In the summer of 2013 I went to camp with my new classmates, not knowing what to expect. It was the inaugural year of the Bio-Med Science Academy and the beginning of a summer camp tradition for all Bio-Med freshman to come. Bio-Med was a start-up science, technology, engineering, math and medicine (STEM+M) high school on the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) campus in Rootstown, Ohio. My class was made up of students selected by lottery from all across Northeast Ohio. None of us knew each other, but freshman camp was our chance to change that by kayaking, and playing games.

Three years later, I returned to camp for two days, not with my classmates but with the greatest friends a high school student could ever have.

When my classmates and I began this year as Bio-Med seniors, we knew it would be unlike any other. Senior year was our chance to look forward to our future and reflect on our past. The school administration made it their mission to make this year truly special. They asked our class what activities we wanted to do to truly celebrate our past four years in high school. While many ideas were shared, there was one that all of us wanted and that was to go back to camp. Every year the freshman class packs their bags and heads to camp.

Lydia Friedman, the coordinator for all camp trips, says the purpose of freshman camp is to work on team building, make new friends and learn about the Bio-Med community. Camp activities are led by camp counselors and Bio-Med teachers.

My 2013 camp experience was a highlight of my time at Bio-Med. I got to interact with people in my class who I had never even spoken with. I had to trust my classmates-- which was not easy for someone who hadn’t talked to half of her peers--in every team-building exercise we did. One of the exercises that I frequently look back on involved my group, which included about 12 of my classmates. We all had to stand on a three foot by three-foot wooden pallet without touching the ground for an entire minute. That may not seem like a long time, but when you can’t use the ground to brace yourself, it feels like forever.

Another part of freshman camp that has stayed with me was making friendship necklaces. Every student got a yarn necklace and a bunch of tiny three inch pieces of yarn. We had to go around to every student and tie a piece of yarn on his or her necklace. There was just one stipulation: when we tied a piece of yarn on a necklace we had to give that student a compliment. It felt good hearing all the nice things my peers had to say about me, but it felt even better telling them what I admired about them. Freshman camp was truly the start of some of the greatest friendships I have ever had.

This year, a majority of our time at camp was free, which allowed us to connect with each other and reflect on everything Bio-Med had given us in our past four years. I spent my time painting with my friends Iris, Ezra and Maddie. I played street hockey, not very well, with my teachers and classmates. I learned how to play card games like Spoons and Mal.

When we didn’t have free time, we were kayaking, shooting arrows, or completing high ropes courses. I enjoyed the high ropes the most, and it was definitely the best part of senior camp. During the high ropes activities we relied on help from classmates. My favorite was a lily pad course. I climbed 20 feet up a tree and stood on a wooden platform. From there I stepped onto a circle of wood, very similar to a lily pad, which was suspended on a white rope. I relied on my classmates, who were on the ground, to hold the ropes taut so that I could cross safely. It was scary taking my first step onto the very first lily pad, but it was completely worth it.

Being on that lily pad course reminds me a lot of my time at Bio-Med. It was scary at first; I didn’t know what would happen. I didn’t want to fail, and I especially didn’t want others see me fail. But as I moved from pad to pad, and went from a freshman to a senior, I became more confident and trusting of my peers. Like my time at Bio-Med, the lily pad course was over in a flash. Before I knew it, I was back on the ground and my classmates were applauding me for my achievement.

The last night, there was a campfire. We told jokes, and roasted s’mores. We shared old memories and imagined all the new ones we would soon be making. It wasn’t my peers who were doing all of this around a warm fire, but a close-knit group of people who I can’t describe as anything other than a family.

Returning to camp this year opened my eyes to how much my class had grown and changed. This time, there wasn’t a single student who I hadn’t met and bonded with. “Senior camp had a different focus,” Friedman said. “We wanted to encourage students to push through and finish the school year strong.” My class certainly appreciated the break from work, especially with senioritis starting to set

On June 16 I will be graduating with the 44 people I know as my Bio-Med family. I will embark on a new journey without them by my side. While I’m off starting my journey at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, my friends will be in places like Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania completing their own journeys. I know it will be scary and the future may seem daunting, but we have to start this new chapter of our lives. Bio-Med will always be with us, though. The skills the school has taught us will be utilized every day for the rest of our lives. The Bio-Med Science Academy Class of 2016 is going to use our community, collaborative and problem-solving skills to make a difference and truly change the world.

Gillian Seibel is a senior at the Bio-Med Science Academy and an intern in NEOMED's Office of Public Relations and Marketing.

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