BCharacter-building challengesy Mark Hyatt, President & CEO

Before the summer slips away from us all, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment here to talk about the wonderful experience that occurred June 16-21 at CEP’s  second Leaders of Character Camp (LoCC), hosted once again by my alma mater, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Many thanks to our individual sponsors and the SD Bechtel Foundation for making this camp possible.

Despite another unsettling Colorado summer clouded by the threat of continuing wildfires, 19 high school juniors and seniors from across the state were able to put their worries aside for a week and concentrate solely on improving themselves and each other. Led by five AFA cadets and four students from other colleges, the group took part in a range of classroom discussions and competitive outdoor activities designed to promote teamwork, trust, creativity,accountability and other core values.

“It’s a way to equip youth with habits of honorable character,” explained Maj. Dale Sanders, LoCC director and deputy director of the AFA Center for Character and Leadership Development. This year’s challenging group exercises included hiking, biking, rafting, geocashing and paintballing.

Throughout, virtues were integrated into each activity, then discussed and reflected upon afterward, both in small “pods” as well as in communal settings such as meals. “We were with people we didn’t know [but] who we had to immediately trust, or else,” explained one high school senior afterward. Added another, “It forced me to step out of my comfort zone because we had to work together.”

Overall, the reviews of the camp were uniformly positive, so we plan to continue it at the AF Academy and expand it to other colleges. The four college student leaders who were not Air Force cadets represented colleges interested in hosting CEP character camps at their schools next summer: Hampden-Sydney College, VA, Mount St Joseph U, OH, DeSales U, PA and U of San Diego, CA.

I had the honor of being the keynote speaker at the LoCC’s closing event. I talked about how most leadership failures that we see on the news or witness at work or in school invariably are character failures. (We see that again this week, even as I write this, as one high-profile candidate to be New York City’s next mayor has likely doomed his chances with self-inflicted wounds!) In June, I told our campers how, in order to be leaders, we must commit ourselves to a lifetime of continuous improvement, in which we constantly strive to get better right up until we draw our last breath. And just as their social media comments today can damage their college applications tomorrow, I reminded them that a leader’s professional and personal lives are always intertwined. For instance, I told them, if I commit a crime it won’t just be my name that ends up in the newspaper. More likely, it will be front-page news, under the mortifying headline, “President of Character Group commits crime.” As leaders we never act on our own behalf—our actions reflect on the organizations we lead.

That crime would reflect poorly not just on me, but on CEP, as well. No matter how insulated we think our actions may be, the damage we do to ourselves almost always reflects on others—usually the ones we love.

That message of “others before self” seemed to sink in with our campers this year and that certainly was gratifying. But afterward, I could not help but think of how many more young people across the U.S., and around the world, still need to learn that lesson. (And don’t get me started on the adults!) As disheartening as that thought may have been, however, it also reminded me of how much we as character educators are truly needed in today’s world.

So, I hope you are feeling as energized as I am this summer. We’ve released another new crop of “leaders of character” into the wild, and with your help, many more will follow in the years to come. Rest assured, every child that we affect has the power to expand our reach  exponentially. It is a mission to which we at CEP have never been more committed and it is one that we know all of you—teachers, parents, administrators, etc.—are just as driven to achieve. Together, we surely make a formidable team.