February 18, 2021

Milton Friedman, a prominent economist and former Fulbright lecturer at Cambridge University, delivered a keynote address at SCONA 20.

For more than six decades, the MSC Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA) has helped prepare students to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.

The annual conference hosts delegates from colleges across the nation and around the world who gather at Texas A&M each year to address topics of national importance. These students participate in roundtable discussions culminating in a policy paper and hear from prominent military, political and academic experts about each year’s theme.

“SCONA allows us to engage with a wide-ranging set of perspectives to discuss what the United States’ future looks like in a global system,” said SCONA 66 Chair Jacob Williams ’20 ’22. “As students, we can begin to change the conversation about what is happening with the international system and the U.S.”

This year, the conference featured the theme “Sailing Uncertain Waters: Navigating America Through a Changing International Paradigm.” Students examined the challenges facing international institutions and discussed roundtable topics such as international health systems, climate change, and relations with China and Russia. Delegates also interacted with keynote speakers Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the U.S. Army; Greg Vogle, a senior advisor with the McChrystal Group and the retired director of the CIA’s clandestine services; and Dr. Nora Janjan, chief medical officer of STATinMED Research.

“We were motivated to talk about not just where America stands today, but also the future of America’s role in the world,” Williams explained.

As the 66th SCONA, this year’s event builds on previous conferences’ legacies of inviting top speakers to impart their knowledge to the next generation of problem-solvers. Here’s a look back at some of those conferences and the esteemed experts who shared their worldly wisdom.

Lamar Fleming Jr. (center), the board chairman of Anderson, Clayton and Co., and George McGhee (left center), former assistant secretary of state, were featured speakers at SCONA 1. Also pictured are Deputy Corps Commander John Jenkins ’56 (far left), SCONA co-founder and chair of SCONA 1, and Harold Sellers ’56 (second from right), a committee chairman and commander of the second wing.

SCONA 1: Beginning a Legacy

The legacy began in 1955 with SCONA 1. Thanks to two students who drove across Texas to raise money and find speakers, the conference was an immediate success. More than 110 delegates from colleges in 15 states and Mexico attended the four-day event, which focused on the role of the United States in national affairs.

Even in its first year, the conference drew such prominent speakers as retired Army Gen. William Donovan, the founder of the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services; Thurston Morton, assistant secretary of state; George McGhee, former assistant secretary of state; and Lamar Fleming Jr., board chairman of Anderson, Clayton and Co. and former vice chairman of the Commission on Foreign Economic Policy.

“The United States’ place in decisions and adventure is greater than ever before,” Fleming said during his keynote address. “Great problems are being solved for better and for worse and will be so solved, some of them in the remainder of my lifetime and more of them during the lives of those who now are undergraduates.”


As Vice President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson discussed national policy as the keynote speaker during SCONA 8.

SCONA 8: Welcome, Mr. Vice President

The conference attracted additional attention in 1962 when SCONA 8 hosted then Vice President Lyndon Johnson. After speaking at SCONA 2 while a U.S. senator, Johnson returned as SCONA 8’s keynote speaker, addressing a crowd of more than 9,000 people, including 150 delegates from 65 colleges in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Johnson discussed U.S. policy and its relation to the conference’s theme, “Sources of World Tension.” He outlined important but often-overlooked origins of tension such as local issues, lack of social mobility, and racial or religious inequality. “If we are to seriously undertake the relieving of world tensions, a greater degree of political courage, political imagination and political innovation will be required,” he added.



Milton Friedman (second from left) focused on free enterprise and the government’s growing tendency to limit this liberty during his SCONA 20 talk.

SCONA 20: Focus on the Future

In 1975, attendees looked toward America’s future legacy during SCONA 20. Held the year before the nation’s bicentennial, the conference featured the theme “America: The Third Hundred Years,” and delegates discussed a wide range of potential problems and topics that could shape society’s future.

Numerous experts shared their views on different areas, including the economy, genetic engineering, technology, land use, resource allocations and the government’s future. Milton Friedman, a prominent economist and former Fulbright lecturer at Cambridge University, delivered one of the keynote addresses, focusing on free enterprise and the government’s growing tendency to limit this liberty. After discussing the nation’s past approach to free enterprise, he explained that this quality was essential to future freedom. “We must talk about the past and present to know the future,” he said.


Gen. Martin Dempsey participated in a review of the Corps of Cadets while on campus for his SCONA 60 speech.

SCONA 60: Unlocking Potential

In 2015, SCONA 60 addressed the human element of political institutions with the theme “Surviving Ourselves: Ignite the Human Potential.” The conference examined the valuation of human capital and featured speeches from Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking member of the armed forces.

Hayden shared his experiences leading complex organizations in uncertain times and emphasized leadership lessons he had learned, such as believing in one’s employees and having true humility. “Success isn’t guaranteed,” he said of leadership and public service. “You will have your share of failures. But I can tell you, it is rewarding.”

After discussing topics of security in the Middle East, Russia and China, Dempsey also provided wisdom to help delegates ignite their own leadership potential. “You harness the human potential of a country when you understand the views of others, not just your own narrow view,” he said. “The challenges I see before us will require exceptional effort and expertise, so you need to commit yourself right from the start to being the best fill-in-the-blank you can be.”

Support SCONA

Donor support plays an essential role in SCONA’s success. “We cannot do what we do without the help of former students,” Williams said. “We are very thankful for those who have poured their time and resources into helping us put on the best conference possible.”

You can support SCONA in the following areas. Endowed gifts of $25,000 or more will support the area of your choice in perpetuity, while a check or online gift of any size can be directed toward the organization’s excellence fund to advance its mission. 


1. Conference Speakers ($15,000 annually)

To enhance the experience for delegates across the nation, each conference features speakers from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Funding will help SCONA host top speakers at future conferences.

2. Program Speakers ($10,000 annually)

In addition to the annual conference, SCONA hosts fall and spring programs for students and the general public to educate audiences on topics of national affairs or international events. Additional support can help provide new opportunities for the student body to hear from key individuals who have made a difference in the world.

3. Conference Events ($4,500 annually)

SCONA partners with the U.S. Army War College to host the International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise (ISCNE). Held during the two days before the conference, these mock negotiations provide delegates with hands-on diplomacy experience. Hosting ISCNE and SCONA requires funds to rent rooms in the Memorial Student Center and Rudder Complex and secure accommodations, transportation and additional components required for delegates.

4. Committee Development ($2,300 annually)

SCONA teaches its committee members valuable life skills and provides an environment of education and growth through leadership opportunities such as retreats, weekly meetings and training events. Funds can help the organization continue developing young leaders and allow for students to assume greater positions of responsibility.

5. Strategic Partnerships ($1,500 annually)

SCONA was based on West Point’s Student Conference on U.S. Affairs (SCUSA), and the two organizations partner to send delegates from both schools to the respective conferences. Through this opportunity, representatives learn from their counterparts and can provide insights for the success of both conferences. SCONA annually sponsors two of its members to attend SCUSA. Additionally, SCONA has been forging a relationship with the Naval Academy’s Foreign Affairs Conference and intends to sponsor students to attend this event.


You can also become a member of the SCONA 100 Club! Members pledge $1,000 annually for three years and are recognized at a reception and closing banquet at the annual conference. Half of each contribution supports SCONA’s operating budget, while the remainder is added to the organization’s endowment to ensure the continued success of future conferences.

To learn more about supporting SCONA or other student programs, contact David Wilkinson ’87 at (979) 845-7609 or by submitting a message through the form below.