By Erika Solberg
You can identify them by their VAMPY nametags, which are decorated with four pins of WKU’s mascot, Big Red. Each pin signifies one year at VAMPY, and the only way to get four is to attend camp after finishing grades seven, eight, nine, and ten. The campers who wear these four pins are known as Fourth Year Fourth Years, or Four Fours: the first number refers to how many years they have attended VAMPY, and the second number refers to their year of camp eligibility. They are, in short, the not-so-grizzled veterans among the VAMPY campers, staring steely-eyed — or, more likely, misty-eyed — at the end of an era that has defined their last four summers.
Why have they come to came all four years? Connor Sheehan of Bowling Green explains, “VAMPY’s really the best thing on the planet, and that sounds kind of crazy, but I never experienced anything else like this in my life, and I don’t think I will again. It’s such an accepting community.”
Sam Vitale of Bowling Green agrees. “Why come back for four years? The simplest answer’s the experience. Every year there’s always something to look forward to, and you know there are traditions that are going to live on every year.”
The people are a key part of the traditions and the experience. Malcolm Jones of Louisville and Melina Durham of London became friends when they took Writing together their first year and are taking DNA and Genetics together this year. Melina says, “When you’re here, you’re surrounded by super smart people. Everyone thinks alike, and you don’t have to dumb yourself down. We’re all trying to make each other’s experience as great as the previous year.”
Four years of VAMPY means four years to build friendships, and also the chance to take four different courses. This year, Scott Tobe of Louisville, who in previous years took Genetics, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, and Pop Culture, has this time around enjoyed Problems You’ve Never Solved Before where he’s been programing Ozobots as well as “throwing stuff out windows, making rockets explode, and having fun with duct tape.” In Presidential Politics, Sam portrayed Bill Clinton and served as campaign manager for Gerald Ford and Michael Dukakis in role-played debates.
Meanwhile, Connor, Melina, and Malcolm made the conscious choice to take science courses this year after taking non-science classes the previous three. Connor, who is in Physics, explains, “It is ‘verbally and mathematically precocious youth,’ so I didn’t want to do just one side of it.”
Lauren Simons of London, Ky. is in Humanities, where she has made three major presentations, on numerology, the painting “The Birth of Venus,” and the painting “Satan, Sin, and Death.” Her older sister, who was also a Fourth Year Fourth Year, recommended the class: “She always told me to wait until my fourth year so I’d be more mature when I took it and have a better understanding.”
Inside and outside of class, Four Fours feel a sense of responsibility toward younger campers. Sam says it’s like the relationship of “an older sibling to a younger sibling,” and he has passed on some key advice: “Besides how insanely crazy the counselors get about you swinging your lanyards, I’ve told them it’s always nice to have friends outside your group and your class, and to always branch out with optionals.” Malcolm, who has been aware of “watching the new generation of campers come in,” has told them, “Most of the people here don’t know each other, so you all are going through the same thing, and it’s good to make friends.”
Lauren and Melina, who are roommates, have worked together on preserving traditions by doing things like teaching the song “VAMPY Ignition” to their hall. Melina says, “when we were First Years, someone taught us, so now we feel obligated to teach the First Years.” Lauren adds, “The main thing we do is to make sure everyone comes back.”
Of course, Fourth Year Fourth Years are keenly aware that they themselves won’t be coming back, and that awareness has affected their experiences in the last three weeks. Melina says, “Any time an event flies by, I’m like, ‘Wow that was the last one.’ We cried at the baseball game because it was so sad.” As for Scott, he says he “was surprised the Hot Rods won” because they had lost his previous three years.
Sam was also happy about a victory, though for him it was winning the VAMPY Olympics for the first time. Like Melina, he “got a little teary eyed at the Hot Rods game because it hit me that it was my last fireworks show.” He thinks the hardest event is yet to come, however: “The dreaded thing sitting ahead of us is Cryfest, and for those that know me, I get a little upset at Cryfest, and as this is my last one, I can only imagine it’s going to get a little worse than previous years.”
It’s not only special events that these campers will they will remember for a long time. After all, camp memories are made during everyday activities like a good talk during Hall Time or a particular fun Optional. Malcolm, for instance, knows the laundry run of his first weekend will stand out: “We went to this Laundromat off campus that had a sticker machine and I used all my quarters on the sticker machine so I had to get more.” Lauren comments, “Sometimes I’ll be sitting in class, and I’m like, ‘I only have one week left.’ It’s really sad, but I’m trying to make it as special as possible.”
There’s still the VAMPY Talent Show ahead, for which some of the Fourth Year Fourth Years have a special group act planned. Many of them also hope to visit next year, where they are sure to be welcomed back just as they have welcomed back alumni who have returned. Still, visiting will not be the same as the twelve weeks since 2014 that they have spent as VAMPY campers. Connor says, “VAMPY’s been such a big part of my life for a long time, so my year has revolved around it. For it to be coming to an end is kind of weird.”