By Michael Eisner, Disney CEO
Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney – and former camper and camp counselor – shared his memories of summer camp with attendees of the 2001 Tri-State Camping Conference in New York. In his keynote address, he told the audience about the impact his time at camp has had on his life and reminded all of us of just why camp is so special.
“I loved camp.
I loved Keewaydin…every moment of it…every year of being there…every baseball game and canoe trip and wilderness experience and being a staff man and driving a truck and just being a team player. I loved the six years as a camper and three years as a counselor between 1950 and 1964.
Consider [our] canoe trips. There were ten of us on them — two staffmen and eight campers. The campers were split up into four teams of two. There were four jobs each day that corresponded to the four teams — pitching the tents, cooking, building the fire, and cleaning the dishes. These four jobs were rotated among the+ teams, so everyone had to do everything and had to do it working in harmony with another individual. Of course, on the canoe trips themselves, we had to portage frequently, which gave us an intense awareness of what was really needed to keep our little band flourishing, since we literally had to carry all our needs on our shoulders. Along the way, there were magnificent days of indescribable beauty. There were soaking days that chilled us to the bone. And, on occasion, we found we were not alone, but shared our environment with black flies whose only reason for existence was to torment us. One time it got so bad that we all spent the entire night lying in the river with only our faces out of the water in a desperate attempt to defend ourselves from the attacking swarms.
Many years later, I was a counselor helping to lead one of these expeditions. Partly at my urging, the camp let us head down the more challenging Connecticut River and, on one of the rapids, a camper fell out and cut his head pretty badly. It was up to me to carry him three miles for help.
But oh, the lessons I learned. On these canoe trips, we could never survive the first day if we didn’t practice teamwork, show initiative, handle adversity, listen well, and, not least important, maintain a sense of humor.
May I repeat that list: practice teamwork, show initiative, handle adversity, listen well, and maintain a sense of humor. I’m sure it will surprise no one [reading this] that these five attributes don’t just apply to canoe trips. They represent keys to success in one’s career. Indeed, they are keys to success in life. And you just can’t learn them spending your summers playing video games.
I can hardly think of an aspect of my life that wasn’t positively affected by my camping experience.
Environmentalism? Long before I had even heard the word “ecology,” I was immersed in its significance. My environmental consciousness didn’t come so much from hearing talks about the delicate balance of nature. It came from such things as only peeling bark from a dead tree, or burying the garbage after burning the cans…or leaving the campsite just as it was found.
Responsibility? At eighteen, I was driving trucks that held nine other kids and towed six canoes.
Crisis management? I once led a hike and got thoroughly lost on a mountain in a rainstorm. After considering all the options, I led my band bushwacking down the trail-less mountainside to civilization.
Respect for education? Most of the senior staff at camp were teachers the rest of the year. These were extraordinary individuals who made a lasting impression on me. And, I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow, these are teachers! And I’m not even getting in trouble.” It gave me a whole new understanding for education and the people who dedicate their lives to enriching the next generation. And, years later, it was to some extent to pay honor to the Keewaydin staff that I initiated Disney’s annual American Teacher Awards ceremony.
When all is said and done, people of all ages want to be a part of something bigger and more important than themselves. More than anything else, this is the value that camp teaches kids. It offers them a sense of perspective and provides them with a head start on the road to becoming truly human.
What a gift camp gives to kids…what a gift you give to kids!
And this is why all of you should be so proud of what you do.”