Friday, May 30, 2014

Did I Say Rutabaga or Did I Just Think It?

Yesterday's dinner at Kuleto's was yet another milestone event for the Penn Cohort. I think it is safe to say that it was also everyone's favorite event so far. 

This episode of our saga began when we arrived at the El Cerrito Plaza BART Station. After everyone in our  group had arrived, Don went over some rules and guidelines and distributed clipper cards. I was a little worried because I had never used a clipper card before but fortunately I was able to figure it out, and we proceeded to the BART platform.

Aren't you glad I didn't say Rutabaga?
While on BART, I had a lovely conversation with Julia Shebek and fretted extensively about my imminent speech. Julia taught me some useful techniques she learned in drama to help me present myself well while I spoke. I'd like to say that Julia was as helpful at calming my nerves as she was helpful at teaching me how to comport myself well, but in truth thanks to her I almost ended up saying "rutabaga" at least once in my speech. (For the record, I didn't ever say "rutabaga" in my speech, but it was a close call.)

The BART trip ended all too soon for me since I was still fretting about my speech-making abilities, and I once again triumphed over technology by successfully using my clipper card to exit the BART Station. As the group walked to Kuleto's some of us stragglers nearly lost sight of the faster walkers among us, but the most harrowing part of the experience was trying to follow the group through the restaurant. Since the room where the dinner was held was a bit secluded, I nearly lost track of where my peers where headed and it is lucky that I did not get lost.

Getting to know the Alumni
Once everyone arrived in the room, we had another chance to mingle with the Alumni. I found myself listening to three alumni; Beth, Tom, and Phil. It was great to hear all their different perspectives and learn about the campus, which is apparently gorgeous. All three of them were incredibly thoughtful and knowledgeable. I had a wonderful time hearing Phil's stories about Penn, which were simultaneously entertaining and edifying. I also enjoyed the hors d'oeuvres that were available at this time.  

Then it was time to eat. Dinner began with salad, which was so good I was able to enjoy it despite my nervousness about my upcoming speech. Before I spoke, though, there were many other speeches. Madeline Kronenberg gave an excellent speech about the Ivy League Connection, as did Phil Schlein, who told us to study what we were passionate about. I think I will take his advice to heart this summer, since social justice is such a fascinating, important cause for me. Eventually it was time for me to speak, which I did. I think I did okay, though I did forget to thank everyone I wanted to thank. After I spoke, Donna spoke, and I really enjoyed her speech. Mr. Ramsey also gave an inspiring speech about the importance of giving back to our communities.

Delicious Filet Mignon
Dinner was excellent. I enjoyed the Filet Mignon very much, but for me, dessert represented the highlight of the meal. (Dessert was italian cream with strawberries and it was the pinnacle of culinary achievement. Any attempts to describe it will surely fall flat of its magnificent, unfathomable splendor.) I also had a great time learning about Penn from Tom, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania after majoring in Computer Science. According to Tom, everyone at Penn is very nice and welcoming and we should not hesitate to ask people on campus about what they are doing. It was also really interesting to hear a comparison of UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania.

Guess what? I'm holding the flag again!
After dinner ended, those of us who were returning by BART walked back to the station. Serendipitously, our train arrived at the station moments after we did. The return trip was swift and orderly except that at the very end the escalator suddenly ceased to work, throwing us all forwards, though luckily nobody was hurt. 

This was a wonderful experience. I am even more excited to go to Penn this summer, now that I know so many wonderful things about the place. 

Dinner at Kuleto's



Last night was the ILC dinner for my cohort, the UPenn group. The weather was perfect, but a little windy. The moms were wondering why they had bothered fixing their hair. We all met at BART at 5:15 and waited for our chaperone, John Hillyer to arrive.  On BART I sat next to Donna, one of the two other students who will be in the Physics Camp at UPenn, the same as me. I had never talked to her before.  She goes to Middle College, which I didn’t know about. We talked about the Clipper Cards Don had given us. I wondered how they could work, without a magnetic strip or bar code for the machine to read.  We couldn’t figure it out. (Later after I asked Don, and he said he didn’t know, he told me that I wasn’t allowed to take it apart. How did he know…?) 

