Camp Rotary: Where I Realized What the Rest of the World Should Be
August 26th, 2018
I recently got home from three weeks at summer camp. The place I attend is a small local sleepaway camp in Boxford, Massachusetts called Camp Rotary. It is my favorite place in the world. The camp is small, with a beloved director who has worked there for 30 years, a staff of college-aged students who are beyond dedicated to being role models for their campers, and a group of passionate, kind, and unique fellow campers that excite me to be there every day. The wooden cabins shine in the sunlight and the songs that campers sing echo all the way across Stiles Pond.
This summer, I took part in the Leader in Training (L.I.T.) program there. The mission of the program in the words of the Camp Rotary website is “To take teenagers who have displayed the prerequisite foundation of strong values, good character and cooperative behavior and teach them to be leaders and role models. Although one of our hopes is that the program be very fun, we expect that there will be times when it will be hard. We also are confident, however, that the life lessons learned from the program will only help to prepare the LIT for future challenges.” As an L.I.T, in addition to doing some maintenance jobs around camp, I had training sessions each day, where we did all kinds of activities meant to build our teamwork, communication, and leadership skills.
At our first training session, we watched a TedTalk called “Lollipop Moments.” The main idea that the speaker was presenting was that leadership is about positively impacting individual people’s lives, and that the smallest actions can be most powerful in creating change. As L.I.T.’s the ways that we would affect people would be small: including them in activities, walking up to someone sitting by themselves, and trying to display positive values to other campers in our behavior. Before that first training session, I wasn’t fully aware of how vital those actions are, but after that and through the next few weeks, I learned how much power I had to create a positive change for someone, and how important that really is. I began to understand that every action matters, which motivates me to do more for the people around me. I was invigorated by the idea that I really can create important positive change, so now I try to create as much of it as possible.
Additionally, by internalizing the notion that I have the ability to make change in someone’s life, my self confidence increased by exponential amounts. If I can make someone’s experience at camp or anywhere else better by sitting next to them, inviting them to play a game with me, or telling them how cool I think they are, then other people’s opinions about my appearance, intelligence, sense of humor, or interests do not matter as much.
Camp not only made me realize why small actions are important and helped my self-image, but also showed me what my priorities should be. At a competitive high school like mine, where each student seems to be doing something more impressive than the next — except for you — it becomes difficult to value anything but material success or what will get you into the most prestigious college: grades, internships, and extracurriculars. Camp’s emphasis on inclusion, positivity, and understanding was a reminder that there is a multitude of things that are more important than material high school accomplishments. Rather, one’s success should be defined by their kindness, leadership skills, tolerance, and passion, not red pen on a test paper or the number of extracurriculars one can list on a college application. My counselors, whom I admire more than I ever thought I could, taught me that. They each care for and teach their campers everything they can about being the best versions of themselves; having role models like my counselors led me to realize that I want to be someone who values love and positivity over academic success. Knowing what I think being a good person means makes it easier to be one. In turn, I am happier with myself and my accomplishments and I work harder to be the best person I can, using my own understanding of success.
Although my counselors taught me many important things, the people I learned the most from at camp were my peers. They, like me, each have their own personalities, strengths, and weaknesses as leaders and people. They all learned, led, and thought differently than I and everyone else in the program did. By spending three weeks with bright, funny, and incredible people like them, I learned that everybody really is special in different ways, sometimes in ways they don’t even realize. It sounds like a cliche, but it is something I truly believe after doing exercise after exercise in curating teamwork, communication, and leadership skills with twenty-one other kids my age for three weeks straight.
I learned more about myself, life, and other people in three weeks at camp than at any other time in my life. Camp Rotary and the people there are what keep me believing that the world can be a bright, hopeful, accepting place full of people who love each other, because that is what camp and the L.I.T. program were for me. Today, the United States and the world at large can be dismal and daunting places to be a part of, but camp motivates me to fight for what I know is right. I will continue to do what I can to make the world a better place because Camp Rotary is that better place to me.