Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Pleasant Way to End a Hectic Month

This month was indubitably hectic and busy. I had a total of four major Ivy League Connection events, AP tests, and the SAT to take care of, but overall, this month was nothing short of amazing.

Tonight was the last major event: the orientation. During it, we learned a bit more about the miscellaneous things: what to pack, what to borrow from Don, and some of our respective itineraries. We split up into our travel groups and Yohanna, a former Grand Strategist and a current Yale undergrad, informed us a lot about almost everything, ranging from dorm-life to classroom etiquette.

It was nice to see all 42 members of the Ivy League Connection congregate as not only many individual groups, but a big one as a whole. I speak for almost everyone when I say that as the countdown for our trips begins, we are all getting more and more excited. I also think that all of us will make the Ivy League Connection proud. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

School Board Meeting

For a long time, I have wondered how school board meetings work. I envisioned all sorts of scenarios for a school board meeting, but it never occurred to me to actually attend one before Thursday. Initially, I was under the impression that these meetings would be mundane and soporific, but as I listened to all of the guest speakers and school board members speak, I realized how wrong I was. This meeting gave me a new perspective on not only the schools, but also the community as a whole. 

Before, I was not even aware that there was adult education (AE) in our district. However, after a few minutes of listening to people tell the board members how important the program is to them, I became an avid supporter of AE. I also realized how strong-willed the people in our district are. It really made me proud that despite the economic condition, the housing and job market crash (especially in our area), and all of the other problems, so many adults are taking the initiative to learn more. Also, it was reassuring to see that so many people cared about their children; most of the people who implored the school board to continue the Adult education program did so because they wanted to learn in order to help their children. 

After, the group took a large panoramic picture (the one used on the ILC website). I have been looking forward to this for a long time because I finally felt that I am really part of the this wonderful organization. 

I enjoyed this enlightening and amazing experience completely and I would really like to thank the ILC again. 

My First Experience in the City Council

On Tuesday night, all of the Ivy League Connection students from Hercules congregated in the City Hall for the city council meeting. This experience was nice because I was able to really talk to a lot of the kids from my school who are going to various schools this summer; although my Yale cohort and I are very close, the other students from Hercules, like Rachael Redlo, Frank He, and Kelly Xi, and I don't really mingle much.

I gave a small speech during the city council. I had come prepared for the speech, but as my turn to speak was approaching, I felt less confident about speaking with a script. Therefore, most of my speech was completely impromptu. Although it was not practiced and rehearsed, I really liked my speech and I realized how much Yale has already had an impact on me - before, I was shy to talk in front of a crowd, but I am much more comfortable now because I know that I am going to have to do so a lot in Yale.

After all of the students gave speeches, Mr. Litvin, our Yale chaperon, as well as most of our English teacher, said a few words. His speech was succinct, but it had a lot of substance to it. We also heard two former Ivy League Connection students, Beilul Naizghi and Terilyn Chen, tell everyone about their experiences.

Overall, the City Council meeting was another unique and different experience that I am thankful for attending. It turns out that every single event that is organized by the ILC gives me new perspective.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Front and Centre

"How to rule the world" -- our chaperone Igor Litvin used this phrase to emphatically set in stone exactly what we were to be doing this summer. Meanwhile, we carried the Yale Blue banner, a perfect symbol to hold while standing in the presence of the school board.

This year, the school board meeting was bordered by both prompt concern and good feelings. At the very start of the meeting, we sat and listened in as adult education students and teachers advanced to the podium urging the district not to cut funding to the program. It was, in truth, an stark contrast between the celebration of the Ivy League Connection.

The four Yalies pose for a snapshot from my mom.
But as the night progressed, jovial moods set in. Each cohort approached the podium in alphabetical order, with each chaperone giving a short speech to describe their program and what it entailed. The moment the Cornell group approached the stand, I received a sharp twinge of nostalgia. It felt incredibly weird seeing that cohort holding their banner in front of the board, with the knowledge that I stood exactly where they did just one year ago.

