Student Writing

Students, both those who attended Camp Everytown and those who didn’t, were invited to write on topics that related to camp or to write about their experiences there. Writing is one way students can fan the flame of a small candle--sharing their experiences and inspiring others. Here are a few submissions.

Leader by Jenny Tran » The Everytown Effect by Angelyn Convertino » Wasn’t Always a Nice Guy by Justin Adams » Illumination by Seyed-Nima Shahidinia » Llamar. Zu nennen. To call. by Danae Stahlnecker » My Birth Right by Anna Tran » Nature Walking by Devin Peyton » Stronger as a Person by Kimberly Ho »

Stronger as a Person

By Kimberly Ho

I believe that nationality, race, ethnicity, culture, and religion define the characteristics of a person. They don’t brand or label a person, but they build a person’s personality and beliefs as a whole by their own actions and values. My background made a major impact on my life.

My nationality is American because I am an American citizen and was born in Daly City, C.A. As a gratified citizen, I celebrate American holidays like Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas, Groundhog Day, etc. I truly believe that some of America’s rights should be applied in other countries whose dictators abuse their power, but I wouldn’t get as mad as a hatter about this political issue. Even though I consider myself an American, in addition, I honor my parents’ history by my race.

Racially, I consider myself an Asian because my parents’ ancestors are Chinese or have some Chinese decent. My dad was born on an island near Hong Kong after my grandmother and aunts left China to escape the communist’s idea of liberation, which was more like confinement of the people. His family became immigrants to the United States so they could have better occupations. On the other hand, my mom was born in Manila, Philippines, and lived with my grandfather’s family in a big compound like the size of football field. In 1989, my grandparents requested that she should go to the U.S. to a temporary job, and the rest is history. My parents’ background allows me to count my blessings to have an amazing family; however, my Asian heritage contributes to my identity.

I am what people consider an A.B.C., and this acronym stands for American Born Chinese. This is my ethnicity, and I am proud of it because I think of California as my home while my Chinese descent impacts my life. I express my Chinese heritage in many ways by taking my grandmother out to lunch and going shopping in Chinatown. This makes me feel connected with my ethnicity and experience a piece of China in the Bay Area. I also celebrate many Chinese traditions like Chinese New Year, Day of the Dead, and sometimes Mid Autumn Festival. Through these traditions, I feel closer to my family roots while demonstrating my culture.

My culture is Asian American because I feel more integrated with American culture; for example, I enjoy listening to its music. I also take pleasure in the Western culture because it has a combination of different cultures and has technological advancements. However, the Asian influence is a gigantic part of my life because it is family-oriented, hard working, disciplined, and has a high value for education. If you heard that Chinese can’t stop studying or they are so smart, it applies to many people because their parents have high standards for them, and if there is only one low grade, we get locked up in our room. Another part of Asian culture is they have high respect towards their elderly or those that are from an older generation because they are considered wise and intelligent people. Although Asian American culture is a huge part of my life, I believe that my moral identity affects my behavior and actions and is a major aspect of my life.

I am Catholic because I believe in God, Jesus, Mary, and the saints, and Catholic values hold an important place in my life. For example, I go to Mass with my family every weekend, even on vocations. I was raised as a child to be Catholic, and I plan to stay in this religion for the rest of my life. I hold my faith as an important aspect because I believe in miracles and the divine wonders that God has provided for us. In conclusion, these basic classifications that many people criticize about me make me stronger as a person and developed me into a benevolent person.

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Nature Walking

By Devin Peyton

There were 12 of us living together for two months in a small wilderness on the outskirts of Humboldt county: Shine, Lynx, Andromeda, Smudge, Bag, Nom-nom, Rabbit Death, Truth, Scout, our two instructors Yin-Yang and Gandalf, and me, Raven. After dinner we had an excellent class within the Nature Literature section of our Sierra Institute program; we analyzed the fundamental similarities and differences between Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In Nature, Emerson explains that nature is a tool to be utilized for humanity, while in Walking Thoreau describes nature as an untamable, humbling existence. Scout didn’t believe that Thoreau and Emerson could hold each other in such high regard as these core beliefs were opposing. I maintained that the two were friends regardless of their beliefs; difference can unify just as easily as divide. The others shooed themselves to their sleeping bags shortly after Scout and I unintentionally turned the discussion into a debate.

