As I sit and think about the last time, I will stand in front of you all and address you for the final time I am taken back to when it all began 15 years ago as a camper. In this quickly aging mind, its difficult to remember details of that night, but what I do remember is reflecting on the week. I reflected on the endless struggle to sweep every last grain of sand out of our cabin so we could deliver a shoo shoo to our counselor. I remember my other cabin mates and me rushing to the few people who knew the answer to the culture trivia question so we could win the cabin competition. I remember my first camp crush and getting rejected to the dance, which eventually led to my first camp girlfriend at the end of the week. I loved those experiences, but that’s not why I love camp. What made me love camp was this feeling it gave me. At the time, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew it was profound. The best way to describe the feeling is hope.
This place gave me hope for my future. Camp unlocked and opened my eyes to a life I had never known before. I’ve always known that I was Korean, but I never knew what being Korean meant. My language skills were nonexistent, my understanding of culture or Korean mentality was as foreign to me as any other culture. You could say I was Korean in name only. Sae Jong Camp developed the fundamentals to explore my Korean heritage, but more importantly, SJC gave me the confidence to seek out the answers. With the help of my counselors, I went from not knowing or speaking any Korean, to knowing the alphabet and eventually being able to read children’s books. For me, I knew I was never going to be an expert in language, culture or identity like former staffers, but I knew that if I worked hard enough, I could still make an impact.
Ultimately, the hope of camp is embodied through the campers. You campers are the lifeblood of camp and are the most cherished asset. The reason I do camp is in the hope that you will not go through what I had to go through, but if you do, we will have given you the tools to come out on the other side stronger and better for it. As I step down, my leaving opens a new spot, and it is my sincerest hope that one of you will carry on and help to usher the next generation of camper so they too can lead someday as well.