Once we stood in front of the board, I knew for certain that this was to be the moment that solidified our identity as the Yale cohort. We stood humble in front of the board, but as Mr. Litvin continued to speak, it became apparent what exactly we were heading for. I began to feel proud of that we had been chosen -- and I could tell that my fellow cohort did as well.

Austin Long ('15) and I met each other last week at the Yale dinner.
He extended the offer that if we ever needed anything, let him know.
After each of the cohorts were presented, Austin Long (Yale '15) who spoke last year approached the stand to speak again. His words of encouragement were great, and after having gotten to know him a little at the Yale dinner, I could see further the passion he had for his school. Next, my old friend Terilyn Chen (Harvard '16) spoke to the board. She spoke of interviews, Spongebob Squarepants, and affirmed that this program worked.  I think each of us knew that was true but did not really affirm it as well. I have a good feeling we will when we move on too.

I must thank all the donors, the school board, and all the parents who came to the meeting. Without any of their support, we would not be here, right now, awaiting something grand. We cannot let them down this summer. We will not.

My District + Education = WCCUSD School Board

It was a fine and lovely day on May 23, 2012. It was my first time attending a school board meeting. Much like all of the other events of the ILC, I was unsure of what to expect. As I walked through the door, I was surprised to find that there were many other people aside from the members of the ILC.  I entered exactly at 6:15 so in a sense, I was late. Luckily, I was able to receive information about what was to happen that night. In terms of the ILC, the chaperones were to provide a brief summary on the program and it's itinerary. Brown was the first of the programs to be introduced where as Yale was the last. Did they save the best for the last? While I want to say I'm in the best program, I don't believe that is true. Every program of the ILC is just as great as one another and I'm honored to have an opportunity such as this. Well enough with the digression.

There were about 14-15 members seated on the stage, inlcuding a De Anza High representative, Amanda Calvo. The live broadcasting and seating arrangements of the school board administrators left an impression that reminded me of Congress. Before the ILC was presented, several people spoke on behalf of adult education. They thanked the school board for continuing adult ed and talked about it's beneficial impacts. When the ILC was called upon, I couldn't help but to feel honored and privileged. It was a great feeling to have the ILC students recgonized as the top students of the district. Afterwards, two former ILC members Terilyn Chen and Austin Long gave speeches about the positive influences the ILC had on their lives. Not to mention, the sponsors of the ILC were introduced. The meeting was ended with the group shot of 2012's ILC.

That day, I learned something important. I learned that this community, despite the shortage of funds, actually tries it's best to reach out to the people and students. The ILC is becoming a signature program of the WCCUSD. I am glad to be a part of something so life changing and impacting. This year's batch of students are outstanding and like Mr Litvin said, "these students will take over the world." Whatever the future holds, I will not forget what my district has done for me. I thank the administrators of the WCCUSD school board of education and ILC. This summer will be unforgettable.

Standing Before the School Board

The sun was shining and a soft breeze blew through the parking lot of Lavonya Dejean Middle School in Richmond, CA, as my mother and I made our way into the school’s auditorium.

It was the evening of the WCCUSD School Board meeting at which the Ivy League Connection would be presented. Unlike the City Council meetings, where ILC students from each school stood before their respective city’s board, the entire entity of the program – students, parents, sponsors, and the administration – was to be recognized as a whole.

Each cohort was introduced and called up, one by one. I watched from my seat in the audience as the proud chaperons took the stand to acknowledge the students they would be spending a portion of their summer with. It was such a moment, beholding the bright, young faces that were beaming with excitement for the program.

Additionally, two former participants of the ILC were present at the meeting – Terilyn Chen (Harvard c/o ‘16) and Austin Long (Yale c/o ’15). Both delivered excellent speeches describing the fruit that this program bore for them. It is always so inspiring listening to alumni such as these – they never fail to emphasize the potential that students in our district have, despite socioeconomic factors that may deter them from success.

