- Summer Camp
It is 8:42 on a Monday morning in late June and Zyan Wynn ‘19 is instructing a group of Chattanooga business leaders and school alums on how to critically judge thirty-two Character, Leadership and Community (CLC) campers in that day's Wynning Shake competition.
"Grade them on a scale of 1 to 10," says Wynn, a Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship recipient at Princeton. "Ten is exceptional and ten shouldn't be given lightly. Don't be afraid to give a boy a 6 or 7. If he deserves a zero, give him a zero. These boys are not here to be babied."
Later, the Atlanta, Georgia native, who boarded at McCallie for four years, discusses the Wynning Shake portion of the 12-day CLC camp, which brings in prospective students with high academic promise from all across the country. This year's CLC cohort hails from 15 states, including California, Texas, Minnesota, New York, and Maryland.
"This program is about learning life skills," Wynn says of the shake competition he modified for CLC from a similar concept he first became familiar with at Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, where he attended from fourth through eighth grade. "How do I deliver a wedding toast? How do I bus tables at a restaurant? How much should I tip? How do I handle a bad grade on a test? How do I handle money? These are things young people need to learn. That's part of what we are doing with this program. It is about life preparation."
On this particular Monday, the CLC campers are asked to perform a series of challenges, each lasting precisely one minute, in front of the volunteer judges. The campers then move on to the next challenge in 30 seconds. One of the tasks they are asked to perform is this: you are the coach of a football team that is down 15 points at halftime and you have to deliver a pep talk to rally the squad. Another has them giving an acceptance speech for winning an Academy Award, then being told midway through that speech that they didn't actually win. The boys have 60 seconds or less to perform the task. They have to think on their feet, then pivot their emotions, and, finally, gracefully exit the stage.
The Wynning Shake competition is 16 stations total and concludes in less than two hours. "Zyan's a force of nature," longtime CLC director Duke Richey, who's also the head of the history department, explains. "His organizational skills are like nothing I've ever seen. He will solve a problem before we even know a problem is there. What he has done for the CLC program with the Wynning Shake component is hard to overstate. Adding it to CLC was 100 percent his idea." The idea was Wynn's, but the name came from Richey as a way to recognize Zyan for adapting the shake competition, a nationwide program, to CLC. This summer's Wynning Shake winner, William McDowell from Atlanta, fully embodied what Wynn hopes to teach the campers about life.
"This was an amazing experience," McDowell said. "You get to meet a lot of new people, but you also learn things that will help you for the rest of your life. I learned to always take a second to pause and reflect before you jump into something. I learned to value quality over quantity. I also learned to get outside my comfort zone because sometimes you have to take risks to grow."
McCallie Character, Leadership, and Community Camp is far more than the Wynning Shake competition. It is a total experience that challenges and grows boys in the aspects of character, leadership, and community. Richey says as impressive as Zyan's Wynning Shake addition to the CLC experience has been, his worth to CLC overall extends far beyond the 12 days of summer. "Zyan is a connection to our CLC students all year," says Richey. "He goes above and beyond working the camp. He is texting and calling them throughout the school year. These kids see him as their big brother. They see men like me more like their parent; the relationships are different."
CLC was first begun more than a decade ago to begin a camp that focused on leadership development. The evolution of the camp has been a complete team effort and it has certainly attracted the type of student McCallie wants for the Michaels-Dickson Scholarship program. To use Richey's words about the academically-driven camp, "The students who participate in CLC are the best of the best. They are being courted by the best private schools in the country. We are not going to get each of them at McCallie, but we work hard to yield our share and then some."
While CLC boys are not guaranteed to be awarded Michaels-Dickson Scholarships, many do earn those scholarships in the winter following their summer camp experience. "If we have thirty-two kids in the CLC camp, we will probably wind up with ten or twelve who will become Michaels-Dickson Scholars," said David Hughes, who oversees the Michaels-Dickson Scholarship program. "Twenty-six boys total are presented with Michaels-Dickson scholarship offers each winter. Two are full tuition scholarships. The rest are a combination of merit and need-based aid. We are often competing for these boys with schools that have billion-dollar endowments, so we are very happy with how competitive McCallie has been. The Michaels-Dickson Scholarship program has been a terrific program that allows the school to attract a large number of highly talented and motivated students each year."
The irony in all of this is that Wynn would probably never have become a McCallie student without a tragic event of epic proportions.
In the spring of 2015, Ron Clark Academy student Ryan Marshall, a close friend of Wynn's, was getting ready to take the final standardized test he would need to gain admission to McCallie that fall. On the night before he was scheduled to come to campus to take that test, he was murdered outside his home in Union City, Georgia.
"I was devastated," said Troy Kemp, a 27-year member of McCallie's faculty who was guiding the Marshall family through the admission process. "Ryan had several former classmates at Ron Clark who were students at McCallie. We had to find them and tell them what happened. I went to the funeral a few days later. It was the saddest thing I'd ever seen in my life." But that's also where Kemp came across Wynn, who was on a waiting list to get into a prestigious New England prep school and whose mother had graduated from UT-Chattanooga.
"Zyan hadn't really been interested in McCallie," said Kemp. "He wanted to go up East. But Ron Clark introduced us, telling me I needed to meet Zyan, whom I convinced to come to McCallie for a visit. Zyan immediately fell in love with McCallie. The rest is history."
Says the 21-year-old Wynn today of the lasting impact of that meeting seven years ago: "As soon as I visited, I said, 'This is the spot for me.' Four of the best years of my life were here. I love this school."
As the world turns, Kemp now works at Ron Clark Academy as director of strategic initiatives and partnerships. Wynn returns to McCallie each winter to help out with the candidates for the Michaels-Dickson scholarships he never had a chance to earn. And, Richey worries what the CLC program will do if Wynn goes in a different direction during his summers after graduating from Princeton next spring. "Losing Zyan’s presence and help would be a huge loss," Richey said. "I don't know what we'd do without him."
But, they all think they know what Wynn will do somewhere down the road, beginning with Wynn's own words spoken during a CLC field trip to a local business in June. Asked his ultimate dream job that day, Wynn replied, "Secretary of Education."
"There's no way they could ever find a better one," says Richey.
Added Kemp, "Zyan's going to transform education." Much as Wynn says McCallie once transformed him.
"I don't know where I'd be right now if I hadn't come to McCallie. It probably wouldn't be at CLC," he said in June of his CLC work. “Or Princeton. I have been blessed with so many opportunities and so much of it is based on my opportunities and experiences at McCallie. Because of McCallie, I have come to realize how much I love education, and how much I want to make it my life's work."