Here I am talking to Donna Fang on BART
We got off BART at the Powell Street Station and walked past the cable cars to Union Square where the restaurant is, Kuleto’s.  Kuleto’s is a very nice place. We had a banquet room downstairs with mirrors and beautiful paintings on the walls.  Mr. Ramsey, from the School Board, put our name cards on the tables. I sat next to Beth Topor, who graduated from Penn in 1980 and now interviews students for Penn. She loves Penn. She talked about sitting on Locust Walk and seeing all the people go by, so many different types of people. She says one of the reasons she liked Penn was that it had such a casual, relaxed atmosphere—she said people would roll out of bed in the morning and throw on gym clothes, and just go to class like that.

Standing on Powell Street above the BART station

Talking with Beth at the dinner

A lot of people gave speeches, including Julia Mason, who will be in the Social Justice Program at Penn. She talked about the positive impact ILC has on the whole community, and how Julia Shebek, who was part of ILC last year, came back and started a drama club that performs in retirement homes.  I hope I’ll be able to make some kind of contribution from what I learn, too. Maybe teaching science to kids in interesting ways.

A man named Phil Schlein, a retired businessman who now owns a vineyard, told us all to do what we’re really passionate about, because when you’re passionate about something, chances are you’re really good at it, too.  I really believe that. He started as an engineer but his heart was never in it.  He also spoke about nature and how much he respects it and how much loves the old oak trees on his property—he names them and talks to them. One tree even gives him advice, he says! 

The food was really good!  We had hors d’oeuvres (beef and mushroom mini-skewers, salami and cheese canapés), then a romaine lettuce salad. Most people got the filet mignon, which was really tender and flavorful.  Dessert was Zabaglione (Italian cream) with strawberries.

We had no problems getting home on BART. Our train arrived at the platform at the same time we did. We all changed trains at 19th Street with no problem. The only hitch was at the very end. When we got off the train and piled onto the escalator, slowly descending, it suddenly STOPPED, throwing people forward.  Luckily no one was hurt, but the down escalator at the El Cerrito Plaza Station is now out of order.  I hope it wasn’t the ILC that broke it!

Cool-eto's

The dinner at Kuleto's in San Francisco was probably the best ILC event so far! 

The Penn cohort and everyone else who would be attending the dinner with us gathered together at the BART station. After we all got situated, Don (who was wearing quite a spiffy suit) set a few rules for all of us and gave us brief instructions on how to use the Clipper cards. When that was all established, we were ready to go. 

Once we were all on BART, all that I could think about was the speech that I had to deliver later on that night. Even though Don said that Julia and I had nothing to worry about, there was no way that I was going to start panicking and babbling in front of everyone at the dinner. However, being able to talk to my BART buddy, Gwennie, helped calm my nerves (even though I was babbling to her for most of the ride to SF). 

We arrived at the Powell BART station in San Francisco and made quite a dashing walk to Kuleto's. I kept looking back to see if the rest of the group was catching up but it was almost impossible to spot them in the sea of people. Kuleto's was a great restaurant choice to meet all of the alums and sponsors of UPenn and the program. Before Mr. Ramsey was finished with the seating arrangements, a few members of my cohort and I conversed with three UPenn alums, Beth, Tom, and Phil Schlein. Talking with them really brightened up my night; Beth cracked jokes and Phil seemed to have an infinite amount of stories. They also shared their experiences of Penn with us and I was more than ready to hear more. 

I was kind of saddened when we were ready to take our seats since I wasn't sitting with Phil or Beth, but the wonderful alums at my table immediately made up for it. Tom ended up sitting with Julia Mason and me and I was thankful for his enthusiasm as he gave us a bunch of information about UPenn. However, before we were able to really get into the conversation, a string of speeches were made, following Ms. Kronenberg's introductions of the ILCers, alums, and funders. Julia Mason did a wonderful job with her speech and set quite a high standard for me since I had to deliver my speech after her. Nonetheless, I took Don's advice to just speak from the heart, and after some finishing words from Mr. Ramsey and a few others, we went back to conversing and were ready to start on our entrees as well. 

I was able to learn so much more about UPenn and the alums. Tom, who majored in computer science, told us all about Penn such as the campus, dorms, and interesting places to visit in Philadelphia. I asked Tom what he liked most about UPenn, and he went on a long and captivating description of how open and approachable everyone was. He described UPenn as the place where no one would say no. For example, he said that you can literally just open any professors' office and ask them what they were doing, and they would be more than happy to start a conversation with you. 

