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  • Writer's pictureSarah Dudinetz

Crowns, Camp, and the Grand Canyon: A reflection on summer 2023

I've always told people that I love my weird little life. I love that I never seem to fit in a box - I am the most introverted, and somehow the most extroverted person you'll ever meet. I could stay at home and not leave my house for an entire week and thrive, and I also have a deep and intense longing for adventure and constant community. I can compete for Miss Michigan one day, and the next, I'll be dripping with sweat and singing vacation bible school songs on stage at summer camp.

The paradox of Sarah Dudinetz (Or what I've dubbed the Sarah-dox) is my favorite thing about me. Good luck fitting me in a box.

This summer summed that up so well, and I've learned so much about myself that I am still processing. But let's have a look, shall we?

Water in the West - May 2023

On May 1st, my boss offered me the opportunity to join two of my colleagues on an outdoorsy girl's dream drip: One week with Grand Valley's Water in the West program, with the purpose of documenting GVSU's commitment to experiential learning. The intensive itinerary included stops at the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and more. The catch? I had less than 3 weeks to clear my schedule for that week, prep myself from a work side, and also from a physical/hiking side. Which was a lot for a girl who had spent the last few months - not to mention, all of her money - on high heels and evening gowns. I didn't even own hiking boots.

The morning after we dropped down out west (actually, after we dropped down in Vegas and then had a 2.5-hour drive to our first of five hotels in Cedar City, Utah), we hit the ground running in Zion National Park with what was easily the most intense hike I had ever done. I had not at all adjusted to elevation and was struggling just to keep up with these students who had already been hiking for a week (we joined for just the middle section of their trip) - let alone be able to chat with students, hear about their experience, and document it for GVNext and GVMagazine.

I remember taking a brief pause on the hike (just before the excruciating hell of Walter's Wiggles, which has way too comical a name for what it actually is). I was borderline nauseous, already exhausted and frustrated and I thought to myself: There is no way I'm going to be able to do this for a week, let alone get any good content turned around.

But the crazy thing is that somehow I DID! Please don't ask me how.

On that note, check out my other Water in the West stories here:

This trip reminded me of a few things. First and foremost, it reminded me of a lot of things that I like. For instance, I like adventures. I like seeing beautiful things, especially when those things involve water, the stunning blue and red-rock color scheme of the West, and sunshine. I LOVE working with college students. It also turns out that I like cool coworkers and meals that are paid for by my employer.

It reminded me that I also love learning about people and telling their stories. Sometimes I get so frustrated when I have cool experiences, because I think to myself: there's no way I could ever convey this in a way that accurately shows people how cool it was. But it's a challenge that I love. Writing about the trip, the hikes, and the students has been my favorite work experience so far without a doubt.

I also remembered that I really love when things get sort of weird. I love when humans have to take off their professional exterior and I get to know my coworkers for who they really are - especially when it involves wading through chest-deep water while protecting your costly camera equipment, feeding our sweet tooth after the hike from hell by locating the nearest bakery to Zion National Park, and struggling through 3 a.m. car rides to go see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon.

But it wasn't all fun and games. Oh no. In fact, there was not a lot of fun and no games. Another important lesson I learned: If you think you packed enough water, while out west, no you didn't. Dehydration while kayaking 10 miles on the Colorado River had me thinking about what loved ones would say at my funeral because I was convinced I would die there.

Anyway... Here's the photo highlights.

Miss Michigan - June 2023

June 2023 marked my fourth time competing at Miss Michigan. While it felt familiar and nostalgic and wonderful, it also felt different. The only word that I can think of is 'outgrow'.

Several weeks before Miss Michigan in a tear-filled conversation with my wonderful therapist, I made the decision to take a year off of pageants after Miss Michigan. In the past decade, I have taken so many wonderful things from this organization - friends that become sisters, confidence that helped me more than I could ever articulate in a blog post, and professional skills that, no doubt, have led me to where I am today. I'm fortunate enough to have graduated debt-free from undergrad, have landed my dream job, have had countless volunteer opportunities that have changed my life, and love who Sarah Dudinetz is more than ever. Isn't that what Miss America is all about?

