I Needed To Go Back

#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series during which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do.

For our first installment, I turn the keys over to Elyse.  Like so many of us, she has become reflective since her time in high school. Through age and experience, we often look back at who we were during those formative years with equal parts nostalgia and nausea. Her message speaks to appreciating from where we came, giving back to those who helped us along the way, and, ultimately, living our best life.


Now fourteen years out of high school and, like most people I know, I have regrets. I don’t regret nights when I stayed home to study instead of going out to party. I don’t regret working overtime to afford the down payment on my first home.

I regret not returning to Golden Slipper Camp, to the place that changed my life.

I was a camper and counselor, from the ages of 13 to 16, at the overnight charity camp in the Poconos. It was an amazing experience, and it left a mark on my soul that time can never erase.

I was a really awkward kid, was heavy, and was not very cool. So I got teased a ton, was really shy, and had no confidence. Golden Slipper changed everything for me. I found friends who loved me for who I was despite the ugly glasses and constant silliness. I came home a completely different kid.

During the summer between junior and senior year of high school, I decided to get a job near home to make more money, so I could buy a car. Camp didn’t pay enough, and I really wanted that green 1995 Ford Contour. What I didn’t realize is that job would be the first of many, all of which were chasing money that I thought I needed for whatever it was I thought I wanted at the time.

Now, years later, I have had to make hard decisions and huge sacrifices to get back to the camp that I love so deeply. I drive hundreds of miles each summer, splitting my time between camp and my full time nursing job. But I get to provide kids, who are just like I was, with an experience that shapes who they are and who they will become.

I would give anything to go back in time to spend more summers at camp. Looking back on it all, I’d be happy to make significantly less money to have spent more time at a camp where I felt such love and empathy. Sadly, I chose to put more value in money and material things than in people and relationships.

Whatever you do in this life, you need to do it for the right reasons. Go to summer camp, go on the road trip, take the vacation, see the band you love live in concert. But make sure the things you choose bring you joy. You don’t want to look back years from now, like I did, and think, “wow I wish I had done it differently.” You have the time now! You have the freedom now! You’ll never be so unencumbered as you are right now! So go out and find something that makes you insanely happy and throw yourself into it.

Elyse Realey is a 2004 graduate of Audubon High School. She is a critical care nurse in New Jersey. 

4 Replies to “I Needed To Go Back”

  1. Beautiful!!!! Growing up is difficult for everyone, regardless of circumstance. I was in a terrible car accident at 16. My parents were told to start planning my funeral. I survived, however my brain was badly injured. It took a year and a half to regain full short-term memory. #50FirstDates is a movie that is hard for me to watch. My body healed much more quickly. My memories from this time period are those that others gave me. They remember, I do not. This experience has made me a more positive person for we always have the opportunity to make life great. We alone make that choice. In good times and bad. Everything comes down to perception. How you view your immediate circumstance sets you on a path… the path is of your choosing. I chose to find happiness, in all situations. I share my “happy” with others. More often than not, a simple smile shared with another is all that person needed to make his/her day “happy.” ❤️ Thanks for sharing!!!!

  2. Awesome reflection! My wife and I have those very conversations about how living in a small house affords us opportunities to do fun stuff alone, with each other, and most importantly, our own kids.

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