As April Break creeps closer (only two weeks away), we are continuing our series of interviews with “grown-up” campers. This week, meet a camper who graduated into a Monster Camper… And now jumps out of planes!
1. What have you been up to since “graduating” from being a camper? (College, work, passions, etc)
I’ve been busy. My last year at camp was 2014. I graduated from UMASS Amherst with a degree in English in May 2017, and started working as a Technical Writer at Salesforce. I guess that’s the boring part. I write user manuals in 9-5 corporate job, though I’ve found some surprisingly nerdy friends at the office, complete with bi-weekly sci fi lunches and weekly after-work board games. To balance all the sitting, I have my hobbies, which, in my words, serve to keep my feet off the ground. I’m taking acrobatics and aerial classes, I’m working on obtaining my pilot’s license, and I’m a licensed skydiver. Skydiving is the one that has really taken up my time. It’s a fair weather sport, so I try to spend as much of the winter as possible traveling. This past winter I visited Florida twice for training and made a trip to Puerto Rico. This upcoming year I have two trips to Puerto Rico and one to Michigan, as well as maybe a few to Florida and one to Colorado. When I’m not trying to escape my gravitational constraints, I play video games, DnD, and write.
2. How long were you a camper for? How would you say you changed as a person throughout that experience?
I was a camper for one year and a Monster Camper for three. When I started camp, I was a bundle of nerves. Having been homeschooled for the 6-7 years leading up to my first summer there, I was a bit of a hermit and terrified of interacting with people without either of my sisters as security blankets. I think I learned to interact, learned to speak, learned to laugh. I found my voice, pushed my limits, received feedback and pushback as well as support and help. I learned how to succeed as well as fail. Learned how to make friends as well as how to deal with people I didn’t get along with so well. There were peaks and valleys. There were days, years, that were better or worse than others. It gave me a chance to experience life while having a blast and meeting amazing people. And as someone who had suffered aggressively in the experiences department, it was what I needed to get past my mental blocks.
3. How have you grown as a person since camp?
Since camp, I’ve continued to branch out my social circles. Camp friends, ‘high school’ friends (one camp friend of mine adopted me into his high school group of friends in 2013. Five years later, they’re still some of the best friends I have), Ohio friends, Wisconsin friends, skydiving friends, gaming friends… My friends actually roll their eyes when I mention being an introvert because, by all metrics, I’ve transitioned into a far more extroverted person. I’ve grown in confidence from a sickly 15 year old girl who could hardly speak a full sentence to a far more confident woman. I’m holding down a full time job, flying and jumping out of planes, driving or flying across the country to meet up with the friends, and honing skills that tend to get me an incredulous head shake whenever I discuss them.
4. Can you think of ways your experience as a Hero at camp equipped you with skills that helped you later in life?
Camp gave me a platform to struggle through some difficult parts of my life without fear of judgement or ostracization. It gave me a way to interact with my fellow campers, through characters and storytelling, when being myself was difficult. It’s hard to pinpoint actual tools camp equipped me with because, in all honesty, I feel like my life started the first summer I went away. My life didn’t exist outside my house before that.
5. What is your most memorable camp experience?
Besides makings campers cry as a Monster Camper? I always joke about that, but I think there’s something to be said about taking a demographic of young teenagers who tend to think of themselves as jaded and cynical, and putting them in a position where they’re able to empathize with a character so much that they’re moved to tears. Those are the moments that stick with me the most. In today’s society, it seems like getting children to keep in touch with their emotional vulnerability and able to express that, as they progress through adolescence, can be hard. I think that makes those connections is all the more rewarding. So whether it was playing the magical weapon accidentally brought to life, or the girl who, in an attempt to heal her brother, brought him back as a zombie, the moments where the kids made that extra connection probably ranked among the best.
6. And finally, what advice or encouragement do you have for our current Heroes at camp, who might soon be aging out of our camper program?
It’s not easy to say good bye. It can be a messy, sad, painful, or lonely process. That’s ok. Those are natural feelings, let yourself feel them. It hurts because you loved it. I left camp after 2014 and it wasn’t among my most graceful good byes. Like everything with camp, it was a learning experience. But a startling amount of my life stayed the same. Two of my three best friends I met directly at camp. The other I met through someone I met at camp. These people have changed my life and have stuck with me through some incredibly volatile times, both good and bad. Nothing is ending, just changing. Let yourself cherish the memories, always remember the lessons, and take what you can from the wild, breathless summers that you were a hero, in a far off land, fighting to save the world.