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One last summer at camp

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Lauren Schmidt photo

A little less than a month ago, I sat in a crowded stadium as the dean of students called my name, deeming me officially a “post grad,” “adult” and lots of other words that I am in still in denial about associating with myself. Over the course of commencement weekend, the infamous question of “what are you doing after graduation?” that I had been asked approximately ten thousand times since the start of my senior year was brought up more than ever. However, instead of brushing it aside, mumbling something about how I was “working at camp, but looking for a full-time job for fall, don’t worry” and immediately harvesting anger towards anyone and everyone for pestering me with this question, I smiled and explained that I was going to have a new position of managing the communications and social media at my former overnight camp.

I am not sure what exactly prompted this shift between being embarrassed that I hadn’t even started applying to full-time jobs to being unconditionally happy that I am spending my summer in Lake Delton, Wisconsin, but I somehow came to this realization. After being at camp for about three weeks, I am certain that no matter what life stage I am passing through, it is a smart decision to be at one of the places I love the most and an even smarter decision to be in a position that I am so passionate about.

Jewish camp is something that is a phenomenon and consequentially, it is challenging to accurately verbalize its importance. I used to think that Jewish camps provided Jewish kids with a home away from home over the summer and a place to grow up and feel comfortable in their own skin. I still think this is one of the most important purposes of Jewish camp, but as I get older, I realize there is much more to it. Camp is something that remains constant when the world around you changes. Not only is it physically the same place, even with the minor structural or programmatic changes from year to year, but the feeling and atmosphere of camp remains the same. I still walk past the same trees that I did as a camper, swim in the same pool, and enjoy some of the same activities. I can say that although I am a completely different person than I was when I first came to camp 14 years ago, I still get the same feeling when I pull through the gates and the same camp chills from being at a place that is so special.

So, while most of my class entered their first full-time job, packing up their childhood rooms and preparing to rent their first “real” apartment, I spent a few hours packing up the same duffels I’ve used forever, threw them in my trunk, and drove three hours to the Wisconsin Dells. Instead of sitting on the train for half an hour commuting to a desk downtown, my commute is about a two minute walk from my cabin to my office desk. Instead of daily or weekly happy hours, my breaks mostly entail eating pizza with camp friends, dancing in the dining hall, and sitting on the porch of the camp office for hours talking about whatever is on my mind. Sure, to the untrained eye, this may seem ridiculous. Why would anyone give up that sense of newness, independence, and freedom in their early 20s? Why would I trade the glamour of city life for a few months here?

After living in Washington DC for four years and dealing with the hustle and bustle of daily life, I can tell you that there is a certain beauty in holding onto a utopian-like setting and a place that brings out youthfulness. Of course, it’s a plus to be in a position that I feel will benefit my career, but in the end camp is camp and it is the ideal setting to spend a summer.

I know that someday, and by someday I mean most likely in seven weeks, my 14-year run at camp will be over. I know that I am going to miss this place terribly, as I transition to “real adulthood,” but until then I plan on enjoying every second I spend on camp’s gravel roads, cherishing the nights walking beneath the stars, and appreciating the humid days beneath the sun, because before I know it, I will be saying goodbye…but hopefully not forever.

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