Thoughts on the Junior Retreat

Indigo Stelian

It was Thursday morning at 7:45 a.m. and the sun was just cresting over the horizon, bathing the Chicago skyline in an orange glow.  If only the junior class had been awake enough to appreciate the view.  What is it about waking up fifteen minutes earlier than usual that makes you feel as if you had half as much sleep? This is just one of the many trials of the class retreat.

 After the almost-two-hour-long bus ride, we finally arrived at the Loyola Retreat and Ecology Campus.  Upon arrival, our grade counted off and was split into eight groups.  We went our separate ways—some engaging in team building activities while others tackled the high ropes course.  As my group of not-so-newly-acquainted peers struggled to balance a wooden board, I began to question how this was bringing us closer together.  Personally, I think team-building activities for people who have known each other for over two years are kind of useless.  Yes, they are fun and at times genuinely challenging, but their effect of fostering camaraderie only really benefits those who don’t know each other.  Maybe my negative view of all activities geared towards “team-building” comes from participating in them countless times (why do they all seem the same?), but my feelings seem to be shared. Junior Isabela Artola says, “It’s kind of a lost cause. I don’t trust people to do group projects, I’m not going to trust them to catch me if I fall.”

 On the other hand, the high ropes course was a much greater success.  Walking over planks and swinging on ropes thirty feet in the air with friends will never get old.  Also, it was an activity that was unique enough to make heading two hours outside the city feel (almost) worthwhile.  Even those like myself who are not a fan of heights grew closer by chatting and, at times, laughing at the antics above us.  I got to know people that I had talked to only once or twice before and became friends with acquaintances.  Just these few hours made me realize how our grade—when not stressed by work, caring about appearances, or clustered into social strata—consists of interesting, friendly, brilliant people.

 With the knowledge that the issue with retreats lay in the activities, not the participants, I realized the most pressing issue about the junior retreat is its lack of clear purpose.  The freshmen integrate the old and new together, the sophomores participate in service and visit Uptown in preparation for the twenty hours they need to complete, and the seniors…well I don’t exactly know what they do.  But I hear it’s basically an epic coming-together-and-singing-“Kumbaya” experience. The first day of junior retreat was focused on us becoming closer, which only really worked out when the entire grade was together, which wasn’t very often.  The second day of retreat was a service day where weeds were pulled and mulch was transported, but an unreasonably large goal of how much land to cover and a lack of preparation (the mud caked onto everyone’s shoes) made the activities less fulfilling.  Also, we were not informed how exactly pulling weeds was helping the prairie, which made the experience less rewarding.  Compared to the explicit agendas for the other classes’ excursions, the junior retreat seems random and out of place.

What is the solution to this issue?  Well, it’s actually not very hard in theory: find a purpose that resonates in the junior year.  Junior Jessica Kubert suggests that there should be a focus on “finding out what you are passionate about and exploring that interest,” perhaps through internships or career-specific activities.  These experiences would be beneficial due to college counseling becoming a closer reality.

Other students don’t care about having a purpose at all; they just want to have fun.  One source, who requested to stay anonymous, thought that “a reality show themed retreat would foster teamwork and be really, really cool.  We could break up into teams and do Amazing Race or Survivor activities like the project week.”  To me, these activities seem a lot more enjoyable than balancing a wooden plank.  The only problem is, activities this complex could require too much money and organization than Latin is able to provide. The mentioning of project week, though, echoes many students’ love of this weeklong friendship-forming affair.  Especially on the out-of-state trips, groups create bonds and share experiences that will last a lifetime.  Harnessing this magic into a two-day event may be the key to creating a memorable retreat.

Whatever happens in the future, my only hope is that grade-levels come out of retreat feeling more satisfied and at home with their classmates.  We succeed, fail, laugh, cry (mainly over grades), and spend half of our waking hours together, so we might as well like each other too.