Reflections from the Shores | Eli Schrayer’s Saturday Sermon
Hope you’ve been enjoying reading our counselors’ Saturday-morning “sermons,” as they provide an important window into Kawaga culture. No matter how many counselor sermons I hear, I continue to be astounded by how these young men are eager and comfortable in articulating their feelings about camp and about life. And, as you’ll read from Eli, they’re often one and the same.
We’re thrilled that Eli was able to join us for these few weeks of camp before he joins the “real world.” Eli – best to you always and please visit us often.
For those of you who do not know me, my name is Eli Schrayer. This is my 13th summer at camp, fifth on staff, and sadly, my last couple days on the Shores as a counselor, ever. It’s truly impossible for me to comprehend those words that I just said to you all. For these past 13 years, Kawaga has been such a massive part of my life — my home away from home. Starting in 2006, I journeyed to camp for four weeks as a new camper and instantly fell in love with this place. That summer I was lucky enough to be in a cabin with four kids who would end up being some of my best friends in the world. Ever since that summer I’ve counted the days until I could return to camp and be at my favorite place with my favorite people.
As I continued to grow up at camp, there were so many memories and experiences that shaped who I am as a person today. Some of these memories include getting over my homesickness as a Sioux, sweeping Menominee as a Mohawk, and having the entire camp put their brooms outside their cabins, which led to a massive dance party, to winning senior ball as a CIT, to Boundaries, transitioning into a staff man, dealing with difficult cabin moments, a scary white rafting trip, writing and being involved in three all nighters, watching my campers reach their goals of Sachem and, in the process, grow into respectful, confident young men. This short list can’t come close to capturing the scope of experiences that have shaped who I am as a person.
The thing about camp that really amazes me is that Kawaga teaches you without you really know that you’re learning lessons. Let me explain what I mean. There are three natural parts of our day, our week, and routine that go far beyond just making camp fun. Let’s start with our Sunday council meetings. To me, these are some of the most special times of the entire summer. To have structured time during the week to sit with your peers, discuss how you’ve all acted that week, where you could improve, set future goals, and take time to really review your behavior is genuinely remarkable and happens nowhere else I’m know. Like all the lessons at camp, I urge you to take your Sunday meetings home with you, to constantly be thinking critically about yourself and your actions, and never stop trying to be the best version of yourself. You owe it to yourself and the people you love to try to get to this spot.
Another part of camp that amazes me is our Evening Programs (which we call EPs). Every night of the summer we do a different activity in camp. Because we never want to get too conformable with routine, we’re constantly challenging ourselves, stepping out of our comfort zones, and making the most of the time we have here. Take this lesson of EPs home with you: Always be willing to try new things, challenge yourself, and don’t get caught in the routine of life.
Next, going for Mawanda and Sachem. As with most things in life, going for Mawanda and Sachem is more about the journey than the destination. Yes, achieving the honor and all that goes with it is amazing and wonderful. But it is the goal setting, the constant effort, the sacrifice, and the hard work that goes into achieving those milestones that truly matter. Don’t stop setting goals for yourself, don’t be afraid to work hard, and don’t be afraid to fail, because without failure we can never get better. And if you do fail, it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough; it means that you need to re-motivate yourself, try a new approach, and bring more effort into what you’re going for. Bring Mawanda and Sachem home and keep setting, working for, and achieving (and sometimes failing at) your goals.
These three things are far from the only examples of how seemingly normal routines teach life lessons that can guide you on the path toward a meaningful life, but they are three that have inspired me and guided my actions away from camp. One thing is certain from all these things: Kawaga has made me who I am today. Kawaga instilled me with the confidence to be myself, to be goofy and not care who watches, to be kind and genuine, to always be working on improving myself, to listen to others, and to care for your brother as you would care for yourself. And truly if there is one lesson that I believe encompasses all of them it is to lead by example: live in a manner that you would encourage others to live in and to truly take ownership over your behavior.
Now I want to take this opportunity to thank some people who have made an impact on me throughout my 13 years. First to my brother Joey: Growing up with you at this special place has been the ultimate gift. I will forever cherish being able to be on the ski boat with you, as we have almost every day this summer. You’re the coolest guy I know. You’ve taught me how to care deeply and how to work hard. I’m genuinely lucky to be your older brother and to have you as my best friend. Keep doing your thing and making camp better. I couldn’t be prouder.
To my girlfriend Danielle for her unwaveringly support of me making this return even though it’s not the “normal” thing for a post grad to do. To my fellow CITS who aren’t here but are my brothers for life, to my parents who have also pushed me to continue to return to camp every summer despite the pressures from the outside world and our community to take internships and pad your resume. Without them and their deep understanding of what camp really means, I wouldn’t be here.
To all my amazing counselors in the past who taught me by example what it means to be a man and a good person: Goldy, Ari Fisher, Lando, Breiter, Mikey Gendell, Hertzy, Dash, Papa, Harry Leibow, Tom, and more.
To the rest of staff whom I haven’t mentioned, you are all like family, and I know you guys will have an amazing rest of the summer. Trust your gut, work your butt off, and have fun, because this is truly the best job you’ll ever have.
To the CITs, you guys know that the main reason I’m back this summer is to be here with you, fulfill the promise I made to come back if I could, and finish off what we started. Thank you for accepting me and allowing me to be in your age group for all these years. You are all amazing young men and I’m honored to have been your counselor for all these years and to have had a part in your growth and maturation as people. All of you make this job so incredibly easy and fun. Keep coming back if you can, cause I want nothing more than for you to be able to see what I’ve seen and find a group of kids who inspires you like you guys have with me. Finally, if any of you ever need me after camp or in life I’m always available. CIT 19 for life.
To Ty, Lauren, and the whole administration, thank you so much for allowing me to come up this summer for just a few weeks. I understand the burden that it puts on camp and it means the world to me that you gave me this one last summer. I cannot be more optimistic about and excited for the future of camp, and it makes me feel better leaving knowing just how amazing are Kawaga’s leaders. I hope to one day be able to send my son to Kawaga with you guys at the helm, knowing that he will come back home with Kawaga values.
One final note: Every summer I look at our traditions and the words we live by here and a different line speaks to me. This summer, the last lines of the Ojista Speech, which say: “for at the heart of the brave is Kawaga, and at the heart of Kawaga is the brave,” perfectly illustrate my feelings for this magical place. These are some of the first words you hear as a new camper. They explain that Kawaga is special because of the people here. And once you truly understand, embrace, and take what Kawaga means to heart, it will always be a part of you. These lines illustrate that no matter how old you are, whether you still go to camp or not, or what you’re doing in life, Kawaga is more than a place. It is a way of life, a moral code, a guidebook with which to live your life. The lessons you learn here don’t stop, They never leave you, and more importantly, the people you meet here will be with you forever. So I urge all of you to continue to come here, drain every drop of Kawaganess you can and implement it into your life, remember the acronym YOGTAFACT (You Only Go To Camp For A Certain Amount of Time), and live every single second here to the fullest. Read all the poems and songs that we have and live by them, and always remember: At the heart of the brave is Kawaga, and at the heart of Kawaga is the brave.
Thank you all so much, Shabbat shalom, and for the final time: Bojou!