I have a confession to make.
I totally lied on my college application.
My apologies to the Georgia Institute of Technology, may you find it in your hearts to forgive me.
The year was 2014, and it was actually the Common App essay, and the prompt was “Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family” (I still have the essay saved on my computer), and having just finished working at camp for the first time that summer and being able to think of nothing but camp, camp people, camp songs, etc. it seemed only natural that I would write about camp.
So, I conjured up a draft, tweaked and re-tweaked it about seventy times, had Dad, friends, and various high school faculty read it, and submitted it to five schools. Done and done!
The essay was good; I don’t think lying changed that. It detailed misgivings about myself as a counselor and whether I would be able to give back to kids what my counselors gave to me from 2007 on. I spoke of paranoia of being too strict and the simultaneous fear of being too easygoing and thus easily manipulated. I talked about how it was my first “real” job, and I was subsequently afraid of “messing up,” and the essay travels over the realization of how I was letting go of my true self, only to realize that my true self was the Sam hired in the first place, culminating in the conclusion that “I don’t think I was ever truly an adult until I embraced the child within me.”
(Actual sentence from my college essay. Kind of yuck, but they love stuff like that.)
This won’t sound humble, but I am going to say it: I never doubted myself as a counselor. I love working with people. I came from a great counselor-in-training program and most importantly, I had awesome staff members to look up to and learn from. This combination allowed me to jump into the job with energy, enthusiasm, and constant euphoria. The most doubt I ever encountered was probably around the same time I got whipped cream in my hair during Closing Campfire that turned sour. But overall, I knew I was working at the Coolest Place On Earth, and I think so long as you can remember that and channel it into your performance, you can be a child’s Favorite Counselor Ever.
I have another confession to make.
My essay was not all that dishonest as I may have chalked it up to be. There is a beautiful truth that I tried to convey in my essay, and that I will try to convey to you now.
While camp has changed in a plethora of ways over the 10 years I have been there, one thing remains constant: self-discovery. This is self-discovery in ways that cannot be translated directly onto paper;
that cannot be calculated as quantities and graphed; that cannot be given a scientific explanation and a research paper to boot. People have told me that I changed while at camp; that I’ve come back more carefree, more pensive, more considerate – I definitely have, but these aren’t necessarily due to changes within me. It’s because you go to camp, and you learn. You learn the tangible – how to start a fire, how to play gaga, how to wear the same shirt for three days without washing it so no one notices. And then you learn the intangible.
You learn that sometimes it’s better to just sit back and listen.
You learn that no one is documenting your every flaw and mistake.
You learn that sometimes it’s best to listen to your gut and leap where you would have otherwise backed away slowly.
Most of all, you learn to trust yourself. To find comfort in yourself. To recognize that you can be virtually unstoppable because you well and truly know everything that you are capable of, which includes overcoming any obstacle.
This is true power. Forget every other definition of it.
Camp is an escape, it is a second home, it is a vacation. It has been all these things and more for me. Despite being two weeks, or four or six or eight or nine, it is a life-long journey and adventure all rolled up into one. In particular, it has been an education like none other I have ever received.
I don’t know that 17-year-old me could find words to explain the Camp Sensation. 19-year-old me is still having trouble right at this moment.
Yet honestly? I think it wise that admissions folks don’t hear that what camp taught me is going to be far more special than anything their school has to offer.