This year, we have a fine group of students – the cream of the crop – from the WCCUSD that will be partaking in summer enrichment courses at top-tier universities. These are ambitious students who continue to pour their efforts into education, who want to create a positive impact in the communities around them, and who strive for excellence.

I look forward to what this summer – and the rest of the future, for that matter – holds for each of us. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thank You Home

Standing in line, I stared at the podium once again. It's been a year removed since I spoke to the City Council about the Ivy League Connection. And here I was again, shaking a bit, nervous, about another speech and another 'Thank you.'

We sat anxiously as we awaited Ms. Ishmael to call each of us by school, beginning with Brown and ending with Yale. I ended up being the last ILCer. This time around, I felt more confident with my speech, I felt like I was actually saying something meaningful, instead of simply being pithy.

And it is true, I am thankful, very much so. I am thankful for having grown up in such a wonderful community with great people. I am thankful that my school has been so supportive and has given me so many opportunities. I am thankful to the ILC for everything they did to help me grow up and understand going to college. And the list of thanks can go on and on, but it simply is summed up with "Thank You Home."

After my speech, Beilul and Terilyn (both Hercules students and former ILCers) gave their speeches. It was a nice callback to the year before, where they capped off the night as well. Then our chaperone Igor Litvin spoke.

Mr. Litvin was very keen on explaining that Hercules is a great school and that we had so much potential. "I know a lot of students look up to their teachers, but I should be looking up to them," he said. Those words were deep and piercing to many of us.

After we gave our thanks, we spoke with the members of the City Council and took our group picture. Perhaps one day, I will look at the two pictures and compare. I'm sure I can find quite a few positive changes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Glimpse of Yale

It was a fine evening in the city of San Francisco as our group – which included the four of us Yalies along with our parents, the ILC administrators, chaperons, and more – made our way to RN74, a lovely urban French restaurant nestled in Mission Street.

It was a night I was very much anticipating, as we would be dining with Yale alumni as well as current students; the wide spectrum of Yale experiences would surely provide us with a span of valuable knowledge about the educational institution.

Our company began to slowly augment in size as more guests piled into the restaurant, and many of us took the chance to mingle with one another before sitting down to commence the dinner.

One of the first guests my cohort and I met were Michael Montano (Yale c/o ’03) and Laura Hurtado (Yale c/o ’04). Michael graduated from Yale with a major in Philosophy, and, to our surprise, attended Stanford Law School. Upon our curiosity of the correlation between his major and Law School, Michael explained that he suggested majoring in an area unrelated from your field of interest, be it medicine or law - not only would it assist someone in being a more well-rounded candidate, but it could also help him in standing out among a pool of other applicants.

I was also very pleased to see Yohanna Pepa and Austin Long, two former Pinole Valley High students and current Yale Bulldogs. They are such great examples and inspirations, and it was nice catching up with them as well as learning more about Yale through their perspective.
As the dinner commenced, I sat next to Eli Luberoff (Yale c/o ’09) and Lata Prabhakar (Yale c/o ’97).

Eli was such great company – he started up a mathematics software business that brought him the Bay Area. Throughout the evening, I noticed that Eli couldn’t stop expressing how much he missed the university – if he had the chance, he said, he’d go back to college in a blink of an eye. Yale had obviously made a huge impact on him, and after listening to all Eli had to say about his college experience, I could not wait to be on Yale’s campus to absorb all the greatness I possibly could.

When Lata attended Yale, her intentions were to enter the medical field. After completing her undergraduate studies and taking the MCAT, she realized that her interests didn’t lie in the area. Lata explained to me the benefits of Yale being a liberal arts school – or any liberal arts school, for that matter. It allows students to branch out and dabble in different interests, taking classes that possibly have no relation at all to their majors.

Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to speak with Kristina Yee (Yale c/o ’89) as much as I would have liked. Towards the end of the dinner, as we shook hands, Kristina suggested that I, having grown up and lived in the West Coast for so long, should experience life on the East Coast – the culture and people differed greatly across the country, and it would no doubt serve as a valuable experience.

