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.