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Blog - A Staffman's Banquet Speech

Updated: May 8, 2022

Each year, Pathfinder's Aug. 19 final banquet program includes short speeches from an invited Camper and Staff member, representing their respective community on the Island. This year's were poignant. In 2021, having endured a closed 2020 season and the challenges of a Covid-adaptive 2021 season, our big crew filled the banquet Dining Hall with happiness, hunger and relief -- We had all remained healthy, and knew that Pathfinder life remained the happy same as ever, even after much difficult waiting. But everyone had paid a price to reach Source Lake that year, we were intensely missing the guys who could not attend, and an exhausted Staff had given everything they had - and often more - to put the kids first.

A veteran camper, Alastair Daniel, rose and gave an excellent camper speech, speaking very personally about what his camp and the trip trail meant to him. Then, it was Jack Sladden's turn. Jack was a new-born when he first arrived at Pathfinder, and was a senior headman and director of canoeing when he stood to share his thoughts on the 108th season.

Jack Sladden

Speaking for the Staff – Camp Banquet 8/19/21

I want everyone to think for a second. Back to one year ago. Think about where you were, maybe what you were doing.

Some of us were back home, curious about what the rest of the year was going to be like. Some of us were back home, just trying to let the storm pass.

Some of us were lucky to be doing something we loved. Maybe a chance to talk with people we normally wouldn’t, or spend time with our families. While only a small group, some of us were even up here on the island.

But for everyone in this room, no matter your age or what you were doing, a year ago was anything but normal. I know we’re all tired of talking about and hearing about Covid and its effects, but I think we need to remember what it’s done, and what parts of our lives it’s affected most.

We’re lucky to be sitting in this room tonight, together. Lucky to have gotten on the trail this summer. Lucky to be in this beautiful park.

Walk slowly around the island these last few hours. It will miss you. And if last year has taught us anything, it has taught us that our time here is fragile.

Tonight, I’m thankful for the summer we’ve had, the progress we’ve made, and the success that for so long seemed so unachievable. Tonight, I’m the proud to be part of a hard-working and driven staff team, who put their lives on hold for camp when life was hard enough. Tonight I’m proud to stand up in front of a room of young men who were stuck inside for months, missing opportunity after opportunity, graduation after school activity and school sports, maybe a trip or a plan that was the reason you studied so hard and tried so hard on a test.

But in spite of that, you made the most of it and stayed on top.

Tonight, while I’m proud I’m also sad to see you leave. Something about being here with all of you just feels right. And the sad truth is, this exact group will never be in this room together again.

While our problems here are real, they aren’t severe or threatening like the ones at home. Our highs are high, and the lows could be lower. As my co-DOC Dylan once said, "When I’m on trip, I have only one thing to think about: the trail. My mind is so full of what comes next, that all my problems seem to fade away.”

When you go home tomorrow, don’t forget about us. Don’t forget the arts and crafts AA you worked so hard for, don’t forget your first power jump, don’t forget what you got at candy line.

These things matter. You will use them as fuel in the winter, when school is hard and you’re sick of being inside. Remember the lakes you paddled with your favorite Second Men, remember how the paddle felt in your hand. Someday you may forget. Don’t let that day come too soon.

While I had a pretty big head start, this is my 20th summer as a camper or staff man. Before that I was watched over by Mary Chestnut, my mother, and nannies who were on camp’s payroll.

I was bathed in the very sink we wash our dishes in today. I drove the boats as a 6-year old, and the spring crew hated it. But being the son of an owner is hard. And it comes with consequences, and I’ve literally never been able to explain it. I won’t try tonight, but one day I’ll know how.

Tonight, I really just want to give advice. Take it or leave it.

To my young guys, my Loons and my Mergansers – Don’t let your bad moments get in the way of remembering the good ones. Try to bring all your stuff home, and tell whoever picks you up everything, they want to hear about it. They’ve missed you as much as you’ve missed them. They sent you here for a reason – Thank them. I’ll miss your energy the most. Thank you for coming to camp this summer, you don’t know it now, but it was one of the best things you’ve ever done.

To my Foxes and Ravens – Go home with your heads up high. None of your friends or classmates did anything like you did this summer. Be leaders and stay humble. You may be the best tetherball player, but you have a lot to learn. Remember, you are the heart of camp; you are the future. Dylan and I first lived together as campers in Cree Row. There are DOCs in this room.

You Bears – For a few of you this is your first experience in Algonquin, in Temagami, or canoe tripping at all. I can confidently say you probably weren’t expecting this. You guys have gone on some of our best trips and the amount you’ve changed while on the trail is staggering. Seeing you come back full of smiles and stories just proves what a trip can do for a group like yours.

I’m more than happy you were here this summer, and I know all of your names will be on the roster for years to come. So my advice is simple: don’t give up on canoe tripping. I’ve seen too many good trippers be whisked away by coaches and recruiters back home. You’re young, and this beautiful place has more to offer.

The AAs – You did it! Soon your year will be forever ingrained in this room. While only a few names will make it on the wall, you are all there with them. You made it happen. Their names are there because of your insights and your opinions. They will never be able to repay you.

Next year, you’ll have a very different experience here. Don’t miss it. All I can say is I’m proud. Proud of the punches you rolled with, and proud to have seen you grow. Congratulations.

To the Staff – Thank you. I actually can not express how much you all mean to me. How much you mean to these kids. We’ve grown up here together. I look up to all of you. I’m going to miss you more than you know. I know some of you will not be returning next summer, and this place will not be the same without you. So many of you could have stayed back home, waited out another year, or decided – ‘hey, I had my camp days and now they’re over.’ The fact that you’re here means you care the most. Campers, look around at your staff men and women: these are the people you should look up to. These are the people who came here for you. This place is for the campers and we all made sacrifices to see you smile each day.

To my last year's crew and May Crew. I will never forget the time we spent together. While others watched, we were lucky to be here. But what sounds like an amazing way to spend your summer really wasn’t all peaches and butterflies. I wish our old Headmen could see us now. We would make them so proud.

Dad – Tonight I’m proud to be a Sladden, proud of what you’ve done for Pathfinder, and proud to be able to help with it. Nobody will ever know the sacrifices you’ve made and they don’t need to. Only Quin and I will ever fully understand. Watching you work the last two years has been terrifying. You literally kept yourself up nights and made yourself sick to make sure these kids had a good summer. Two months: you worked twelve months to make sure they had two. And now I say, you did it, you really did it.

We’re lucky to be in this room together.

My last piece of advice is for everybody. Don’t take for granted your time here. You just don’t know when it’s up. Talk to your friends in the off-season. You need each other. And camp will always be waiting. Stay safe, stay healthy, so you may return to this place once again.

Thank you.

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