Parents and Alumni,
As you’ve read this summer’s sermons, I’m sure you’ve noted a common theme: young men who are able to articulate the often surprising role that a summer camp can continue play in their lives. We’re fortunate that we to attract these types of quality individuals who have so many options for their summer. But they return to Kawaga again and again.
Eric and his peers teach our campers so much more than simply the important skills we’d expect. They teach them, as our founder Doc E envisioned, to become men in the more important sense of the word. You’ll read the discoveries that Eric shares with us about his journey in deciding whether to return for this summer. We’re so pleased he did.
Be Proud. Be Grateful. Be Kawaga.
Good morning! For those of you who may not know me, my name is Eric Gandelman and this is my 11th summer at Kawaga and fifth on staff.
I’ve always enjoyed both writing and public speaking, so I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to talk to you all today about something very important to me. I find it interesting that oftentimes the most important things in a person’s life are the hardest, yet most rewarding to put into words. The same idea applies to my experience with Kawaga.
Despite all the time I’ve spent reflecting on the picture bench or staring out my college apartment window, this sermon was a challenge.
However, over the past few years, those picture bench sit-downs during evening Open Areas and sleepless nights at school have been increasingly focused on how my reasons for returning to Kawaga have developed.
As young kids, most of us come here because our parents think it’s a good idea; we’ll get some exercise, we know a couple of kids that go here already; and it’s a good opportunity to make new friends.
And while all of those are undoubtedly valid reasons for someone to come to Kawaga, they’re different from the ones that motivated me to return this summer. Over the past two summers, one concept has been at the forefront of my thoughts: closure. To me, closure is a feeling a person gets when something in their life ends and they are content with its conclusion.
This summer presented me with seemingly the best opportunity to achieve that feeling: firstly, I was given the opportunity to be a CIT counselor. I consider this to be a significant part of my time at camp because it meant I could go ‘full-circle’ as a staff member. I began as a counselor in 2017 in Cabin 12 with this very age group and have stuck with these campers for three of the following four years. In that time, I built a strong connection with these guys. I figured their final summer as campers would make me feel comfortable with moving on and alleviate the obligation I feel to be here for them.
The second reason is that many of my friends have already gone on to begin their lives in the professional world. Before camp started I felt a little weird talking to my friends about their summer plans and how drastically they differed from mine. In this context, I expected to leave this summer feeling thankful to have spent one more year in the Northwoods but also ready to join my peers.
I thought these factors would prevent me from feeling that nostalgic passion to come back that strikes all of us when we get back home. But as the summer went on, I quickly realized that I was wrong.
Roughly a week ago, I confirmed to Owen Schneider that I would be driving him to the airport. It was something the both of us had recently started talking more about and getting excited for. He had just walked out of the cabin after one of these exchanges, when I saw the door open again. Owen looked at me and, referring to the fact that I’m his camp big brother, said “Well I guess my camp career starts and ends with you.” In the moment, I think the comment was more or less brushed off of by the both of us, but it really stuck with me. Moments like that throughout the summer made me see that the 2021 CITs’ last summer as campers wasn’t the easiest one to walk away from. Time spent sitting around the fire on Boundaries and on the couches of Cabin 27 has forced me to think about how much I want to see them not only succeed in their roles as counselors, but simply grow as people.
I thought some of my friends moving on would make it easier for me to do so. But their being gone made me become closer with others. Whether it’s the middle of the Omni during pods, channel 10 on the walkie talkie, or on a ski boat during Open Areass, joking around with the likes of Alex Cohen, Gray Schneider, and Benny Taxman have made me so grateful for being forced to branch out.
It also sparks my gratitude for having the longevity of my friendships with Ethan, Tucker, and four others. It’s truly wild to take a step back and think about how my relationship with these guys started when we were 11 and continues today. The more I think about it, the clearer it becomes that this bond is largely responsible for who I am today and who I will become tomorrow. Thank you guys for being by my side for the past 11 years, and I’ll thank you in advance because you will undoubtedly do so in the future.
These two points help internalize just how special my summers at Kawaga are, because it’s unlikely that I’ll ever come across another environment that fosters relationships in the same way as this one.
With all that being said, the fact that this may be my last summer still looms. And despite how hard it is to accept, I know that I will have to find some way to do it. With that in mind, I acknowledge that I will never feel content with my time at Kawaga coming to a close.
But, I have also realized something quite powerful about this predicament. I’ve learned that there are a select few things in everyone’s life that stick with them forever. It can be a relationship, a place, an experience; regardless, these irreplaceable things are ultimately what define a person. They aren’t confined to the bounds of time or conventional entities. For me, Camp Kawaga is one of those things.
Kawaga is more than just a place, a series of summers, or a group of friends; it’s truly a state of mind and characteristic of who we become.
Kawaga is the maturity to learn how to stop crying after lost sports games and be laughing at the waterfront within the next five minutes.
Kawaga is the confidence that propels an 11-year-old to talk to strangers that’ll turn out to be his brothers for life.
And yes, Kawaga is both the passion and the perspective required to make 200 people cry on the final night of the best summer of their lives
I urge all of you to use this place for all it has to offer. Use it to play. Use it to reflect. Use it to become the man you want to be.
And while I don’t think it will ever feel normal to be missing out on summers on the Shores, I’m eternally grateful for having experienced something so powerful.