Wild Time

By Green River Preserve

Good afternoon. I want to first extend my thanks to the Faculty, the Staff, and all the little animals out here for inviting me to speak today. After I got in last night, I was fortunate to have a bit of time to walk the hallowed grounds of this institution and I can say with utter confidence that this is, truly, at its core, a place.

Graduates, I am honored to celebrate this momentous achievement with you today. It is your hard work and dedication that has brought us to this precious moment. During these few minutes I hope to earn my considerable speaker’s fee by upstaging those hard-won achievements with melodrama, empty rhetoric, and circuitous metaphors.

Dear Class of 2014: Where has the time gone? Ah time, that wide, wide river, that deep dark jungle, that steaming plate of waffle fries. Ten short days ago I sat right in your shoes, anxious for what Staff Training would bring. Like many of you, I remember the smell of impending rain. I remember bright and joyous faces, shining much curiosity, and a little shyness, a little worry. Like many of you, I remember wondering “Will I make friends?” and “What time is it?” and “What is time?”

And that was just the beginning. Over the course of ten days we have confronted many challenges together. We wrestled with tough topics. We struggled through awkward conversations, which at times made us feel like a giraffe on its first visit to a water park. We grumbled through the chaotic and hourly melee at the tea-counter, where the rules were no quarter and not enough spoons. And we began to feel the weight of our privilege and responsibility here as counselors and mentors.

Let us take a moment to reflect on our growth and successes during our time together. Ah time, that deep breath, that endless cycle, that furious caterpillar.

During these ten days we have climbed deep into dark caves despite our fear; we have danced and sang and played with courage, despite an intimidating audience of much talent and brilliance; we have enflamed in each other an insatiable desire to help, to better, to nurture; and perhaps most importantly, from our myriad training videos we have learned straightforward tools to forget acronyms (S.T.F.A.)

When I look into your eyes, I can tell that we have emerged from our training not as hollow implements, bitter reactionaries (or even worse, overbearing vegans), but as global citizens — ready to take on the growing opportunities of the twenty-first century. We now are hang gliders on a cliff of excellence, propelling our hearts and our minds into a minefield of bittersweet gratitude. We are bikers zipping through the traffic of consumerism, chasing that endless ice cream truck of victory. My friends, we’ve heard the music and are prepared to answer the call.

For we all know that we are here with a strong sense of purpose, to address a small but pervasive myth about modernity. We are here to demonstrate that “the good life” does not have to mean a childhood — or indeed a lifetime — stripped from the unimaginable beauty of our inherited natural world, glued unwittingly to endless cycles of data, content, and other electron artifice.

We are here to disband the idea that the betterment of our kind is only a matter of technological advancement and reliance, for these are only part of our story. We are here to build a safe place, insulated from the rest of the world by pines and poplars and black gums, where the wild in each of us can find refuge and respect.

Over these next few weeks, let us rise to this great challenge before us, this great and worthy opportunity. Let us seize this brief time together. Ah time, that great panacea, that priceless gift, that endless salad bar.

Let us seize this time to bring out the best in each other. Let us demonstrate that the creatures under our feet are worth knowing, are worth experiencing as a part of something bigger. Let us create that safe place for the wild in our campers. For it is in that safe place that we can take risks, that we can explore, experiment, and “seek the joy of being alive.”

Class of 2014, you’ve done it. You’re ready. Take a deep breath. Take this wild moment — this little bit of time — and savor it. Listen to the brush of leaves in the wind, the call of the red-eyed vireo: “Hello, here I am, where are you?” Reflect on how lucky we are to share this place, and how much we all have grown in just ten days.

Then once you’ve had some time to reflect, strap on your Chacos. Fill your pockets with Emergen-C. Relocate that creepy snail from your cabin bathroom mirror, rehearse your best silly accent, and review the lyrics to each song in the Disney canon. Take a deep breath. You are ready.

Avery McGaha
June 6, 2014