Leadership Education

Bonding and Bon Fires

As an incoming freshman at Central Michigan University, I was lucky enough to gain a mentor through the Leader Advancement Scholarship (LAS). In LAS, every sophomore scholarship recipient chooses one freshman to help through all the stresses and tribulations that come with the first year of college. I was chosen by the amazing Kylie Zellner, one of the few mentors I met while competing for the scholarship. Her, myself, and approximately 50 other mentor/mentee pairs embarked on a weekend-long bonding retreat to Eagle Village from September 10-11.

Arriving at the retreat center, each mentor/mentee pair was placed into a group of about 18. We all introduced ourselves and met our guide who would direct us through all of the weekend’s activities. First on that list was the high ropes course. All mentors and mentees were invited to take on the challenge as a pair, and even though I don’t have a fear of heights, I was anxious. I was mostly worried that I would not be sufficient in supporting Kylie through her fear of heights. As we trekked through each obstacle though, Kylie and I kept the encouragement and jokes alive. We made sure the other felt up to any challenges thrown our way, and we made sure to have fun.

Our next activity was a canoe trip. A seemingly fun and peaceful excursion turned out to be one of the craziest adventures of my life. The drive there was a fast one, and we found our boats waiting for us at the side of the river. As we set off, Kylie and I weimg_5621re having a great time. We sang songs like “Colors of the Wind” from Disney’s Pocahontas and spent time racing other boats. This fun and cheery atmosphere lasted until about an hour an a half in, when the sun set and rain began
to fall. As we paddled through the worsening rain and dark
ness, all of us had some issues. It was a very shallow river with big rocks sticking up, so there was always a chance to hit one… But with a hard time seeing through the darkness and rain, we were unable to locate the rocks. This led to groups eventually falling in, and for Kylie and I, some close calls. We all arrived back to shore safe and sound (and soaking wet), with a great story to tell. This was such a unique experience that I felt bonded Kylie and I in many ways. We laughed together, we panicked together, and now we have a story to tell together.

After we got back to the retreat center and changed into dry clothes, all of us got together for a bon fire. We roasted s’mores and chatted for a while. Jesi Ekonen, the assistant director of the Leadership Institute, decided to have people share what they were thankful for in this experience. Watching people stand up one by one and discuss their appreciation for friends, mentors, and mentees was so heartwarming. Everything felt so perfect, like this was where I was meant to be. It reminded me of how happy I am to have this scholarship as well. I am blessed to be surrounded by leaders who have a passion for making this world a better place.

A newly bonded group headed off to bed and woke up the next morning ready for new activities. My fellow group 5 members and I did team-building exercises. One challenge for us was directing our blindfolded mentors to get a ball through a maze. Simple as it sounds, we struggled with communication. We kept our motivation level high, kept trying, and eventually led our mentors to success. Another activity that was mentor/mentee focused was our blindfolded walk around the campground. Kylie began by leading me around obstacles while I was unable to see. I jumped off picnic tables and walked on stairs. It was an incredibly strange and foreign feeling, but it solidified my trust in Kylie. She also got the opportunity to find trust in me as I led her around. We ended the weekend with a much needed nap on the hour bus ride back to campus.

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Kylie & I at the end of the retreat!

Reflecting on the weekend, I had an even better time than anticipated. I got to know Kylie more as well as bond with other mentors and mentees. I am excited to strengthen my bond with Kylie throughout the school year, and to take on the next four years with my cohort. The memories I have made this past weekend will surely be long-lasting. I learned that this is exactly where I am supposed to be in life at the moment, and I have an amazing support system here at CMU.

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LAS mentor/mentee bonding retreat 2016. Photo by the Leadership Institute.
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