By Lily Oyer, Donor Relations Officer
Heritage Night has always been a special event at the A/U Ranches to celebrate the dedication of staff during the current summer and to recognize all the years prior. It’s an annual celebration the evening before campers arrive and officially kicks off Youth Camp.
This past summer, we stood on the steps of Wyly Lodge in excited anticipation to find out what was going on. Camp directors were guarding the door… so needless to say, we were quite suspicious.
Finally, they began directing us to different seats. Gradually observing the room and seeing the decorations, makeshift graduation caps, celebratory music and “Congratulations” projected across the large screen, I realized what was happening. It was a surprise graduation ceremony!
This was a total shock to all of us. My fellow graduates and I exchanged looks of joy and surprise, and it didn’t take long for the bittersweet mixture of gratitude and nostalgia to bring tears to some of us. In all, 25 of us were honored: 17 high school graduates, six undergraduates and two who had earned master’s degrees.
I completed my undergraduate degree from Principia College in May, and, like many others, I was sad to have lost the in-person learning and community of my final semester, as well as any kind of graduation ceremony. Those of us who came to camp straight from the end of our college or high school education felt a great sense of despair when reminiscing about school, so we were all moved that the A/U Ranches staff went out of their way to acknowledge our achievements.
Camp director Brian Peticolas read an inspiring graduation speech written by William McRaven, retired U.S. Navy admiral. Then each graduate was recognized with a personalized collage that included messages from family members and a “diploma” (aka graduation memes). The rest of the staff sat behind us cheering and celebrating all the graduates.
“Graduation at the A/U Ranches meant so much because I was surrounded by so many people who were supporting me,” says Rian Strange, who graduated from the nearby Link School. “When my name was called on the Zoom meeting for my school’s graduation, nobody was there to cheer, and it didn’t mean a whole lot. Then we got to the A/U Ranches and I was like… this is so amazing!’ When they called my name, everybody in the room was cheering for me and it just meant so much.”
Colorado State University undergraduate Matthew Terres was also really grateful for the recognition of his accomplishment. “Coming from a school where my graduating class would’ve been about 4,000, I was just blown away because it really meant something,” he says. “I really felt that I was loved by Adventure Unlimited. I was so thankful that they took the time to put on this little show and that they invited my family on the Zoom call.”
That family included Matthew’s dad, Don, an aunt from Arkansas and several others. “Matthew worked really hard for five years and suffered through the mechanical engineer curriculum at CSU. He deserved a graduation,” Don says. “The speaker gave a very thought-provoking and appropriate speech. It was incredible and brought tears to my eyes to hear his name and the cheering from the audience. This will be a well remembered and a fitting end of his college education.”
Like my fellow graduates, I got to experience firsthand how Adventure Unlimited continues to embrace young adults. It’s one more way I feel like this place is home.
Do you have an alumni memory you’d like to share? Send it to [email protected].