Summer Camp

PRISE, Harvard’s undergraduate science research program, is full of smart kids, grant money, and cutting edge experiments. But deep down it’s still summer camp. And summer camp has always been a time-warped, over-sexed, over-scheduled version of real life. So there’s the quiz bowl, the mandatory celebrity lectures, the repetitive dining hall back-and-forths, the awkward allusions to instances of PRISE-cest. Go forth and cross-pollinate!

Summer camp is often a fascinating social skills incubator. You’re forced to meet a hundred supposedly like-minded individuals, socialize with them, and walk away co-authors. If you don’t, you suffer the consequences, which may include sitting alone in the cafeteria or “not having a good time.” Both are fatal.

But seriously. I read an article in The New York Times that reported a recent spate of mothers bringing their 12-year olds in for leg and bikini waxes as preparation for summer camp. I saw it and thought, that’s bullshit. If they need any preparation, it’s this:

Be visible, especially in the beginning. PRISE kicked off the summer with an afternoon of icebreakers, enticingly termed “Minute to Win It.” We split into teams and competed in various tasks, like unstacking a pyramid of solo cups, or moving a cookie from your forehead to your mouth using only your facial muscles. I was in a group of twelve and our first task was to come up with a team name. Cue silence and feet shuffling. No one wanted to propose something stupid. “We could call it Team Awesome,” a hesitant freshman volunteered. Ok, no. But with a little bit of thought and half an ounce of pop culture, anyone could come up with something not embarassing. Animals are good. Puns are great. “The PRISE is Right,” I said, and that’s what we went with. Later, when no one would represent our team for the first game, I went up, shot rubber bands, and had them cheering.

Afterwards, I wondered, why were people so shy and mincing about an icebreaker? Girls would approach a game by apologizing to the team first, saying, “I’ll do my best, but I can’t guarantee anything.” Do what best, I say, fuck doing your best. It’s an icebreaker. Winning isn’t the point. Points aren’t the point. When aliens are heading toward earth and you’re in the fighter jet, that’s when you do your best. When you’re manning the credit derivatives desk at JPMorgan Chase, yeah, that’s also when you do your best. But being uptight about quality in an icebreaker is akin to wearing spandex under sweats – pointless discomfort.