Our Emerson/Thoreau talk shifted to the broader topic of unification through difference. Scout was convinced that this world is ruled by its divisions and would be slave to them until the sun sizzles out.

So I explained Camp Everytown to him. I started with the core of the three day program: the grand conglomeration of personalities and backgrounds possessed by each of the delegates that come together like the most delicious bag of Jelly Bellies. I told of the intensity that is born and how tactfully it is stoked; the activities there illuminate broad controversial topics (race, gender, sexual identity and preference, and socio-economic equity) in such a way to be processed and understood by all. Scout was particularly interested in the “line of understanding” activity where everyone holds hands in a giant line and steps forwards or backwards in response to different socio-economic questions. So the two of us decided to make a list of questions that could be asked in the activity, and we informally talked about which direction we would step and why. It turned out that Scout and I had extremely different backgrounds growing up; Scout was shocked and we were both excited.

I went into detail about my favorite points of Everytown: the tremendous empathy elicited from the gender exercise, the moment of awe during the “line of understanding” when everyone notices how far apart friends are on the newly developed spectrum, and intimate discussions among our small groups of five or six participants. I told how the Everytown perspective stays with each student back at school, empowering them to make decisions that are not driven by prejudices.

Through most of this he sat silent, baffled that the lofty goals of Everytown, goals he believed to be unattainable, are being actualized. We started to doze off at 1am, beyond late for a Friday night when you’re out there living like we were living.

In the morning Gandalf told us that Emerson and Thoreau were indeed great friends with unique and often differing perspectives on the relationship of man and nature.

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My Birth Right

by Anna Tran

My first name is Anna, but it doesn’t particularly originate from a specific place. My parents just thought that it was a nice name. My Chinese name, on the other hand, is Ahoi (pronounced as Uh Hoyee). It’s supposed to stand for “obedient” or “filial child”. But if you know me, I tend to be a little sassy. My last name is Tran, but most people mistake me for a Vietnamese person. It’s not really their fault because the last name Tran is a very common last name among the Vietnamese. My last name is Chinese. There’s about a handful of people in the world with a common Vietnamese last name, but they’re not actually Vietnamese.

To other people, my last name is just a label or an unimportant aspect of me. But to me, it holds a special meaning. The last name Tran is said to be originated from a tribe or village of people in Asia. The people in the tribe had the same last name, and they were all one race: Chinese. My mom passed down this “legend” to me to explain to a five year old why her friends were mistaking her for what she really isn’t. It’s just a part of my childhood. So some people, usually Chinese people, believe that the Vietnamese stole the maiden name Tran. It sounds extremely outlandish, and there are always different ways to say it, but only history knows the truth. I choose to believe what I’ve known my whole life. I am Chinese and my last name is Tran. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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Llamar. Zu nennen. To call.

By Danae Stahlnecker

I am a puzzle. The pieces are the fragments of my life. At the center is my birth, and the pieces radiate outward with moments from the last seventeen years. There are large gaps, for a lot of pieces are still waiting to be found and fitted, but the edges of the puzzle are present and defined, and these pieces are my names. Danae. Gloria. Stahlnecker.

Danae is a Greek name originating in a Greek myth. Danae is the mother of Perseus, the man who outwitted and beheaded the serpent-haired Medusa. There is little fame to her name. She was the princess of Argos, locked in a chest and thrown out to sea when the king learned that her infant son would someday overthrow him. She and her son were saved by the gods, but the story then shifts its focus to Perseus, the hero. Danae is left a background character.

I am not Greek. My name was a second choice. Originally, I would have been Dae, but my grandmothers protested. Contrastingly, my brothers received biblical names (though still beginning with “D”). There are plenty of “D” names in the Bible, and I’m still not sure why one of them is not also my name. Nonetheless, I am Danae. Even though this contradicts the Christian part of my life, I am proud of my name. I am not a princess, and I do not have a son, and I have not been locked in a chest and thrown out to sea. But I am a background character. I am quiet, a behind-the-scenes person. I identify with this forgotten princess, who made a name for herself in her time but was and is easily pushed to the back of peoples’ minds.