Let me tell you: competing as a full-time-working adult woman is hard. Harder than I ever thought it would be.

And so it's break time! There is a very human and egotistical side of me that has been nervous since my initial conversation in therapy that people will view this as me 'giving up' or 'failing'. I'm grateful to my therapist for reminding me of two things: First and foremost, that what people think literally does not matter and I cannot control it, and second, that the people who I actually care about the opinions of will not think that.

I have so many of the wonderful things I have in life because of Miss America, and the last thing I want is to burn out here.

That being said, Miss Michigan week 2023 was full of everything that I've always loved about Miss Michigan week. Friends in close proximity, incredible sponsors, glitz and glamour, and challenging myself in new ways.

Also, remember the aforementioned 'I love it when people get weird' thing that I said? This also happens often, especially when you're sleep-deprived and slap-happy at a 7 am rehearsal. Suffice it to say: Brooklynn, if you're reading this, thank you for letting me name each of your toes and give them elaborate backstories. I hope they are all doing well.

Love for a Child - July 2023

Love for a Child is a summer camp for children who have been in the foster care system. I worked at a similar camp, Royal Family Kids Camp, for several summers back in high school. So when my church in Grand Rapids started to partner with Love For a Child, I didn't hesitate.

When we head off to camp, it's so easy to fall into the mentality that we are here to play the role of the hero for these kids. But as the week evolved through shared meals and fishing on the dock and singing the same five VBS songs multiple times a day, I was constantly reminded that we were not there to be the 'hero' (Spoiler: that's God's job). We were here to love and celebrate kids who had never had the chance to just be kids due to circumstances beyond their control.

Sometimes you don't need to (nor can you) fix all a kid's problems, say all the perfect things, or give every kid the best day ever. Sometimes all you need to do is push them on the swings or say yes when they ask you for the millionth time to play Connect 4 and you'd rather be doing anything else. And those were my favorite moments.

As I reflected on the week, I couldn't help but be reminded of the loneliness epidemic that is so prevalent in my generation. There is a certain togetherness and humanity that our 21st-century western culture does not give us. Don't get me wrong, I am an introvert through and through. But when I'm used to spending 80% of my time alone, there was something so unexpectedly beautiful and human about being at camp. Maybe it has something to do with sharing a common goal, especially since that goal was simply to love others. All I know is that I was constantly struck by the thought: This is how it's supposed to be.

The literal only photo I have from camp is this BeReal my friend took at like 11 p.m. when I was sitting on the back of a golf cart to keep two vacuum cleaners from falling off. I think it speaks volumes about my exhaustion at that moment.

Lucky for us, LFAC creates incredible video recaps from camp, which you can view on their social media! Go enjoy ;)

Taylor Swift concert - August 2023

Since 6th grade, I have secretly believed that Taylor Swift is my older sister and that she actually writes all of her songs just for me. This really doesn't have anything to do with what I want to say, but I just felt like I needed to confess that.

Growing up is really hard. Both of my best friends have lived hundreds and hundreds of miles away from me for at least the past few months, and my chances to see them in person at the same time has been reduced to, at best, three times a year. But when I do? They are the best times of my life.

So when Taylor Swift sings about your 20's feeling "happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time", you can understand why I feel like she's inside my brain.

I got to have two of my best friends (three if you count Taylor Swift) together once more in August for the Eras Tour in Los Angeles. I'm not sure quite how to put this experience into words, as it was a combination of all my favorite things: So I'm just going to let our cute disposable camera pictures and video montage tell the story of the best weekend ever.

Let's recap. Off the top of my noggin, here's what I learned this summer:

  • I am a nature girlie and a storyteller.

  • Sometimes you sign up for a social media job and before you know it you're out planning your own funeral on the Colorado River. Such is life. It is good to be challenged. (Also, pack more water.)

  • It is natural to outgrow things, even good things.

  • Therapy is SO COOL.

  • We can be the busiest, most successful, most high-achieving people in the world, but none of it matters if we are not loving people.

  • Humans are meant to live in community. We need it. Isolation is proven to be detrimental to our health and well-being.

  • Taylor swift is my sister/best friend. The end.



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