I very much enjoyed having the opportunity to meet such wonderful individuals, and was able to express my gratitude and excitement for the program in a speech. I could not look forward to the embarking to the East Coast more after hearing about Yale that evening – though it isn’t likely that I will be able to have the full college experience with the duration of the program being two weeks, I will make an effort to soak in as much as I possibly can during that time.

Unraveling Yale

It was a beautiful night on the 17th of May 2012. This day marked another milestone event before the great journey to Yale. I was anxious as I did not know what to expect from the dinner at RN74. However, by the end of the night, I came home with a different psyche. Let's take it back to the gathering at the El Cerrito Plaza bart station.

Rushing to get to the bart station by 5:15, I was surprised to see only Don Gosney. My fear of being late was obliterated. Thank goodness. Within in a matter of minutes, the group which consisted of alumni, cohorts, and chaperones was almost complete. When we arrived to SF, a breath of exhilaration took over me. Walking with my cohorts, alumni, and ILC administrators made it feel like we were in the east coast already.

Once we were inside the restaurant, we met up with all the other alumni. It was truly incredible to meet all of these successful people. The first to have spoken with my group were two Yale graduates, Michael Montana ('03) and Laura Hurtado ('04). They told us about what Yale has to offer and how it benefited them. It was interesting to find out that Yale wasn't their top choice until their senior year in high school. After briefly conversing with other alumni, we were all seated. Charles Ramsey stood before us and gave an introductory speech. Following his speech was a description of the Grand Strategies program given from a fellow cohort, Julia Chang of Pinole Valley High. Next to speak was  Dave Olson ('86). His speech was very motivational and encouraging. Afterwards, the dinner began.

Just to briefly discuss my dinner, I chose the carrot soup, scottish salmon, and pot de creme. The option was small, but the food was delicious. The service was great and so was the presentation of the food. The pot de creme certainly wrapped up my dining experience at RN74.

My table consisted of two alumni, Eli Luberoff ('09) and Kristina Yee ('89). Although Eli Luberoff was placed across the table from me, which made it hard to converse, I still managed to have an interesting talk with him. I found out that he majored in math and physics and created his own mathematical software. I also spoke with Kristina Yee. She was in a social position much like myself but was able to earn a scholarship based on her writing skills. She told me anything can be achieved and was very helpful much like Dave Olson in terms of encouragement. What I learned from all of the alumni was that Yale has lots of opportunities, a great atmosphere that sets it apart from other universities, and that we('12 ILC YISP members) are the future. On the way home, I had a pleasant conversation with Ken Yamaguchi ('92). He told me that he was conflicted with the choice of going to Stanford or Yale. This was certainly appealing because Stanford is one of my top choices for college. After visiting Yale he fell in love with it's atmosphere and decided to go there.

Events like these are very helpful. Not only do they boost morale, but they also help to give a better understanding of what we are to expect from college, in particular Yale. I would have never guessed that so many opportunities await in the east coast. One of the purposes of the ILC is to open the possibility to colleges outside of California. Even though I haven't visited any colleges in the east coast yet, I'm already buying in to the possibility. Yale is awaiting me this summer, and its opportunities will unravel before my eyes. 

Yale Becomes Reality

Growing up, eating was, and still is, a family pastime. And what transmuted a good meal into a great one was the presence of great company, the existence of interesting and enjoyable conversation. Therefore, the Yale ILC Dinner at RN74 was not just a landmark event or just a chance to make ourselves known. It was an exhibition -- a call to be outgoing, to learn from the true Bulldogs, and most importantly, enjoy the evening.
The dinner program as well as my father's and my nametags.
The week preceding the dinner had been marked with the tumultuous dominoes of AP testing. As each free-response packet fell into the collection box, I saw those moments as a step forward towards something interesting, an event that would make each trek to the testing room worth it. And while it was true that I would be attending prom the next night, I was visiting the city first for this dinner. After all, there were few more suitable places to try out my new suit.

Directly after school, I went home to change and prepare for the dinner. At the time, it felt rather far away, as if eons separated the final bell from the BART station meeting, but before I knew it, it was 5 PM and I was already  there at El Cerrito Plaza, waiting outside the ticket booths.

