“I realized I had more friends than I thought I did.”
“Getting out of my comfort zone. Not because I was put in random groups, but because I tried new things.”
“I liked that you took our phones away.”
Despite the 25 seniors who said they disliked the Senior Retreat because their phones were confiscated, 13 actually said it was their highlight; 29 seniors said their highlight was getting to know new people. New people. The same people from their senior class of a mere 123 students. Others were impressed by the activities and games, of which included highly entertaining sit-down tag and what I would call, Octopus Tag. All of which occurred on a gym floor without much traction, adding to the entertainment. Many loved the ropes course, which was in fact thrilling and challenged you to aim a little higher, reach a little further, and wince a little while bruises formed. Some seniors complimented the chance to bond with their grade outside of school and feigned sadness over missing a day of school, and others enjoyed being able to sit by a campfire; a chance to relax and interact with their friends and let’s be honest, acquaintances. Day one was a success, complete with dinner served by the fabulous ‘Guth and Crew,’ followed by the skits.
The skits. What happens at camp, stays at camp. No empty promises made or broken.
Following skits was free time, bonfire time, and a chance to just be. Lights went out… some earlier than others, and then Monday preceded us with no uniforms, no chapel, and no ushering between classes. Alumni were heard, projects were brainstormed, team building games - some loved, some not so much - were played, and reflections were written. The ultimate 24 hours.
This was the 12th Senior Retreat for Darlington School, my personal first. Those 24 hours spent away from Darlington, away from Rome, away from stresses and pressures, were a chance for each of these 123 seniors to relax, reflect, bond, and perhaps try something new. Yes, the weather was cold. Yes, there was limited cell service; not that it mattered because lives were ripped apart from the real world by confiscating phones. Yes, there were times when students had to sit and wait for more than two minutes without constant entertainment. And yes, perhaps some of the showers were not at a 5-Star rating.
No, seniors who weren’t best of friends before the retreat became automatic besties and no, the Senior Retreat didn’t reveal the answers to a complicated 18-year-old life’s problems. But for 24 hours, I saw students interact with each other. I saw students with smiles that I don’t normally see during dorm duty. I saw students talking to other students who weren’t in their circle, or team, or streak, or general day to day sight. I saw students organically find ways to entertain themselves without the constant blue light of a screen. I saw seniors pushing each other on rope swings. I saw seniors tire swinging, walking while conversating, and obviously playing ‘Four Square’. I saw fantastic games of ‘Pitball’… or was it ‘Knockerball’? I am still confused on the name, and the rules and basic strategy still remain a little fuzzy, but the seniors’ genuine amusement and kid-like joy was clear. The Senior Retreat allowed the seniors to come together as a grade away from tests, away from scores, away from demerits, to just be. To just exist with what they had. Even if it was for only 24 hours.
“That was the most active I have been all year,” said to me by a senior who otherwise would have been studying all day in a cramped corner, and who I might add, had a certain glow of happiness about her, or him. I’ll never tell.
Kids now have a harder time sitting still. Not because they are diagnosed and not because they are ill-mannered, but because they have a weaker core strength than kids in the past and their balance is weakened by comparison. They physically cannot sit still. Kids are not putting in the hours of enjoying outdoor play and instead, they are inside ‘socializing’ via screens. Kids bond via Instagram and generate a ‘real world’ knowledge from the Internet. And yet, play-time is a way to naturally enhance a child’s core and balance. Which in return, enhances their ability to sit, to listen, to problem solve, and to just be.
Seniors are still kids. College students are still kids. And the adults reading this are still kids when it comes to needing time to just be, time to play, time to put down the phone. Put down the exams, put down your conference call, put down your overworked planner, and challenge yourself outside your comfort zone, meet some new people, and learn a little bit more about this thing we call life. We can continuously learn and grow from the generation that comes after us and will ultimately precede us. These seniors are the future who will have jobs that haven’t even been thought of yet. And for 24 hours they existed. After, they returned to the real world with their phones, loaded busses, and came back to ‘reality.’
What’s important now is that we, I’m including you reader in this as well, help to continue an idea that yes, there are more friends than you thought you had and will continue to make more. Yes, you can go outside of your comfort zone, scared, uncomfortable, and still succeed beyond limits. And yes, sometimes putting the phone down is a good thing. As a community, we need to constantly remind our seniors, remind us, remind your own kids and friends, of those past 24 hours and not let it become just another memory we tell stories about or write blogs about. Choose to make it your present. Choose to exist. Choose to just be. Make play-time a reality.