needed to remind us we were, in fact, very far away from Milo’s.

The next day, after a good night’s sleep, we were off to Disneyland. We arrived at around 9 a.m. and began our trek through the parks, starting with California Adventure. The morning was filled with rides such as Tower of Terror and California Screamin’, as well as laughter at the faces we made on the ride photos we had taken. Several hours and many memories later, we grabbed lunch and headed to the Disneyland Park.

Here I should clarify two things regarding what people say about Disneyland: One, “The park is constantly clean,” and I cannot explain to you how true this is. I am almost positive that if somebody had dropped their trash, a worker would have caught it before it hit the ground, but I didn’t get this verified, of course, because it never happened.

Two, “It’s not as great as Disney World because it’s smaller,” which is completely false. First, have you ever tried to go through all of Disney World? No, because it’s impossible. There are way too many rides, characters, restaurants, and parks to visit to even consider going through all of them. This is no less true at Disneyland.

Trust me, we stayed for over 13 hours and there were plenty of things left to do! The Disneyland Park is beautiful, exciting, and a joy to visit.

We headed back to our hotel for a quick meet-and-greet before rushing back for another go at California Screamin’ and a chance to watch World of Color. Unfortunately, only one of those dreams came true, as World of Color required tickets we did not have! (I would recommend grabbing some, though, because from what we heard it was incredible.)

Our next few days were spent in sessions and workshops learning about charities, various kinds of drives, caucusing, the International Board, and what we lieutenant governors should focus on in our never ending quest for the Robert F. Lucas Outstanding Lieutenant Governor Award. In three days we questioned International Board candidates for four hours, raised over $1,000 for the Eliminate Project to wipe out maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) from countries around the world, and ran booths to raise money for a cause of our choice. In those 72 hours I truly watched a fire being lit for service in the eyes of every attendee at the convention.

Of course, as any former Key Club convention attendee is aware, it simply would not be a Key Club event without a dance—or two. Our first and last technical nights of ICON both included a dance, one to start us off and the other for the Eliminate Project, which was a hot topic as it is our last year for this project.

It should be a trending topic anyway, though, because through the donation of only $1.80 to this organization, the life of a woman and any child she may carry can be protected from MNT for at least five years. This was a topic of great conversation during the convention, and we put to work the hash tag #elimin8 to spread awareness of this cause.

The day after convention ended, we embarked on an eight-hour tour of Los Angeles, searching for celebrities all the way. We drove down Rodeo Drive, through Beverly Hills, and past endless amounts of movie filming sites—including the Century 21 bank that blew up in the film “Independence Day” and the store from “Pretty Woman” that turned away Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian Ward.

The most unbelievable site of the day, however, was that of a store that actually requires customers to have any type of Black Card -- and at least a $1 million credit limit -- and to spend a $3,000 minimum while in the store. Apparently, there are also establishments that sell socks for up to $1,500 per pair, so I suppose it isn’t as difficult as you’d think. I have yet to understand what exactly these socks are made of, but I am assured it is revolutionary.

Once we got back to the hotel we all considered home by that point, we were ready to drop. I was especially since I was looking at waking up at 4:15 a.m. to catch an early flight back to Atlanta before another three hours in the car back to sweet home Alabama.

That night was full of tearful hugs, goodbyes, and promises to see each other again in August. California brought promises of lifelong memories and it didn’t disappoint. It also filled us with a longing to return, and I can’t wait for my week in Indianapolis next year!