Written by: Annie Solberg Sarnblad (Alum, Parent, and Board Member)
When friends hear that we send our girls to sleepover camp for 8 weeks each summer they shake their heads and wonder why. I explain that I’ve lived in 9 countries, and that I’ve never seen anywhere on earth where girls and women are so supportive of each other. Where kindness, and bravery and fun are so celebrated. Where girls embrace and delight each others’ quirkiness. Where they are able to develop a sense of self that pleases them throughout their lifetimes.
Like so many Brown Ledgers, camp is my happy place. It’s the most beautiful piece of land and water I know, and it soothes my soul, softens my heart and reminds me of what is important. My camp friends are my life-long friends, and one of our daughters is named after my bunkie, Emma.
So much of our children’s lives are pressure cookers today. Girls need a break from the stress of school, from homework and from screen time. A chance to play, to live in the moment, to be encouraged to decide who they are, not in similarity or in opposition to their own mothers, but as individuals.
Last summer I sat on the dock, watching our girls participate in the Aquacade that I used to take part in. A mother who sat next to me mentioned to me that this would be her daughter’s last summer. That her daughter needed to “buckle down” and get ready for college. “Why?” I asked her, “Camp is so much more important than college.”
She looked at me like I had grown an extra head and I explained, “No really. Last Alumnae camp several us got together and discussed what camp had meant to our lives.”
annie's jc group 1988
                                                                                                                                                                                                Annie (top row, on right) with her JC group, 1988.
Our conclusion was that we could have gone to another college and our lives wouldn’t have been drastically different. However, had we gone to a different camp, everything would have changed. Certainly, part of this has to do with college arriving at a time when our personalities were already fairly developed, as opposed to camp which nurtured us throughout our adolescence.
We all agreed that wouldn’t have chosen jobs which were such a good fit for us, were it not for our time at Brown Ledge. We credited Camp with making us brave enough to embrace risk, knowing that perseverance, hard work and creativity pay off. Maybe this is why so many of us are entrepreneurs.
Living in close quarters and in an environment where we were expected to work out differences – there was after all, nowhere else to go than back to your cabin at the end of the day – gave us the social skills to manage difficult relationships and network successfully.
But more than anything, kindness was expected. And we felt we belonged in a period of our lives when this wasn’t a given. My youngest daughter said it best when she explained to me one day in the car, several months after the end of camp:
“Mom…I like my camp self better than my school self.”
“I know”, I said. “I always liked my camp self best too.”
Note: Credit to Emma Forbes- Jones and Rachel Gunn Carr for the original “Camp is More Important than College Conversation” that started so many similar conversations.
Carl Honore, author of Underpressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting, would likely agree with Annie and her bunkies. Honore noted in Underpressure, after reviewing a number of studies and speaking with college professors and administrators, that “by the time a child reaches college age, what university she actually attends makes little difference in how she will come out after graduation.” Rather, “what seems to count more is the kind of person you are when you arrive on campus rather than the campus itself.”