Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Throw Away the Key

This lock was on a beautiful pedestrian bridge over the Moscow River, near the Christ Our Savior Russian Orthodox Cathedral.  I'm guessing the date is referring to a wedding or honeymoon.  I hope so!  We saw several couples either having portraits made or actually getting married during our visit, and all the dresses!  Big, poofy, 80's-style dresses are apparently big in Russia.  I like this smaller symbol better, though- it will last far longer than the dress and the party, and will be a lasting reminder of their hopes, dreams, love; that they were together on that day in that location.  It will mark them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

From the Inside Looking Out, You Can't Explain It.

Camp Mather
Fish Camp 2012, Session B
Texas A&M University

So, Fish Camp Part 2.
My co-chairs and counselors have spent all summer long working on skits, on banners, discussion guidelines for their groups, and making sure that camp would be an incredible experience.  Thomas and I hung with them as much as we could- not so much for supervision as they clearly knew what they were doing- but to offer support and food as needed.

Everyone came together for one last night before camp, when it would be the last time it was just us- followed by a yell practice on the steps of the Admin Building, a tradition.  Then one last round of hugs- and we headed home to get a little sleep.

Reed Arena was a happening place when we showed up the next morning for send-off.  Excitement was high, and there were more crazy outfits, yellow hair, foam fingers, tutus, and general nuttiness.  So, you know, pretty normal.  The freshmen checked in and took their luggage to be loaded, and then headed inside.  After hugs and good mornings, we followed them.  Inside was one huge party, each camp sitting together and yelling like crazy.  A few fish looked a little dazed and confused, wondering what exactly they had gotten themselves into.  I well remember that feeling sixteen years earlier- my dad had dropped me off, and I knew no one.  Crazy people were running around yelling and jumping, it was kind of overwhelming.  I wanted to hug all our new fish and let them know it would be OK, these next four days would become some of their favorite memories and all these strangers were about to be their new friends.

After a couple of welcome speeches and some more yelling, everyone headed outside to the buses.  Thomas and I hit the road in my car.  (Now, the route to Fish Camp is 2/3 my route to Tyler- and I knew a few shortcuts.  So we stopped for lunch at Cracker Barrel on the way out.  We still beat the buses.)  Checked in to our housing, then headed up to meet the fish and the counselors- and welcome to Lakeview, let the magic begin!  (Fish Camp is held at Lakeview Methodist Conference Center between Palestine and Elkhart, TX.  We take over the whole place.)

The next three and a half days are a blur- a yellow blur.  Skits, presentations, speeches- oh yeah, my speech.  So as a namesake, you get to address your fish on the first night, offer words of wisdom, advice, etc.  Ever since I found out about that little nugget, I'd been a little worried- what could I say that would make an impact, be memorable, be worthy?  I speak to freshmen all summer long and i never get nervous- but it's usually about degree plans and academics, not me and my experiences.  I put it off and put it off until finally, it was two days before camp and I couldn't put it off any more.  I finally decided to focus on what I learned in college, outside of the classroom- those lessons are, in my opinion, equally important.  So I gave my namesake speech, and I spoke from my heart.  I had a presentation to remind me of my points, but other than that I just talked to them.  I am pleased to report, it was well received.  Even my counselors said it was pretty good!

After that was over, I could relax and really get into camp- and I did.  If the fish went somewhere, we went with them.  If they did it, we did it.  It was slightly surreal to hear all the fish yelling my name in all the camp yells, but really pretty cool.  I laughed so hard I cried at several of the skits, and I got to relive some of my own Fish Camp experiences.  And, Thomas got to experience it for the first time- that was pretty cool too.

But my absolute favorite part was during DG time.  Each camp is divided into small "Discussion Groups" of about ten students and two counselors.  The counselor partnerships were pretty amazing, I have to say.  Michelle and Jason worked very hard to get the right matchups and each pair really meshed and played well together.  There were several DG times each day, set aside for the fish to discuss some of the days presentations, skits, etc as well as get to know each other.  I floated between them, listening in- and it made my heart so happy to hear all the fish opening up to each other, and to their counselors.  At the heart of camp, under all the skits and presentations and traditions, is friendship.  Our fish will build on the foundation of camp, and the friends they make now will be their friends for life.  I am still friends with my DG members.  The shared experiences at camp, and the shared emotions and stories, allow them to create a strong bond and really help them understand what we mean when we say "Aggie Family."  Watching and listening, my counselors really drew the quiet ones out, helped the performers learn to share the spotlight, help the shy ones feel comfortable.  They continued to amaze me- they knew when to be serious, when to be funny, when to be quiet.  I saw them truly make an impact on their freshmen, and it's one that will last long after Lakeview.

