For my first two, three years of CTY, the magic was generated not only by the community of people my age with whom I can actually connect (and with whom I still connect! they keep showing up in my social circle *hi Tracy*; my CTY boyfriend and I have an apartment and a cat! *boing*). It was also generated by the full support of the administration. The magic wasn't just that I was learning how to be simultaneously a weirdo and someone with social skills; it was that the RAs, TAs, and administration stood behind that goal, and facilitated it. Walt Kessler, our site director and a man with God's own talent at the New York Times crossword, made sure a whole lot of photocopies of it were available every morning, and the crossword became this thing that Grant and I did every morning (and I still do NYT crosswords, often with him, when I can get my hands on them). When I pursued this same Walt Kessler at Carnival, begging him to marry me (at the Carnival marriage booth! get your minds out of the gutter) and he kept turning me down, I made a final melodramatic threat to hurl myself from the heights of Thomas if he wouldn't say yes. He said "sure, it'll be a lot quieter around here."
That really summarizes it for me now -- the fact that the adults in my early CTY life had a sense of humor, did not have to react to every bit of oddness (and how infinitely many there will be, around CTYers...) with a normal's lawsuit feelers, and were willing to let us make our own decisions. Even if maybe some of those were dumb.
*sigh* The fact that in 1994 RAs yelled at me and a friend for climbing on Sticks and Stones, the statue, when the previous year's catalog had featured a photograph of a class perched on it.
The magic was gone for me by the end of 1994. ("Will there be no one left to say...it was _different_ last year?") Had I had another year of eligibility, I would not have gone. Yes, my friends had all graduated, and that was depressing, but worse yet I was being treated (at the age of sixteen) as less mature than I had been treated at 13, by the very adults who should have been encouraging my full social and intellectual and moral and personal development. The staff were no longer largely former CTYers and people who came back year after year after year; they were random college students clearly selected more for their all-American resumes than their understanding of the magic, and the turnover was immense, and they did not come back. My first two years I had long conversations with my RAs because they were interesting people and I looked up to them; my last session I avoided my RA, refusing to sign up for activities that she was holding, because I hated being watched, every movement signed up for and noticed.
The magic wasn't just students I could be myself around. The magic was adults I could be myself around, adults who trusted that I could be out of their sight or doing something strange for a moment without getting dead or (more to the point) hurting the business's image.
But somewhere in there -- where "somewhere" is 1993, "somewhere" is the day the new site director buckled under Baltimore's requests and made us actually go to the activities we'd signed up for, the day two hundred and some people showed up for volleyball to _dare_ them to count us all (and they did...) -- somewhere in there CTY stopped being a place to support students and started being a business with an image to protect, an image to portray to the parents of those students, to normal people living normal lives with nice normal upper-middle-class budgets and neurotic drives toward academic achievement. And there was still magic there, because how can you avoid it with hundreds of people the likes of CTYers in one place...? Hell, my last session was DIGI, _the_ digi, the class that kicked off the whole crazy social circle, and if that's not magic I don't know what is. But suddenly the magic was something to have in furtive corners, something to have in shadows when no grownups were there, something to keep out of sight lest it be opposed, uprooted, punished.
I started hearing stories that my friends from digi, exactly the same people who would have been socially prominent and liked or at least tolerated (bemusedly) by the administration in my early years of CTY, they were being administratively blacklisted, kicked out.
I don't doubt that magic still happens because I see it in the younger CTYers. I hear it in what you say of the place, and it's clear you've been affected in many of the same ways I was. But I also know that the experience is far more one-sided...and that no one alive today, as CTY counts generations, can remember.
My first two years or so I swore to Vilma (the sainted Vilma) that I would come back as an RA. I wanted nothing more than to do that. I guess it was how I pictured myself as a grownup. I wanted to give back as I had been given to, I wanted to be part of it once more, I wanted to come home.
But home doesn't exist any more.
So I've thought about being an RA, but I'm really too depressed by the prospect. And it would be immoral, anyway; I wouldn't enforce the rules I hear about and you shouldn't apply for a job if you know they're just going to have to fire you anyway. Even if they're firing you for trusting the people in your charge and treating them maturely. (And watching your hopes justified; I acted more mature my first few years of CTY than I did my last.)
And I haven't really thought about giving money to CTY, and I'm not going to. Think about it or do it, that is.
And if I had children I wouldn't allow them to go.
*sigh* If there are grownups reading this (*laugh* and I'm a grownup now, I suppose, for all it matters), I hope you've read to here, and I hope you think about what your core constituency really is. If it's the parents, your source of money, your fear of lawsuits, well then, have fun, have fun teaching students that the best parts of themselves are things accepted by their peers but never by adults, never by society. Have fun, but don't expect to get Grant's computer scientist money or my professorial money or whatever it is I end up making. But if your core constituency is the students you educate, well then, have a thought for your rules and your staff and their passions. Because for us, back in '95 or so when the memories were still fresh but we knew there was no home for us to return to, "IAAY" didn't sound like a business plan. It sounded like a death shriek.