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Summer Opportunities Fair

Summer Opportunities Fair

Fair Details

Where am I?

A Perspective on Camp

The following are excerpts from a speech by former Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner. Mr.Eisner shared his memories of summer camp with participants of the 2001 Tri-State Camping Conference, held in New York. This was originally published in Camping Magazine, July, 2001.

What I Did During Summer Vacation
I've spent nearly as much time trying to understand the strange appeal of summer camp as I have the appeal of a talking mouse who favors red shorts. Quite frankly, I'm still stumped about the mouse. But, I think I've figured out the amazing allure of summer camp to kids across the country.

First of all, reality always beats virtual reality. Our kids have incredible toys at their command that allow them to experience everything but the real thing. I have nothing against most of these toys. My company makes a lot of them. But, at the end of the day, reality is what kids prefer. Really, this is nothing new. When I was a kid, "virtual reality" came in the form of TV, movies, comics, and books. These are all great forms of entertainment, but they invariably put kids in a world of someone else's creation. Camp puts them in a world of their own creation. What could be more exciting? What could be more empowering?

Consider my experience at Camp Keewaydin. What did we do there? We hiked. We canoed. We cooked. We put up tents. We took down tents. Doesn't sound all that exciting.

It was fantastic. No video game could compare. We were literally building our own world and then taking it down and moving it somewhere else.

It was all an adventure. Where else would a boy from the city learn how to walk slowly backwards from a bear? Where else would a boy from the city box in the ring with another boy from the city who was his friend not his enemy? Where else would a boy learn to swim 150 yards? Where else would a boy learn how to lead other boys but, more importantly, to follow other boys? Where else would a boy learn how to carry a wanagon over a portage, to wallop a pot, and to honor elephant bumwad . . . elephant bumwad is paper towels. You can imagine what bumwad is!

Every day there were more variables than any computer programmer could ever pack into an arcade game. And we did it all ourselves ... or, at least, we felt we did.

Which brings me to the second reason city kids want to go to rustic camps - because they get to be grown-ups, sort of.

It's a strange truism that, as much as adults want to be kids again, kids want to be adults -- all kids, kids from affluence and kids from the inner city.

At home, kids may secretly want to be grown-ups, but they're perfectly willing to have someone else cook for them and wash their clothes and get them ready in the morning and drive them around. At camp, they have to shoulder a lot of these responsibilities. They get to be little grownups. And, in the process, they actually do some growing up.

The third reason camp has so much appeal is because it's liberating. Sure, kids have lots of wonderful toys today. But, toys -- like all possessions -- are a mixed blessing. They open up possibilities, but they also constrain us. They limit us to what they can do.

When kids go to camp, they leave their toys behind. They might bring a ball or a Frisbee. And, I suppose, nowadays they may pack their Gameboy, God forbid! But, most often, I bet the Gameboy stays back in the cabin. There are too many other things to do. And, somehow at camp, punching buttons on a handheld computer becomes geeky rather than cool.

The fourth and final reason that explains the remarkable appeal of summer camp is that it makes memories. At camp, the days come alive with their own identities. Each day makes its own mark. Everything is more vivid because everything is so different from the normal urban routine. The entire pace of life changes and we form wonderful recollections that don't just stay with us until we get home or until the next year ... they stay with us our entire lives.

So, as I see it, these are some of the reasons that kids are drawn out of their homes to spend summer months roughing it in the great outdoors.

But, I believe that these are just the reasons that they think they're going to camp. To me, the real magic of camp happens beyond the campers' immediate consciousness. The real magic is in life lessons that, once learned, become ingrained and relevant every day of one's life long after you take the last ride home in that big sad bus.

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