Illustration by Anya Chytrowski
Saying goodbye to summer, for many, means saying goodbye to summer camp. The campfires start to die down, the memories start to fade, and the friends quickly drift off to other high schools.
Kids have been spending their summers away at camp for almost a century. Summer camp started as a way to give young boys a chance to build character in a country that was being urbanized. Their parents’ nostalgia of a more natural America fueled the efforts that eventually evolved into a summer tradition for many people across the world.
Today, many kids have spent at least one summer at some variation of the traditional summer camp. But more than a handful of adolescents have found themselves creating deep connections with their camps. These are the kids who go to the same camps year after year to be with the same people and relive the same memories that they’re so attached to. For these students, coming back to school can be more than a drag, but even if the camp t-shirt gets packed to the back of the closet, there are some things that stick with them year round.
Berkeley High School (BHS) sophomore Lucas Cutter has been attending Camp Tawonga for five years and is the absolute definition of a happy camper. “I definitely miss camp during the year. At camp everything is more simple,” said Cutter about the camp nestled in the forest just out of Yosemite National Park. “I don’t feel the stress of school, and I’m able to just be myself,” he added.
Being that summer camp isn’t a very structured environment, even the most inhibited people become sociable and outgoing at camp. Everyone gets the chance to break out of their comfort zones and reveal parts of their personalities they keep hidden during the school year. “The vibe there helps everyone be whoever they want. At camp, I care much less about my appearance than at school,” said Cutter.
This ability to make teens feel comfortable in their own skin during a period of their lives when they are particularly self-conscious is one of the things that make summer camps the inviting and delightful places they are.
“At camp, no one judges each other,” said Cutter. “Everyone tries to have the most fun they can without caring what others think of them.” Some students say they’ve spent the best summers of their lives at camp, but as they get older many shift towards more productive summer opportunities. With college applications constantly on students’ minds, there can be pressure to start focusing on internships and jobs that pay more and appear to be more reputable than being a camp counselor.
For some though, their experiences at camp are meaningful to them in a way that outweighs the perceived benefits of other jobs. “I don’t think that a ‘real job’ is more important than a camp job. It definitely makes more money,” said Cutter, “but most people working as camp counselors do it for the experience rather than the money.”
BHS junior Cela Parker started going to Camp Kee Tov the summer before kindergarten. After spending ten summers there as a camper, she now works as a counselor for kids entering third and fourth grade. “The most amazing part of being a counselor is that I get to give back to the community I grew up in,” said Parker. “I have the opportunity to give the campers the experiences that I had.”
Sam Wrinkle is a BHS junior who has attended summer camps their whole life, but considered exploring new opportunities this past summer. “I found myself wondering if it was time for me to move on from my camp days,” said Wrinkle, “but the conclusion I came to was that camp is a part of me and I’ve grown so much from it.” Wrinkle ended up spending their summer as a counselor at both Berkeley Day Camp and Aurora Day Camp.
Students who spend their summers away at camp have a unique experience, one that those who never attended camp have trouble relating to. “They don’t understand that friends are a chosen family. After spending a certain amount of time with people I sometimes consider them family, and that’s how I feel about my closest camp friends,” said Cutter.
Even for those who fall in love with summer camp all over again every year, school always starts. Eventually, even these die-hard campers will have to move on, but if there’s one thing that they can’t grow out of, it’s the unbeatable memories of countless summers at their favorite places in the whole world with friends they will never forget.