Sunday, May 20, 2012

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.

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