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Why Vanguard Gap Year?

April 27, 2021

Blake Rittgers shares how he ended up at Vanguard and some reflections from his time here at HoneyRock.

The unexpected decision to come to Vanguard came at the exact time in which I thought I would have everything planned out.  

As I finished up—begrudgingly—the second semester of high school, I often found myself dreaming of the day I could go to college and finally explore my passions.  

While I finished the rest of my senior year online (and even graduated virtually) I still had hopes of starting college in person in the fall. Midsummer, my parents realized that most, if any, colleges wouldn’t be a “normal” or in-person—they tried to propose alternative ideas on how I could start my college experience.  

As many had to do, I finished the last bit of my high school experience online and had a virtual graduation. Nevertheless, I was still excited to go to college once the whole COVID thing passed overAdmittedly, it was perhaps foolish to think that the fall semester of 2020 would be normal. As the pandemic got worse, my parents tried to entertain the idea of an alternate plan to the traditional 4-year college route.

As a person who does not like to derive from the status quo, my response was a resounding no…until I took a summer course.  

While I navigated the new-to-me online classroom, it quickly became obvious that this was not the way I wanted to begin my college experience. I started to think about those alternative ideas my parents had shared… 

Years ago I had gone to Residential Camp at HoneyRock and had absolutely loved it. Dr. Rob Ribbe, the Executive Director of HoneyRock, had been a friend and roommate to my dad. Can you see where this is going? 

Connections were made and the Vanguard Gap Year idea was introduced. Up to this point, I thought gap years were purely an endeavor for the unorganized or unprepared before they tried to brave the beast of college. My parents forced (they would say encouraged) me into an interview for Vanguard, telling me to keep my options open for the future. I had a nice time chatting with Olivia Cassel, a Vanguard Coordinator, and certainly felt better about the program once I got off the interview.  

When a few big changes were made to the residential experience for my first-choice college, the choice became more clear. Despite having class assignments and a roommate chosen, I needed something different to kick off my college experience.  

Showing up to HoneyRock on a rainy September morning felt surreal. Just a couple of months ago I was registering for college classes, and here I was in the middle of the Northwoods in Wisconsin at a gap year program! Having my twin brother here with me made my new surroundings easily digestible.  

Here are three things that I’ve learned so far at Vanguard: 

  1. The work rotations have taught me how to work hard and think on my feet.  
  2. The communal living hahelped me build what seem to be lasting friendships with Vanguards, Fellows, and Grads alike.  
  3. Our first backpacking trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore showed me how much a shared experience could bring a group of guys together and make strong and meaningful connections. 

Although I hadn’t initially planned on doing a gap year, I could not have asked for a better experience so far! 

Vanguard '17 group photo in Three Lakes, WI
Learn More About Vanguard Gap Year

Build a vision for the future by bridging the gap between high school and college with a year unlike any other. You'll explore diverse cultures, navigate life's big questions, and live in a Christ-centered community. This year of hands-on education and leadership development will prepare you for the challenges of college and beyond.