Spirit of Summer

I have a confession to make: I had fun this summer. Sorry, mom and dad, sorry, College Counseling Office. I didn’t cure cancer or get a congressman reelected; instead, I spent seven weeks living, working, and having fun with my friends at Camp Wigwam. Wigwam is a traditional summer camp for boys located in Waterford, Maine. In operation since 1910, the camp emphasizes participation over competition and fosters a relaxed and welcoming environment for the 180 campers and fifty counselors. This year was my seventh summer there and my first as a staff member. I worked taking photos for the camp website, coordinating the hiking and climbing programs, and served as a bunk counselor to a group of four eleven-year-old boys. Yet when I talked with my Andover classmates about our summer plans before leaving campus in May, I felt like a slacker. One friend was to be a page in the Senate; another was off to summer business school at UPenn’s Wharton School. Few students said that they were doing anything as simple as an old-fashioned summer job. And the trend is not limited to secondary school students. Just in the past few years, I have noticed an alarming change in attitude among campers and their parents, similar to that seen at Andover. During camp, parents signed their sons up for tutoring in math and reading, and a number of campers left four weeks into the seven-week session to attend supplemental academic programs elsewhere. One twelve-year-old veteran camper decided to take a year off to attend an advanced science course at Skidmore University in order to improve his chances at getting into boarding school. A few years ago, this would have raised eyebrows, but in the past few years, such activities have become more and more commonplace as students seek an edge in classrooms and the college admissions process. Summer vacation is a chance to do something unique that will distinguish a student from other applicants, and a student’s choice of activities can show his leadership skills, intelligence, and ambition to the admission committee. Not surprisingly, the popularity of Andover’s Summer Opportunities office has exploded in recent years, due to a growing perception that students need to “take advantage” of their three month vacation from Andover, according to its director, Roxanne Barry. Medical internships, engineering camps, and business camps are especially popular. In an article prepared for PSPA, entitled “Summer = Downtime, Oh No!” the office presented the exciting, diverse, and not coincidentally résumé-building, summer plans of a number of current Seniors. “Research, lab work, medical internships and math camps…this doesn’t sound like summer, does it?” reads the first sentence. In short, students seem to be turning summer essentially into a continuation of the academic calendar. What went wrong? It’s no secret that PA students work incredibly hard during the school year. Consequently, summer should be a time to unwind, to catch up with old friends; in short, a time to do nothing and have it mean everything. However, the looming specter of college applications is ever-present, sending students up to the 3rd floor of GW to ask, “What can I do this summer that will look good on my application?” According to Mrs. Barry, just about anything is a “valuable” experience. Whether a student works at the corner deli slicing pastrami or studying the mating habits of the Korean yellow wasp (as one student did this summer), she said, he or she can write “a wonderful college essay” about it. That doesn’t mean the right way to spend a summer is sitting on the beach or catching up on the last six seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Rather, the summer can be a chance for PA students to explore their passions beyond the limited scope that is feasible on campus during the academic year. There are some things that can only be done during the summer. Whatever the summer experience is, the fact that it is different, in some significant way, from the Andover experience is what matters. Students need some downtime from the chaotic, stressful, and demanding pace of life. Almost anything can be a beneficial summer experience; the key, however, is recognizing that despite the way we often think, Andover students are still kids, and we need downtime to just be ourselves, away from the pressure cooker of Academy Hill. ~~~ Editor-in-Chief Steve Blackman writes periodically on issues affecting the Andover community. His conclusions are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Phillipian Editorial Board.