Risk and reward at the Flinn Scholars retreat

September 3, 2010

By hammersmith

For nearly 25 years, Flinn Scholars have begun the academic year together. Each August, the Scholars annual retreat serves as a chance for incoming Scholars to spend their first extended time together and begin establishing the bonds that will unite them well beyond their graduations four years in the future. The retreat is also an occasion for Scholars further along in their undergraduate careers to reconnect after a summer–or a semester, or even a full year–spent in far-flung settings for travel, study, and research.

The retreat, held at Lost Canyon, a camp and retreat center in the mountains west of Flagstaff, includes plenty of time for casual community-building, along with more structured activities, including travel-report presentations from Scholars who have studied abroad, and an eclectic, much-anticipated talent show.

In the narratives belows, a returning Flinn Scholar, Emma Kleiner (’09), and a first-year Scholar, Savannah Martin (’10), describe their experiences at the 2010 retreat, held last month.

Emma Kleiner:

For me and others in the Flinn Scholars Class of 2009, the countdown to Lost Canyon started the day our Central European Seminar ended in June. The spirit of this year’s retreat felt very different, as I arrived already bonded with my class and excited to meet the Class of 2010.

It was wonderful to watch the freshmen class get to know each other and discover common interests, just as I remember establishing close friendships with my class last year. Between jam sessions and zip lining, Lost Canyon offered all of the Scholars a few days to come together again as a Flinn Family.

As was the case last year, the Foundation staff kept the days full of activities and the kitchen full of food. In an impressive mixing of these two signature elements, we held the first annual cupcake war. The four classes were pitted against each other in this activity, given a certain amount of time to create an image with cupcakes to reflect themes such as “travel philosophy” and “representation of your class.” In this fast-paced demonstration of talent, frosting and sprinkles flew around the room and resulted in candy-coated craziness. Of course, in the end the winners didn’t matter, because we all had the best time making a mess and seeing each other’s cupcake concoctions.

The annual tug-of-war competition was fierce and an all-around impressive event, as Scholars showed off their wealth of brute strength. It offered one big surprise, as last year’s victorious Class of 2008 ended up in last place. However, the Class of 2008 definitely won best wardrobe: as the competition began, they charged into camp wearing their class shirts creatively cut up and adorned with Sharpie “war paint.” The new freshmen class put up an impressive fight to claim second place, and, unexpectedly, the Class of 2007/2006 (combined seniors and “super seniors”) took the grand prize!

Above all others, the talent show at Lost Canyon is a retreat tradition that Flinns look forward to for the entire year. In advance, there was a constant jam session going in the common room, usually headed by Jared Neufer (’07), so we all knew something great would be performed at the talent show, and we weren’t disappointed. With two awesome MCs–Ravi Ram (’09) and Hugh Chung (’09)–we ventured together into the world of, well, Flinn awesomeness, demonstrated through musical performances and skits. The freshmen skit was, as usual, highly anticipated, and the Class of 2010 did not disappoint us.

As we begin our semester, I can say with even more confidence than last year: The spirit of Lost Canyon will stay with us throughout the year and help bring us together many times as a Flinn Family.

Savannah Martin:

Despite the intimidating liability waiver I was required to sign, I knew my chances of returning from the Lost Canyon retreat mangled and maimed were slim; in fact, I expected to come back with nothing but stories of profound connections and outstanding moments of intellect, perhaps even a few breathless descriptions of life-changing events. However, after examining the anecdotes I’ve been retelling since the retreat, I discovered that my Lost Canyon experience was not defined by lessons learned or ideas developed, but rather the risks I took while I was there.

Any Flinn knows there is plenty of opportunity for risk at the retreat. Whether a person is zipping past trees, leaping from platforms, or entertaining an eager audience, she is risking something. As a freshman, I took my greatest chance in exposing my quirks, fears, ideas, passions—my identity—to my peers. Fortunately, after risking everything, I found my reward—a home in the Flinn family.

Already, I know the connections I formed at the retreat have the potential to grow into life-long friendships, and the things I discovered have the power to alter my future. At the end of the day, I am confident I will have a family to share my experiences with, the good and the bad.

The family reunion that is Lost Canyon is a simultaneously daunting and heart-warming experience. Between sleepless nights and exhausting competitions, jam sessions and oh-so-much food, I have no doubt that each of us gave and gained. Some gave advice, others gained understanding. Some gained friendship, others gave support. And all of us risked something, maybe everything—from the very beginning.