The final night, the final campfire speaker was the freshman class- and it was really incredible and moving to hear them speak about camp, themselves, their experience.  Many of them said the same thing- that they had been scared, worried, anxious about going to camp and also to college.  They didn't know anyone when they got on the bus, but now they had new friends, new resources and mentors, and they were feeling pretty good about it all.  And that was pretty damn special.  They spoke in turn for almost two hours, and then the most amazing thing happened.  A young man named Oscar got up, and he spoke about the "Mather Rumble" (a reference to one of our camp yells) and the fact that it would live in each of the fish long after camp- and then he proceeded to call all the counselors, the co-chairs, and me into the middle of the room.  They surrounded us and did the Mather Rumble yell and we all ended up in one giant Mather hug.

That moment was so special and so inspirational.  It totally reaffirmed why I do my job, why I love my job, why Aggieland is such a special place and why Aggies are special people.  I fully admit to bawling, I was so touched.  From listening to other camps' stories, I know this moment doesn't happen to everyone.  Camp Mather really was perfect- everything came together for those four days to make magic happen.

Monday, back to work- totally boring.  Went thru serious withdrawal, missing my gang and the excitement. But of course, we all have Facebook and so I spent most of that day creeping thru pictures, and reliving and remembering.  I had the biggest grin on my face all day long.

To Michelle and Jason, Mike and Bethany, Anthony and Amber, Tori and Aaron, Conner and Lauren, Alex and Haley, Allison and Sam, Sally and Tyler, Kate and Trey, Steven and Lizzie, Holly and Bo, Will and Rachel, Nick and Kelsey- thank you for the most incredible experience I've ever had.  Not just at camp, but ever since I met you all.  You welcomed me with open arms, you became not just my counselors but my family- twenty six younger siblings.  My time with you was awesome, and really reaffirmed my commitment to students and to why I do what I do.  I am so incredibly proud of the way you represented not just me, but your University as well.  You are all truly role models, not just for the fish but for me as well.  I am honored to have been able to share this journey with you, and I am so excited to watch you continue to grow and conquer.  I love you all, and you will always hold a very special place in my heart.  Our die has twenty-seven sides.

I am totally crying now.  Sniffle.

Monday, August 13, 2012

From the Outside Looking In, You Can't Understand It...

Camp Mather
Fish Camp 2012, Session B
Texas A&M University

Back in December, I got an email informing me that I had been selected as a Namesake for Fish Camp 2012.  For those of you outside the Aggie Family, Fish Camp is a four-day baptism into all things Aggie for our incoming freshmen; out of 8100+ in the class, approximately 6500 will attend.  Here in Aggieland, we affectionately refer to our freshmen as "fish", so, Fish Camp.

Namesakes are nominated by students to serve as a name for a particular color session of camp, as well as a resource and mentor for two co-chairs, twenty-four counselors, and 125-150 freshmen.  It is a huge honor to be selected- there are several hundred nominees and forty are chosen each year.  It has long been a heart's desire of mine to be a namesake, and this year two of my students made it happen.  They  had been counselors for two years, and this year each of them were named co-chairs, and they nominated me.

At first I thought it was not real- someone was playing a prank on me.  But it was true!  I was in tears as I called Thomas.  So exciting!  And it got better.  In January, I met my co-chairs- two amazing Aggies that were dedicated to our camp and our future fish.  Michelle and Jason read thousands of applications (literally- I'm not exaggerating) and spent countless hours choosing the right students to be counselors for Camp Mather, in addition to being generally amazing.

March rolled around, and with it came "Rev (Revelation) Night."  All the chosen counselors (twenty-four per camp for forty camps) showed up, all dressed up like it was Halloween, ready to meet each other, Michelle, Jason, and me.  Not intimidating at all.  But it went swimmingly and I was introduced that night to who I like to call, "The Chosen Ones."  All of my co-chairs' hard work paid off, as we were blessed with the best, most amazing, cream-of-the-crop students as our counselors.

Over the rest of the school semester and the summer, they got to know each other- and me.  Many of them had been counselors the previous year or two, and I was a little nervous about being the "old person" in the group and spoiling all the fun.  I needn't have worried- they welcomed me with open arms, made me feel included and part of the family- not so much in a motherly way, but as a fun older sister.  They were genuinely interested in hearing my "back in Old Army days" stories about my college years and my own Fish Camp experiences.  And they thought I was funny.  We spent so much time together, just hanging out, bonding.  Watching them grow together and prepare for our fish, working so hard to make camp an amazing experience, has made me proud as any parent.  I couldn't have asked for better kids to represent me, my name, and my legacy (small as it is) at my beloved alma mater.  I didn't think it could get any better.

Then we went to camp.

To be continued...