Stahlnecker is a German name. My father is German (and other various European nationalities), so the name is at least ethnically appropriate. Last year, my sophomore AP World History teacher asked me what it meant. That night, I researched it online. I discovered that is means this: one who lives near stalls. Yes, stalls. As in animal stalls. After all this time, I am still not sure what to make of that. However, I smile at the irony – as a child, I was fascinated by horses.

These two names already make me a mix of heritage, but neither of them defines the ethnicity that I claim in introductions and on standardized testing Scantrons. Of all the nationalities listed, I mark “Hispanic.” My mother and her side of the family are entirely Mexican. Of all my names, my middle name is the most accurate. Gloria. Its origin as a name is mysterious to me, but its origin as my name is close to my heart. My aunt, my mother’s sister, was named Gloria. I never met her – she died of cancer the year before I was born. I am always told, though, that I very much resemble her. I hear the stories, and I am proud – of her and of myself.

Three names. Three sides of the puzzle. I am incomplete if I look at each name separately, but when I put them together as my full, legal name, I see the pieces that make up the final edge of my puzzle. Greek, German, Mexican, but above all American.

America is a land of multiculturalism. Here, the people are from all over the world. It is a nation of immigrants, a nation of all nationalities. People introduce themselves with different races, different ethnicities, different heritages. I admit that I am no different, and I succumb to the practice of classification and call myself “Mexican.” But I do not celebrate Hispanic holidays. I do not carry on Hispanic traditions. So while I call myself so, I am not so. I can claim whatever ethnicity I choose, but at heart, I know that my culture is clear. I am American, and I am proud.

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Illumination

By Seyed-Nima Shahidinia

Racially, I am mostly Persian-Iranian and part Kurdish-Iranian. Ethnically, I consider myself Iranian. The word ‘Iranian’ generally refers to the nation-state of Iran, which itself is a mixture of Persians, Lurs, Kurds, Baluchis, Azeris, Arabs, and other races (the country’s name was changed from ‘Persia’ to ‘Iran’ by Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1935). Some Iranians simply call themselves as ‘Persian’ in fear the stigma that the term ‘Iranian’ carries due to current events. But I do not waste my time worrying about that; if I must get in people‘s faces and let them know I am Iranian, so be it, and I would be more than happy to say it. Besides, in the Persian language we say Irani to denote 'Iranian’ anyway.

Nationally, I am Iranian-American. This choice is pretty straight forward. First of all, I have dual citizenship. Second, I am proud to have been an Iranian contribution to American society, and I am also thankful for the opportunities I have had here as an American citizen. Above all I am Iranian, but my heart also goes out to those parts of America that have played a significant role in my life experience.

Culturally, I generally consider myself Middle Eastern. The Middle East is a vast, rich hub of diverse cultures, religions, histories, etc., and the difference between two or more races in the region (e.g. Arab and Persian) should never be ignored. In fact, the term ‘Middle East’ was a recent invention; it was coined during the late 19th century and early 20th century. However, I think we members of this region should realize that we share many parallels in history, natural resources, stories, struggles, traditions, et al. Again, I am Iranian, I have much love and respect for our ancient empire, and I take great care to represent Iran as an individual nation. But at the same time, I am proud to be a member of a large region in the world known as the ‘Middle East.’

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Wasn’t Always a Nice Guy

By Justin Adams

I wasn’t always a nice guy. In fact, I used to be the complete opposite. There were even times where I couldn’t stand who I was as a person. I was rude, racist, sexist, but mostly ignorant. Ignorant of how the words I said affected others. Ignorant of what my peers have had to go through in their lives. Ignorant of the fact that we are all people and deserve to be treated equally, regardless of skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. Needless to say, I needed a major change in my life, and I found that through attending Camp Everytown.

Don’t get me wrong or anything, but I didn’t even want to go to camp in the first place. A four-day camp where I would be talking about my feelings didn’t interest me one bit. I wasn’t the type to open up to complete strangers, and I intended to keep it that way. Not surprisingly, my motives for finally stepping foot on the bus to camp weren’t even related to the camp. Missing school, eating free food, and spending time trying to impress a girl I fancied were all the initiatives I had. Little did I know that I would be reluctant to leave camp and that I would have a deeper understanding of equality and acceptance.

