Thursday, August 6, 2009


Like the fictional Brigadoon that appears for only one day every hundred years, the CTY site at Washington College rises out of nothingness in late June every year, only to disappear again in early August.

As the final week of CTY 2009 winds down, the staff is already packing up materials they will not need again until next year. Classroom supplies go into plastic tubs that are inventoried and labeled and sent off to the storage unit, along with the balls, Frisbees, and other break time items.

Tomorrow afternoon the students will depart and the staff will finish "striking the set" in the classrooms and the offices. Then the administrative, instructional and residential staffers will pack up their own belongings and move out of the dorms. By Saturday evening, it will be as if the camp had never been there.


Since 2002, I have taught in the same classroom and lived in the same dorm room, so there is a sense of familiarity (and deja vu) despite the 46-week gaps between CTY summers. Indeed, each year as I drive the last dozen or so miles into Chestertown, I feel as if I have just done it a couple of weeks earlier. And each year when I leave, there's a sense of "See you in a few weeks."

Unlike Brigadoon, however, the cast of characters changes from year to year. Yes, there are a number of returners each summer, but there are also new people, some of whom will become returners and others who are "one-hit wonders." But there are always enough familiar faces every summer... and the new folks blend in quite quickly. Ultimate Frisbee games, kayaking, the Tuesday movie night, and other "traditions" restart almost instantly and everyone who joins in has "always" been a part of them.

And despite the sense of time standing still from year to year, the people do change. They get engaged, get married, and have children. They graduate from college, get jobs and change jobs in the real world. One of my colleagues, who started as a Teaching Assistant in 1996, moved on to become an Instructor and finally the Site Director, came back for a visit this summer. She was telling one of the new folks how long she's known me and said, "I feel like Bob has watched me grow up!"


The last dance of the session tonight, like all the dances at all CTY sites, will end with the playing of "American Pie." There are a number of stories about how this particular tradition began, but whatever the origin, it is one tradition that no one will break. (One year, when the CD with the song on it went missing, staff and students ended the dance by singing it a capella.) And despite the fact that all of the students and many of the staff members were not even born when the song debuted (and fewer still were around when "the music died"), everyone knows the words and sings it enthusiastically.

In 48 hours, Washington College will go back to being a college and the CTY staff and students will be scattered across the country and the world. Until next year... when Brigadoon will reappear.

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