I’ve enjoyed attending the Memorial Day parade in my hometown for as long as I can remember. The excitement of seeing the decorated floats cruising by, the familiar faces of neighbors and classmates, and marching in the parade on a few rare occasions was the perfect way to kick-off the summer.
As I grew up and summers were no longer simply for play, I eagerly took on a summer camp counseling job every June. At this point, Memorial Day parades took on another purpose—they were a chance to run into my former campers. Sometimes it was only one academic year since I’d seen them, and we were destined to meet again at another session of camp only a few weeks after the parade. I was often greeted with a hug and a smile, and I would always ask how third, or whichever, grade was going. Other times, years passed since I last saw the campers. They were in elementary school when I spent the summer with them, and now I was chatting with them about the prom or college applications. And though they were much taller, sporting deeper voices and imperfect teenage skin, I almost always recalled their names.
I’m not shy, so whenever I recognized a face, I typically approached them and asked if they attended summer camp at one of the three schools where I had been placed. They usually responded with an inquisitive look and a soft, “yes,” at which point I’d grin and proudly say, “I was your camp counselor back in the day!”
I received some generic responses. “Oh yes, that was fun!” Then they’d go back to their friends. But other students’ faces lit up as they reminisced with me awhile, giving me a genuine hug before parting. It was unspoken, yet implied, that it could be another 8 years before we saw each other again, or possibly, this could be the last time.
There is something about spending days in the high heat of summer with campers. Since there are no tests or academic skills to be taught, there is far less structure than in school, allowing for endless creativity and deep conversations. And at the time I may not have realized it, but there was a lot of room for us counselors to make an impact on these kids. I certainly didn’t realize the impact that these kids were making on me.
This summer marks the tenth since my last year as a counselor, but I still see and recognize these students at the parade and elsewhere. I actually ran into a past camper on his college graduation day a few weeks ago. I was working the commencement ceremony when I saw him walk by. I asked a colleague if he knew where the student had grown up, and when he said the town, I knew it was him. I called out his name, and he turned around. “Hi,” I said. “Did you used to go to summer camp at Sherman School?” His face lit up. “I did!” I told him that I had been one of his counselors. We chatted for a few minutes about our time together, nearly a dozen years ago. It was so rewarding to watch him as we talked—proudly wearing his cap and gown, jubilant from the festivities of the day. Before heading off to line up with his classmates, he gave me a big hug and thanked me for saying hello.
While it’s fun to reminisce, I hope this serves as a reminder not to forget that you can be memorable for your positive impact on others. Take the time to block out the noise and try to memorize names, faces, and places. Our brains and our memories are powerful tools. A dozen years after seeing these students, growing from three feet to six, doubling their shoe size, and tripling their vocabulary, they still brighten my day simply by remembering me, and I hope I brighten theirs, too.
Peace Love Progress is currently collecting camp essentials for the hundreds of kids who attend the Cardinal Shahen Summer Day Camp in Bridgeport, CT. If you’d like to add to their summer smiles, please check out our Amazon wishlist.
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