Roger and Tanya arrived around the same time as me, while Don and Mr. Ramsey were already present. Also present was Yohanna Pepa, a graduate of Pinole Valley High School ('10) and a rising junior at Yale University ('14). Yohanna introduced herself to each of us and asked us who we were. We shot several questions at her, regarding student life, dorm life, academics, and the Grand Strategies program. Yohanna had taken part in the ILC in 2009, going to Yale to attend the same program we are attending this summer, which helped solidify her choice of college when she applied the following school year.

Once everyone had arrived, we immediately set off on the train for San Francisco. On the way, Ms.  Sewellyn Kaplan introduced herself to me. We (my father, Hercules High School Vice-Principal Terri Ishmael, Ms. Kaplan, and I) talked about several things on the train on the way there, including the AP tests. Ms. Kaplan was quite nice and fun to speak with.
Our dinner area.
On the streets of the city, I managed to regroup with my cohort as we joked and laughed on the way to RN41. On the way, we met up with another PV alumnus and Yale undergrad, Austin Long ('15). Once we arrived, we saw that our chaperone, Mr. Igor Litvin, was already waiting for us at our designated seating area. Mr. Ramsey immediately called the waitresses to begin setting the tables while people began to flood in.

Julia, Roger, and Tanya -- my fellow Yalies.
Immediately, we were approached by two lawyers and Yale graduates, Michael Montano ('03) and Laura Hurtado ('04). We introduced ourselves to them and explained what the Grand Strategies program was about. We discussed majors that are offered by Yale and why they had decided to go there. For both of them, the idea of going to Yale had never really occurred to them until right before their senior year in high school. For Mr. Montano, it was a visit to the college itself, while for Ms. Hurtado, it was a talk with her parents. They went for Early Decision, signifying just how strongly they wanted to get into the university.

Mr. Ramsey then directed us to sit down. On my way to my seat, Roger and I accidentally bumped into another Yale graduate, Eli Luberoff ('09). He introduced himself to us and asked us what we were interested in pursuing in Yale. Before we could get deep into our conversation, however, we had to take out seats. I would later find out that Mr. Luberoff was the recipient of Yale's highest math and physics awards while he was there -- a truly remarkable feat.

Speaking with Austin Long ('15) and Ka Mo Lau ('09/'11) about Yale
helped me understand the student and academic culture.
The four of us were divided accordingly between each table. My father and I were seated at a table that included Yohanna Pepa, Austin Long, Mr. Montano, and a Yale graduate seated right next to me, Ka Mo Lau ('09/'11). Mr. Lau was an economics major who took two years off school to start his own technology advertising business, which is now based in the Bay Area. Also seated near me was my chaperone, Mr. Litvin.

Mr. Lau, Mr. Montano, and Austin spoke with me about the general attitude of students at Yale as well as the campus. They spoke about some of the many courses that people loved to take, including Cold War studies. They also related stories of professors and deans who were incredibly influential to them and helped push them along their path through college.

Mr. Lau stressed how amazing, yet humble everyone at Yale was. He spoke of friends who started businesses, won prestigious awards, or even discovered new organisms who remained modest through their time in college. This idea of the general attitude of students, as well as the supposed loose core curriculum helped sell Yale to me. 

In the middle of our dinner, we stood and listened in as several people spoke to the rest of the group. Julia, my fellow Yalie, gave a great speech about what this program meant to each of us. Yohanna followed up with a soliloquy stating why she loved Yale. Finally, Mr. Dave Olson ('86) gave several words of encouragement, garnering applause from the party. Afterwards, we took a group picture with the alumni.

As we continued through the night, we conversed on various topics, including travels abroad and politics. It turned out that Mr. Montano had entered law school because he believed that it would be the easiest way to enact social change. I thought it was really noble and brilliant that anyone would map a career goal with the intent of making the world a better place.

