“You can’t be 20 on Sugar Mountain, though you’re thinking that you’re leaving there too soon.” 

My childhood sleepaway summer camp tucked away in Rhode Island has a tradition. At the last singalong campfire of the season, the final performance of the night would be an acoustic rendition of Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain.” I began camp at 10 years old, having never heard the song before, and left camp for the last time at 14 years old, knowing all the words by heart. 

I didn’t truly understand the significance of the song until my last summer there. Summer camp is a sandbox full of daydreams — my final campfire brought me back to reality. “Sugar Mountain” would never be formally announced. You just knew when it was time for the song. Everything about my final moments at camp were like a fairy-tale, but the most memorable snapshots of the end were those minutes during “Sugar Mountain.” 

I knew there was a high possibility it was going to be my last summer at camp. The song ushered the realization into fruition and brought me close to tears. I was growing up, and finally leaving Sugar Mountain. 

Ain’t it funny how you feel, when you’re finding out it’s real?

This memory struck me one day this summer. I was biking along the Hudson River of New York City, passing by memories. For the previous three summers, I spent my weeks working. I spent my summer at 15 as a ropes course assistant, at 16 as an intern, and at 17 in an even better internship. I spent summer days pursuing my dreams, but I wasn’t able to truly savor summer in the city until weekends or nights. 

I had a job this summer, too, but this time I was able to see the city in a way I’d previously been too busy to do. New York is alive during any summer, but it moved everything outside this year. 

People sprawled and picnicking along the water. Restaurants with open windows, patrons talking outside, this time wearing masks. The laughter, the quiet, and all the murmurs in between. I can’t think of any way else to describe it but magical. 

I biked by a new concrete monstrosity on 16th Street near the West Side Highway, where I used to run cross country. Seconds later, I was riding by the castle playground with the sprinklers, where I would cool off with old friends. I passed the library at 6th Avenue and 8th Street where I spent many summer days, hopping up the spiraling stone staircase, enjoying the cool air encased in the brick tower. I was then speeding across town to the Lower East Side, where I used to travel for dollar box comics at St. Mark’s Comics. I couldn’t remove the smile that had snuck up on my face. 

It was a trip of nostalgia, and I was a moving picture.

Summer is the time of year we realize how much we’ve grown. How much we’ve changed, for better or worse. We go from popsicles and poolsides to our first jobs and responsibilities. Lemonade becomes a mojito, our nights become later. And here I was, leaving Sugar Mountain again. I was growing up. 

When you leave camp, as a camper or counselor, it hurts. You might keep some sand in your shoes, but they’re booting you off the mountain, and it feels like you’re leaving it too soon.

College is another Sugar Mountain. This semester is going to be different. For those who are climbing to the peak for the first time, savor it. This is a bubble where you grow and adventure. While we can’t venture the way we used to, that doesn’t mean we can’t still try. It’s not summertime magic but college magic, a different kind of memory. 

Don’t throw away this semester just yet and resign yourself to nine weeks in your dorm room, because you’re going to regret it. You only get so much time on Sugar Mountain. Of course, this is not an excuse or a reason to buck health and safety. Please adhere to the University and New York State’s policies and guidance on COVID-19.

But one day, you are going to walk around this campus, or be somewhere else entirely — let’s say the streets of Manhattan. Something will catch your eye, and you’ll find yourself lost in a memory of when you were on the mountaintop. Let it be a good one; let it bring a smile to your face. 

We can enjoy our upcoming stay on Sugar Mountain, safely. When the time is up, we’re going to think we’re leaving too soon. But, for now, you’re still on Sugar Mountain. Don’t waste it. 


Please adhere to all policies and guidance on COVID-19. While this article is encouraging you not to see the fall semester as lost time, it is not motivating anyone to treat the Fall 2020 semester as normal times. Maintain proper social distancing and limit larger gatherings to protect yourself and others.

Tagged: COVID-19

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