Like I mentioned, I had no wish to open up to others. I felt it would be awkward sharing personal details with people I’d hardly met. When I arrived at camp, I wanted to keep quiet, act shy, and engage in as little conversation as possible. I even wondered if I would gain anything from my experience and if someone else should have taken my place. Thankfully, those thoughts vanished quickly as I realized that many of my camp-mates felt the same way. I realized that we all felt awkward on our first day, but that gave us all a common issue to unite against. It added fuel to our need for belonging and acceptance, almost as if someone knew that it wouldn’t take long for friendships and conversation to configure. Camp took us through the rigors of facing our own prejudices. It brought cognizance and understanding for other genders, races, and sexual orientations. I partook in activities that taught me how to embrace the idea of equality, make connections to others who I would never have spoken to, and I came to the understanding that I am not alone in the world. Like I said, I wasn’t always a nice guy; but camp gave me the tools I needed to make myself a better human being. Without Camp Everytown, who knows where I’d be.

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The Everytown Effect

By Angelyn Convertino

Camp Everytown was my first real life changing experience. I went as a delegate in my sophomore year, 2009, after my English teacher prompted me and some of my classmates to fill out the permission slips and take a chance on the weekend. At first I saw camp as something that would be fun and a nice break from school—who wouldn’t want a mini-vacation in the middle of March? Everyone who had gone before and was now a CIT (counselor in training) raved about the experience, but no matter how emphatically they went on about the camp, I was not prepared for how dramatically I would be affected.

Every activity in camp “opens a wound,” as Richard the director of the camp is fond of saying. We broke down barriers in gender, race, culture, and a dozen other dividers. But, beyond opening wounds and cleaning them, I learned how easy it is to love someone just by knowing them. I think that’s the most important part of camp: we didn’t just learn how to break down stereotypes and become accepting of others. We were allowed to take off any pressure from our lives and show everything that we are proud or ashamed of.

Every person I went to camp with, I truly love and trust as if they were family. They are my family, even if I never talk to them again. From camp I learned a lot of important social issues and how to solve them, but more importantly I realized that, given the chance, we all want to love each other. I don’t know how to say that without being cliché, but I truly believe it.

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Leader

By Jenny Tran

Honesty is exposing the ragged edges on the surface of reality, showing the threaded lies that are caught and entwined in both actuality and falsehood. Honesty is knowing that deep down we are all, in the words of Joseph Conrad, “quite capable of every wickedness,” and still refusing to give in. Honesty, though I will not lie and say I am consistent in portraying it, is the trait that I find most useful in my life. I am a student five days a week, but I am a leader even when I sleep. There is no time to humble myself and say that I don’t have any impact on the world or the future. The truth of the matter is, with every “Um, well…,” each “Oh, I don’t know” and every single “Whatever,” that clumsily falls off of my lips, I feel guilty for blatantly withholding the truth from listeners. I do not need fillers to start a sentence. I do know. I do care. As small as I may look in comparison to even the youngest redwood, my voice is quite capable of moving the world. By denying the world what I know is fact I commit an act of “wickedness.” The damage of telling a lie can be remedied with a truth. The damage of not telling a truth, however, is practically invisible, thus irreversible. People rarely think of what was never said.

Though it may seem that honesty should only be committed in private, debate-like settings, the most important pieces of truth are told in everyday life. The classroom, with friends, to children — the opportunity to be truthful is everywhere. In having opinions, I have a responsibility to lead others and inspire expansion of an otherwise façade-ridden home through freely offering what I know. What I know may not be right, but it is the truth.

As an outspoken republican with democratic morals, I challenge others to tell me who they are and what they think. My goal in making the world a better place is not to lead an army of followers, but to guide a group of free-thinkers. Whether that group of people consists of friends or acquaintances, I am sick of indifference and ignorance. Fostering a sense of frankness will bring my generation into the light of truth and consequently, change.


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For Kathleen Gonzalez’s first book, a summer adventure with the gondoliers of Venice, visit her website at www.freegondolaride.com.