The dinner party poses in one of many stills.
Looking back at it, I feel I gathered what I needed in order to entice myself for the experience that is ahead of me. Last year, when I attended the Cornell dinner, I came in nervous and not necessarily privy as to what questions to ask or how to discuss openly. Now, I felt much more comfortable giving queries and discussing things at the table as equals, rather than timidly turning away. I felt like I belonged there, in that moment, discussing every topic under the sun with people I may very well join (with some luck) in a few years time.

A lot of what I have learned since I entered elementary and high school, I ended up learning on my own, and I learned that if there are opportunities available, take them and run with them. If there is a treasure trove of knowledge and betterment in the halls of Yale University, I will reach out and seize it. My chief imperative behind joining this program is that I want to learn, and my secondary objective has been to use this information to help improve things around here, at home. And I will not avert either goal.

Yale, for the first time since the interview, seemed very close and very real. If any of the words that the graduates and students I spoke to ring true, this will be one of the, if not the greatest educational experience of my life.

Two years ago, New Haven did not matter much to me, nor was I genuinely aware or interested in it's existence. Now I cannot wait to enter that city and learn everything that they can throw at me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Beginning of a Long Journey

Yesterday was the Yale dinner in RN74, a beautiful restaurant in a beautiful city. Overall, the evening can be described as magnificent.

Former students, chaperones, my cohorts, and I congregated in El Cerrito Plaza Bart station; we all went to the restaurant as a group. While waiting for some of the other members of the group to arrive,  many people approached and inquired us about the Ivy League Connection Program. I was very proud to describe the wonderful program and about my class in Yale. Interacting with my cohorts and their respective parents on the BART was pleasant.

As we entered the restaurant, we met many alums  who were extremely interesting and well accomplished - the first person I talked to was a Yale undergraduate and a Stanford Law School graduate - from whom I learned  a substantial amount of information about not only Yale, but also the opportunities that I will have in any college. Listening to everyone's experiences in college made me indescribably excited for my summer program and the actual college, which is only a year away.

Each of the Yalies were then seated next to Yale graduates. I sat next to an 09' graduate in Theater and Political Science. She was, indubitably, an amazing and extremely interesting person - we had discussions about things ranging from her broken elbow to her years in Argentina to her experience in Yale. She told me a lot about the curriculum in Yale that really interested me. For example, a Yale student only takes 1/3 of her classes based on her major. She explained that because Yale is a liberal arts school, students have plenty of opportunities to experiment different subjects and invoke their passions. When I told her that I was considering going into engineering, she told me that she had a brother in Carnegie Mellon University who is majoring in biomedical engineering. I told her that both the university and the major really interested me and she then told me that she would introduce me to her brother. 

This dinner was such a wonderful experience because I learned about the details that I cannot find in any website or pamphlet. I also got an opportunity to network with people who were so helpful and educative. I would like to give my utmost thanks to the Ivy League Connection for arranging this dinner and giving me such an opportunity. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Standing Before the Pinole City Council

Last evening, the Pinole Valley High School Ivy League Connection participants gathered at Town Hall to be presented to our City Council. Initially, I was afraid I would not make the meeting, but thankfully changes at the last second allowed me to join my fellow peers at this milestone event.

Each of us had the opportunity to speak before the City Council after being introduced by Mr. Ramsey and our principal, Ms. Kahn. It was such an honor to represent Pinole Valley High as well as our hometown - the small, quaint city of Pinole. I am very grateful to have been a student of the WCCUSD all my life - I realized, after listening to a few alumni (or soon-to-be alumni) of our school speak, such as Austin Long (Yale '15) and Andrew Gonzales (Brown '16), the sheer potential students from our underrepresented district have. Despite financial and educational disparities in high school, our students are still able to, with determination and hard work, achieve great things.

We were presented by our mayor with medals for academic achievement - an honor reserved for an elite group of Pinole Valley High students.

It was an event that allowed us to form a deeper connection with our city and community . As we began our journeys to the handful of prestigious universities this summer, we ought to remember to return to our roots here in Pinole.