In the summer of 2019, me and a friend got into an argument, and I said something really hurtful to him that I’ll forever regret. After the argument, months passed by, and before I knew it, I was at Coniston as a CIT. At the end of my CIT experience, two campers had been involved in a big argument. The counselor I was working with brought the two campers outside to speak. I sat and observed, and as they spoke to each other, I thought about the argument I had gotten into with my friend. Minutes passed, and the two had made up. One said to the other, “when I’m mad I don’t think about what I say, you should honestly just forget everything I said.” The other laughed, apologized himself, and they fist bumped.
On my first year on staff, at the very end of the summer, I sat crying in my counselors quarters. It was the night before I left camp for my first year of college. I had come off the worst school year of my life, the pandemic had stripped any confidence I once had. At camp I found purpose and happiness again. I didn’t feel ready, or even excited for my first year of college, and I was scared to leave the woods and my best friends behind. I feared that after camp I’d fall into the same depressed rut I had been in before it. When a camper who felt similar to me asked to speak, I frantically wiped my tears and joined him on a bench outside. We talked about how we didn’t want the summer to end, and how we were nervous for the school year. He said, “I think what makes this place so special is how little we’re here.” I agreed, and he went on, “I think knowing camp will be back is kinda what gets me through everything else.”
Last summer I sat on program porch waiting for my cabins COVID test results. We had been in a quarantine pod for 3 days, unable to interact with the rest of camp. I sat on the porch stairs, bouncing my leg, nauseous from worry. All I wanted was for everyone to test negative so we could return to normal camp. When I heard laughs I looked up and saw my cabin playing Gaga. Thinking I had nothing better to do, I joined their game, and had the time of my life. We ran around and sweat through our surgical masks. I remember at the time thinking, this is the hardest I’ve laughed all year. Minutes later, we all tested negative, and returned to normal camp. That night I asked my campers why they weren’t as nervous as me when we had been waiting for our test results. One of my campers said, “most of the stuff I worry about doesn’t even happen.”
Earlier this summer I sat at gazebo around a dying campfire with my cabin. Charlie, Will and I had asked our cabin who their biggest role models were for their highs and lows question. Throughout everyone’s answers I was blown away by the reasoning and emotion behind each choice. One camper had cried when discussing his role model. When everyone had shared, and the embers started to fizzle out, another camper spoke. He said, “when I lost someone close to me I thought I shouldn’t cry, but seeing you all open up has really helped me.”
I’ve been on staff here for three years, and when I look back on the last three summers of my life, I constantly think about why I came back here. I always think about it. As this summer comes to a close, I’ve found myself more than ever reflecting on that question when I get the chance. Some of you sitting in front of me know that this job can be back breaking, stressful, and emotionally and physically exhausting. Why did I keep coming back? Well, I think I finally know.
At camp, I’ve always felt I’m a way better version of myself than at home. In the sense that I like how I act at camp more than how I do at home. Camp always felt like a moral reset for me, like every summer, I was reminded what right and wrong was. It’s taken me three years to realize that the reason I feel so good about myself here has been a result of all of you campers. Every summer, you all reminded me what this place is about— being a good person. Living in the moment, showing emotion, and being yourself. That’s why I kept coming back, the lessons I learned from all of you. All this time I thought this place was fulfilling because I was helping you all out, but in reality, it was actually fulfilling because you were all helping me out. I used to think I came back here every summer to teach. I’ve slowly realized that actually, I came back here every summer to learn.
So, you might be thinking how the heck this story about me, applies to you. Maybe, like me, you’ve thought to yourself, I feel like a better person at camp than at home. I like how I act at camp more than I like how I act at home. I think my message today is to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that all the different interactions you have here at camp, whether they are big or small, or annoying, or completely and utterly meaningless in the moment— teach you things. I just shared my four most vivid camp memories over an eleven year span, and every single one was a time that a camper taught me a priceless life lesson. So reflect. Who has taught you what here? What values and lessons have you learned from your friends? Staff, what have you learned from your campers? Where, and what would you be without them?
If any of you think your presence here doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. If you think that one cabin mate you don’t like so much has nothing to offer you, you’re wrong again. Every single one of you is so special, and each summer, every single one of you taught me more than you will ever know.
Everyday I tried to teach all of you about life, but everyday you taught me what life is all about.