Another alum who was seated with us attended the University of Berkeley after he graduated at UPenn. I took this chance to ask him for a comparison/contrast of studying in the East Coast versus being in the Bay Area. I also learned more about the differences between a public and a private university through the information he shared. Afterwards, the alums started discussing some fun facts about UPenn. Apparently, there's a dry moat (complete with a drawbridge) located on campus.

Before we had our dessert, Don snapped a few group photos of the alums and ILCers. I was having flashbacks of how Don had to position us for a group photo at the School Board meeting, but our dinner group picture went a lot smoother. 
UPenn: Alums and ILCers
After a long but wonderful night, we were ready to go home. On the BART back, I had the most interesting conversations with another member of the UPenn dinner, Ms. Cohen. While we talked to pass time on the ride home, I found out that she grew up in the East Coast and I was able to learn a lot more about the environment there as well. We were still chatting after the ride as we were taking the escalator down the station, when the escalator suddenly stopped. Some person fell forward right behind me and I turned around to find that it was Mr. Hillyer (I might just have saved Mr. Hillyer's life). 

The Penn dinner was definitely a milestone event. I learned so much more about Penn and the East Coast from all the amazing alums who were more than eager to share their experiences with us. Now, I feel more prepared than ever to go to Pennsylvania!

A Night to Remember for Ages

The ILC places an immense value on giving back to the community. For me, the events in which this is most clearly seen, are with the ILC dinners that we have in San Francisco for each cohort. As a second year ILC member, I remember the impression my dinner last year had on me and how in awe was left by the end of the night. This year was no exception as the UPenn dinner last night left me with more than I could have possibly ever hoped to take from the event.
 
Beginning with our meet up at the El Cerrito Plaza BART Station, I was already anxious to attend this incredible event. After, all those whom were traveling in our party we grouped together for a few brief words of advice from Don. Although a lot of these had become embedded into my nature after participation with the ILC last year, the advice made me reflect on the significant change in myself over the past year and a half. Once everyone had been informed over the small details of the night, we boarded our BART train and set out for the night.
 
On board the train, I had the pleasure on getting to know Linda Cohen, one of the members that selected me for my second year aboard the Ivy League Connection. She regaled me of stories of her husband who had served as a part of the United Nations. It was amazing to hear her speak and in reality it was very inspirational. She had visited so many places around the world and it was  astonishing to believe that there is still so much I have yet to experience. She described how she, from the age of 16, had fully decided on the major she desired to follow. This is something I found quite remarkable considering the statistics about how many college students end up changing their majors. It really made me think about the major I have grown fond of ( Pre-Law) and if in reality the fervent passion I have developed for it will result in my true destiny.
 
After the roughly forty minute train ride and a few blocks of walking in the city, we finally arrived at our destination for the night, Kuleto's. After reading up a little about this lavish restaurant, I came across a discovery that made me see a link between it and the ILC. Kuleto's is a restaurant that serve Northern Italian cuisine, however it is unique in that it adds an American twist to it. This parallels essentially with one of the ambitions of the ILC, to integrate students from our school districts with cultures from around the world and to have them influence us so we can influence others. On a different note, the food was amazing and it was incredible to actually witness the unique blend of cultures that rested on my plate every course. Personally I am a fan of Italian food, but I do not recall ever having tasted it with such a incomparable American twist to it. It was a marvelous culmination of flavors and textures that tingled across my taste buds with each bite.  
 
Going back to the actual course of the night; upon our arrival, we were given a while to walk around and mingle with a few of the other guest whom had already arrived. Among the expected guests were both alumni from UPenn and current undergraduate students. I was able to meet an alumni who gave me invaluable information about majoring in Law. He gave me advice on how to be accepted to a Law school and which classes would be of greater benefit to me. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this individual was that he was a Political Science major as well as a Philosophy major.
The layout for the dinner.
 
Once everything was ready, we all took our seats in order to begin the event. I was fortunate to be seated near two current undergraduate students from UPenn who had actually not only attended my school district but were also alumni of the ILC as well. After a while, opening remarks were initiated by Ms. Madeline Kronenberg. Her speech really set the tone for the night and truly made me feel even more proud to be a participant of the ILC. After brief introductions from everyone we moved on to the speakers that represented our cohort, Julia Shebek and Donna Fang. Both did an incredible job and I commend them for their eloquence and representation of the gratitude our cohort felt.
 
