June 10, 2017
This weekend, I have the opportunity to attend my 30th reunion at Davidson College. Susie Ma’am and I rarely ever leave the camp during the summer. After all, we only have 10 weeks of camp and we are deeply passionate about what we do. We love seeing the campers have fun while also growing each day.
But Susie Ma’am wanted me to come to this event. In fact, she insisted and even volunteered to hold down the fort while I do so.
We have missed family reunions, weddings and other events, so why did she want me to come here?
She understands that my experience at Davidson is as influential on Camp Champions as my personal camp experiences as a child. In fact, it is probably more so.
Of course, I did not learn about archery or campfires at Davidson. I also did not learn to live in a cabin of 10-12 people. On its face, my college experience was about academics and not camp.
But in an important way, Davidson laid the groundwork for our camp culture.
One of the highly unusual aspects of my alma mater is a powerful, binding Honor Code. Students pledge “not to cheat or steal nor tolerate those that do”. Many places have pledges like this, but the code here is an almost sacred trust.that is ingrained into the Davidson culture. Students leave their doors unlocked. They can schedule their own Final Exams. If my roommate takes a Physics exam on Tuesday, I can take the exact same test on Thursday and it would never occur to me to ask him what was on the exam.
Students that violate the policy are asked by other students to turn themselves in. If they fail to do so, other students will report the violations. Students that are convicted will be suspended for at least on semester. Over 90% of these students will return to Davidson and eventually graduate. While an Honor Code violation might be embarrassing, most students see returning as an opportunity for self-improvement and redemption.
At our 10th reunion, the college president shared the following about the Honor Code.
“The Honor Code works not because our students are better people. The Honor Code works because our community gives people permission to be the best versions of themselves.”
When I heard that, I suddenly had an awakening and even became emotional. I suddenly realized that much of our culture at Camp Champions was based on this same idea. We expect our counselors not to drink – even on their days off. We expect our counselors and campers to be tech-free. We strive to create a culture of kindness and positivity instead of cynicism. We have friends at camps in other parts of the world that tell us that we expect too much, especially regarding our counselors on their time off. “College kids will do what they want to do away from camp,” they tell us. But we have found that this is not true.
We have found that young people strive for meaning and excellence. They want to be part of a culture that is different and special. In short, when we do it right, the camp community gives campers and counselors permission to be the best versions of themselves.
So I have returned to the place where I learned that people can choose to be part of a community that elevates them. While I am missing the campers, the counselors and our full-time staff, I am inspired to reconnect with a place that is precious to me.
It also inspires me to continue to find ways to make Camp Champions even better.
I will return tomorrow with a renewed sense of purpose and excitement. This has been time well-spent.
Now I just need to find the right way to thank Susie Ma’am and the team!