During my freshman year, I debated what I wanted to do over the summer quite often. I thought of getting another job, hiking in Europe, taking summer classes at Notre Dame, and much more. In the end, I settled on being a camp counselor. I was lucky enough to be a camper at YMCA Camp Piomingo in Brandenburg, KY for over a decade. Although I felt pulled in many different directions, I decided I wanted to spend my summer giving back to a place where I had learned so many things.
At summer camp, I learned how to make friends with strangers, cheer loudly, live in the moment, and dwell with cabin mates. Although I appreciated these things before moving to college, during my freshman year I gained an entirely new perspective on my years at camp. Obviously, there are more tests, lectures, homework, and showers on campus than at Piomingo. However, so many other things are the same. I never faced the initial freshman struggles of learning to wear flip-flops in the shower or sharing a room. I never questioned cheering loudly for the proud purple weasels of Pasquerilla West Hall during the Freshman Welcome Weekend. Rather, I breathed a sigh of relief that there were no spiders in my shower stall and thanked my lucky stars that my dorm only had two beds rather than twelve. To me, all those things simply reminded me of my summer home.
As freshman year went on, I found greater and deeper connections back to camp. One special thing I’ve come to realize about Notre Dame is the extent to which everyone cares about each other. Here are several examples of this:
- Even professors of large lecture halls made a special effort to get to know me
- My rector hosts everyone in my dorm for bagels and coffee each Wednesday morning
- I’ve had more conversations with random strangers on the quad than I could count
- I can always find someone to sit with in the dining hall
(And these are just a few examples) Additionally, the greater Notre Dame community is just as strong. I always make sure to wear my Notre Dame sweatshirt in the airport because I know that walking down the terminal I will hear at least one token “GO IRISH!” Finally, although Notre Dame requires a lot of hard work, I have made so many amazing memories with my friends that I’m fairly confident Notre Dame is as close to summer camp as a top university could be.
Working as a counselor this summer was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Going into the summer, I wasn’t sure how much fun working 22 hours a day, six days a week could be. Although I loved it as a camper, I was nervous. But I soon realized that it was everything I had hoped for and more. Every week I worked with a new group of hilariously energetic and unique kids. I loved getting to know each one and took pride in seeing their courage, growth, and accomplishments. After living away from home for a year, I felt like I had a new window into my many summers growing up. Even in harder moments helping my campers with homesickness, conflict, and more, I tried my absolutely hardest to show each one the care I had received when I was a camper. For many years, the magic of each summer had been my enthusiastically caring and supportive counselors, and I wanted nothing more than to pass on that legacy.
Although I was extremely excited to go back into the school year, there are several aspects of camp I try to carry with me. I am trying to embody the carefree joy of the summer even into harder seasons of school and work. Beyond this, at camp I’ve always felt extremely proud of myself. I never mind being silly, wearing a crazy outfit, singing a song I love, or dancing with my friends. I hope to carry this confidence with me and inspire others to do the same. Finally and most importantly, as a counselor there is a certain joy in living each day with the sole purpose of making one’s campers happy. At college it is sort of easy to get wrapped up in one’s own studies, tasks, and wants. Going back to school, I set a goal to find ways to continue to give back. Thankfully, I have found my niche back on campus doing weekly service through Mercy Works. Although one is pulled in many different directions in college, working as a camp counselor has shown the contagious fulfillment of devoting oneself to others. I hope to carry that with me throughout the rest of my life.