Samantha WetzelEach year RYLA conferees are asked to write about their experiences. Last year 2013 RYLA conferee Samantha Wetzel wrote this essay, which was judged by counselors worthy of a first-place tie for best essay at the conference. Here’s an inspiring, well-written and informative look at why RYLA is an excellent program. Samantha Wetzel is now a senior at St. Joseph High School in Hammonton. 

“To be or not to be, that is the question…” To be a valiant leader emerging from the inner depths of a crowd, or to be a follower, reluctant to share one’s inner greatness? To be a soldier in one’s community, advocating only what is right, or to be a witness, evolving slowly into the oppressor with each step not taken? To be the light in the room that contains the dazzling smile that tickles other’s emotions, or to be the vampire that sweeps away the bliss and unloads negativity? Everyone can be… Everyone can do…

This simple question separates the strong from the weak, the courageous from the fearful, and the confident from the hopeless. Before my life changing experience at RYLA, I believed I was the epitome of “to be.” I thought I was doing everything just right to be the perfect example to my peers. Reality struck me hard though like a furious ocean wave amidst vigorous summer heat. The 150 souls here, I have learned, are what I want “to be.” Our captivating guest speakers are what I want “to be.” Our dedicated counselors are what I want “to be.” They truly are the epitome of this phrase. Because I have engaged so fully in this experience, I now possess a newfound ability to be a HUGE impact in the world. “Engage Rotary, change lives” may not have made much sense to me at the beginning of this once upon a time, but it erupts a passion in me now at this happily ever after.

My fellow campers have exposed me to a whole new world, one I am eager to explore thoroughly. My first day, I witnessed individuals strumming guitars and singing without a stress tapping on their shoulder. There were students giving the friendliest hellos and warming hugs to strangers. Others were playing volleyball like they had been a team for years. All the while I stood nervously: arms wrapped, legs timidly moving, talking with those I know like my ABC’s, staring at the spectacle in awe. It was at that moment I realized I wanted, so passionately desired, and needed  “to be.” The 150 students are here because they are not afraid to emerge from a crowd and let everyone proudly know that this is who I am! I will dance! I will sing! I will do cartwheels down the street! I will enjoy every second and minute of my life because life is just too precious to let the moments slip. This prevailing attitude is one I have embraced. I danced last night like a child, pulling out all the most embarrassing moves like the shopping cart. This is something I have never done and always regretted. Because I was able to engage the Rotary conferees, I can change the lives of those around me, encouraging them to release their inner passion and expose it. The world needs someone different, and they can be that.

Additionally, the speakers I listened to this week have impacted me dramatically. Mr. Energy advocated PUSH, pushing ourselves to unfamiliar limits to evolve into individuals of immense resilience and character. Nashad Warfield exposed LIFE to me in a new perspective. I must learn the infinite knowledge this earth holds deep in its roots, discover a passion that will keep me grinning for eternity, and take action to pursue all that I hope. Dr. Fowlin presented me with what I need to do. I need to be like the ocean that refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it is turned away. Even when things are difficult, I must know to hold my determination close and carry on. And Dr. Gilbert taught me confidence, something I have been reaching to grab, but just could not grasp. These messages, along with so many more, are what I need to bring to my family, school, church, and community. If I encourage someone, I can feel great too. If I push a teammate to her fullest potential, her hard work will shower upon me. This week at RYLA has showed me the two-fold experience of deeply changing lives: aiding others who then help me.

Lastly, my counselors who have engaged Rotary’s message of service above self have deeply impacted my life. I entered career night lost in a dark tunnel. There seemed no end, only the blackness that evilly blocked my blurry vision to the future. I want a decent salary, but will that job suit me? Are these careers available and in demand? One question followed by another just made my tunnel become narrower. I visited a product developer and lawyer. Both were very interesting, but did not satisfy my hunger completely. Then I went to education. I have always liked this field, but have been timid due to the many clichés constantly associated with teaching. However, at the beginning of the presentation, I could immediately feel the satisfaction those counselors had as teachers. With a few simple words, they created a light in my tunnel. Maybe I can be a teacher one day and a basketball coach, and hey, even a RYLA counselor in the summer. I can change the lives of our future students just as they so greatly did to mine. I can be Rotary’s example of service above self, and this is all I could ever want now in my future endeavors.

All those at RYLA are oysters. We are individuals who came in as strangers with contrasting emotions and are leaving as Rylatives in a huge family. These feelings have transformed astonishingly into a fortified power only leaders can contain, a power that is as rare at the beautiful black pearl found in an oyster. This beauty is not for our own glory, but as RYLA conferees, a force that must be shared in the world. All those at RYLA are soldiers, soldiers that ask themselves in decisions “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” All those at RYLA have chosen “To be:” to be service above self.

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