Reflections from the Shores | Matthew Kisin’s Sermon

Parents and Alumni,

I’m so proud of Matthew Kisin. One of the fundamentals we teach at Kawaga comes right from the Ideal: “One who knows that to know himself is the foundation stone of all true knowledge.”

Not only does Matthew personify that, he teaches it every day at camp, reflecting on the lessons he has learned in his 13 summers on The Shores. He shares with us not only his personal story of growth at Kawaga, but also his search for understanding what makes Kawaga unique.

Thank you, Matthew.


Shabbat Shalom. My name is Matthew Kisin, and this is my 13th year at camp and fourth on staff. I’ve been here for a pretty long time – half of the campers weren’t yet born when I came here for the first time! Why do I keep coming back all these years? What makes Kawaga so special?

I remember vivid conversations between myself and Joey Schrayer where we discussed the topic of Kawaga’s uniqueness. We eventually arrived at the conclusion that Kawaga, in and of itself, is not special. There are hundreds of camps like it and every single camp believes it is different. Kawaga is not the only camp with traditions like ours; Kawaga is not the only camp with inter- and intra-camp competitions. So what truly makes us special? At the time, I thought the answer was nothing.

In that moment, I don’t think you could’ve possibly communicated to me how wrong I was. I missed the mark, but two years after that conversation and hundreds of camp experiences later, like falling in love with being on staff after coaching my first spectacular, I figured out what makes camp so special.

Kawaga is different not because of any one thing we do, but because of what we stand for as a camp. We teach campers our ideals and our values, but more than that, we teach young men how to live. We teach how to live life in an honest manner; we teach how to be confident being ourselves; and we teach how to be steadfast in character.

The main reason that Kawaga’s alumni are so successful is because they grew up at a place that nurtured them and, essentially, nursed them into manhood. It’s the little things that we don’t notice – a counselor telling a camper not to be so hard on himself, a counselor telling a camper to be harder on himself, a coach being frustrated with his team over complacency. And, it’s a counselor working day and night trying to figure out the puzzle that is one of his campers, in order to find the best way to communicate with and instruct that camper. The long nights, the early mornings, and everything in between are what make Kawaga great.

I can confidently say I would not be the man I am today without Kawaga, and I am sure that everyone in my age group would agree. Among the seven of us remaining, we have a combined 84 years of experience at camp. We are all 19 or 20 years old, yet we’ve lived an entire lifetime here. We have lived incredible victories, crushing defeats, difficult situations, legendary memories, and so much more while at camp. Not only have we collectively lived the years that would be required to call it a lifetime, we have lived the experiences that would be required to call it a lifetime. Camp is a microcosm of the real world. At camp, you can experience real-life scenarios under the guise of camp starting from the time you are seven years old! Combine these lifelike scenarios with counselors who are working their butts off to ensure that you have the same childhood that they enjoyed, and you arrive at the perfect storm for a boy to become a man.

When I first came to camp, I was probably the worst kid in camp for about five years straight. I wore rainboots all the time, scarfed down hot dogs and milk like it was no one’s business, and I didn’t understand the concept of a bathroom. I was a little kid! Yet, no matter how difficult I was, counselors stuck by me and pushed me to grow, pushed me to mature, and pushed me to lead. In that moment, nothing could stop those counselors from fulfilling their mission of turning around the absolute mess that was 8-year-old Matthew Kisin. To all those counselors that dedicated hours to me – thank you.

Think about that. Teenagers are the ones instilling lifelong lessons in kids that in some cases may be only two or three years younger than they. How does that work? The answer? We have been in those shoes. No one is perfect and we are all sent to camp with imperfections and areas in which we can grow. The reason Kawaga excels in building men starts with Doc E, who began this camp with the intention of helping boys mature, and every counselor since then has been a link in that chain. We have all been in those shoes as troubled or insecure campers, and staff helped us along. And when we turn 17, then it’s our turn to turn around and help the campers who remind us of ourselves when we were younger.

This is what is so special about Kawaga. The culture. We have a culture of growth and maturation and more importantly, we have a culture of loyalty and commitment. The staffmen who are here this year, with the exception of two people, have all been campers. Every situation that arises can be directly paralleled to something that we experienced in our time here. That is what makes us good at our job. We repeat the messages that were communicated to us in those times of need. Whether we needed a confidence boost or an assurance that everything would be okay, the entire playbook for how to be a counselor began being written for us from the moment we came to camp.

The combination of real-life experiences, counselors who care, and a mindset and an expectation that we are not just here to play, but we are here to grow and mature, are what set Kawaga apart from the rest. Other camps simply supervise and chaperone their campers. There is no goal, no ulterior motive. For Kawaga, we cannot even conceptualize running a camp in this manner. There is a goal in everything we do, and whether you are a Chip, a CIT, or a staffman, your growth never stops. While you are at Kawaga, everything you do and everything you hear will improve you in one way or another. You just may not realize it yet.

Whether it was taking weightlifting club as a Mohawk A that inspired me to lift as often as I can, a counselor counting Sachem points with me at the waterfront after ABI when I was just 10 years old, a first-place Spectacular finish or a last place one, all of these moments have influenced me to this day. I just didn’t realize it in the moment.

So, for this last week of the 2020 summer, take some time every day to reflect. Who were you when you came to camp this summer? Who are you now? Who were you four years ago and how are you different? Which moments at camp this year stuck out to you, and why do you think they stuck out so much? Somewhere in there, in one of those answers, you will find why Kawaga is so special. There is a magic here, but it doesn’t just come from nowhere. You can see it everywhere. But you have to be looking for it.

I wrote this sermon pretty early in the week because I wanted it to be included in the Pineneedle, so what I’m about to say is an end-of-the week addition after I realized that there is a single-digit amount of days left in camp.

I would like to say thank you to Camp Kawaga. Thank you to all of you. I don’t know if this is the end or not, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank all of you for making my experience here incredible. I just hope I was able to help make Kawaga a home for you in one way or another.

For 13 years of incredible memories and growth, thank you. Remember to take everything in as much and as often as you can; you never know when manhood will call you away, and you never know which day may be your last at Kawaga – and as this past year has shown us, life can be pretty unpredictable.

Cherish Kawaga. There is no other place like it.

To Ty, Lauren, Fuzz, my 2016s, all of staff, and every single camper here, thank you for making me lucky enough to have a place that is so hard to say goodbye to.