The archway at the entrance of Camp Wise contains a simple yet powerful phrase: “our past paves the way to our future.” The words are hard to miss, and during our summers at camp we took the message to heart. Between 2003 and 2015, camp left a tremendous impact on each of us. As we transitioned from campers to staff members, we tried to pay this impact forward—to help shape camp’s future based on our fondly-remembered past. As camp grew and changed, we helped create new traditions and preserve those that are most meaningful to us. We are confident that our campers, now on staff, will do the same.
For a while, this perspective seemed to capture the essence of the archway quote. But alumni weekend helped us realize that this is only half of the story. True, we have helped shape the future of camp. (Or at least we’d like to think so.) But we’ve also been shaped by camp’s past, far before 2003. The camp we love is a product of everyone who has left their mark since 1907, and the traditions we cherish are deeply rooted in camp’s history. Lasting contributions and legacies have paved the way to the camp we know today, and they are the reason that Camp Wise continues to play a role in each of our lives.
Camp Wise is a place unlike any other. As a camper, it offers new experiences and new ways to make friends. As a staff member, camp provides the opportunity to learn responsibility and take on leadership roles. In a single day, camp allows you to be utterly silly, enthusiastic, reflective, and relaxed. Camp allows for campers and counselors to constantly learn from one another. Above all, camp is a place where you can be your authentic self in a way that few other experiences allow.
Camp’s sense of family, community, respect, and tradition sets it apart. While these ideals are often taught at school or at home, it takes a special place for them to actually sink in. And what truly makes camp special is the people. In the span of a Camp Wise summer, you can learn to be independent, leave your comfort zone (even just a little), trust others, and respect those who come from different backgrounds. Whether it’s daily routines such as eating family style and telling stories around the campfire, or more memorable events like Maccabiah and CW Night, camp creates a setting that seamlessly bonds everyone together.
The magic of camp would not be possible without its longstanding traditions. As a group, we have spent over 40 summers at the Home of Happiness. Growing up at our second home, we would always talk about the counselors we had in the past and the campers who had come and gone. We would tell stories about camp legends we had never met and see their names scribbled in Sharpie on every open surface. These names remind us that every cheer, song, and tradition has a history to it. Each was likely invented by a group of goofy friends trying to make each other laugh. Seeing the generations of campers who came before us at alumni weekend made clear that camp is a place built on decades of these improvised jokes that have become camp mainstays. Alumni weekend showed us that camp is a place where the best way to make a lasting impression is to build on the past.
Even after extended time away, we are able to pick up right where we left off. The stories we reflect upon are always fresh, hilarious, and meaningful. No matter how far away from camp we are—from Madison to New York City and anywhere in between—when we are all together, camp is a fundamental presence. Alumni weekend added yet another memory to the impossibly long list that our collective 40-plus summers have built. Alumni weekend let us reminisce on great memories and allowed us to create new ones. There is no doubt we will all be back again at this terrific event at our true home away from home.
By: Zach Marlin, Isaac Hecker, Alex Temple, Matt Krantz, Brian Chessin (as pictured above)