Next up were closing remarks by Mr. Charles Ramsey, and perhaps one the most inspirational, moving and impacting speeches I have ever heard in my entire life. I feel that out of the entire night, Mr. Ramsey's speech was not only the most motivational but also the most enlightening. Very few times have I ever been impacted so immensely by someone's words, but that speech most definitely falls under the very few unique speeches that have instilled upon me a desire to change who I am. One of the greatest things I take from Mr. Ramsey's speech is the quote "never settle for second, always strive for first". This phrase was truly inspiring and not only did it reflect on our academics but also life in general. It was empowering to hear him speak, to an extent where I cannot even put to words the grand affect his speech had on me. I felt a powerful desire to be better, to strive for greatness and to take what I achieve and to use it to thank everyone who helped me obtain it.
Congregating with undergraduates
During dinner, I learned a lot about the atmosphere of UPenn from the two undergraduate students I was seated next to. Both of them gave an more personal opinion over their experiences and I found it bit more relatable to hear from a person who had followed the same path as I am. It truly is impressive to me to see the effects the ILC can have on students. Before me stood two crowning examples of the type of person the ILC develops, an individual who takes the time out of their busy lives for one night to educate and inspire the young minds of tomorrow. It really helped me comprehend the true meaning of community behind the ILC.
 
After a mixture of conversations and an superb meal, it was time to head back  and conclude. Speaking from my own perspective, I truly feel that that night changed my life for the better. Never once had I been so inspired by so many individuals in the span of one evening. I learned more than I could have learned from anywhere else. Hearing the stories of alumni and undergraduates increased my excitement for this summer. Being that this will be my very last year with the ILC, I plan to make the most of it and can only hope that this month will go by quick so that I can once again embark on a unforgettable journey.

UPenn Cohort with Undergrads and Alumni

A Penn-tastic Dinner!

Delicious Filet Mignon!

Yesterday was the University of Pennsylvania dinner at Kuletos! The food was delicious such as the filet mignon and salad we had! It was so hard to pull myself away from my food and talk with others. Still, the atmosphere was ripe for conversation and I enjoyed talking with University of Pennsylvania alumni and current students.
 


For example, I met a current student named Roger who was a rising sophomore. What was interesting about Roger was that he was a former member of the Ivy League Connection program attending the Yale Grand Strategies program in 2012. His story was kind of similar to my story in that we both didn't even think about going to a college outside of California until learning about the Ivy League program. After the Ivy League trip, Roger decided to apply to University of Pennsylvania and in his words, got in by "luck" even though he seemed like an intelligent and kind person. 
UPenn Dinner Greet and Meet
Another alumni that I met was Beth Topor. She is the East Bay representative for the University of Pennsylvania and organizes interviews for the college at coffee shops. She was full of wisdom and helpful insight when I asked her what were her most memorable interviews. She responded by saying that the people she remembered the most were those who had the initiative to utilize their resources when there was no one to prod them to fulfill their passions and desires. They were examples of carpe diem as they seized whatever opportunities they can find on their way. This reminded me of what Phil Schlein, another University  of Pennsylvania alum, said during the dinner. He reminded all of us to pursue what we love and have a passion for instead of being forced to fulfill dreams that are not our own dreams. What wise words!

Me Conversing With Lucy
 It was sad leaving all the people I had met such as Beth, Roger, Phil Schlein, and Lucy Li. Lucy Li is a rising sophomore and friend of Roger who is currently majoring in biochemistry. What also made it kind of sad was that it was the last Ivy League Connection dinner with Charles Ramsey as a school board member. But this sadness soon faded away with a dangerous escalator hiccup that abruptly stopped the escalator. Luckily no one was hurt, but it was still pretty scary to experience that.

Former, Current, and Future Penn Attendees

In conclusion, I had a fun experience in meeting other University of Pennsylvania students and alums while also getting a taste of what Pennsylvania will be like in the summer. I can't wait to go to Pennsylvania in July! But while learning more about others, I was also reminded to learn more about myself and where my passions really lie. What a thought provoking and fascinating dinner!

Penntrées at Kuleto's

I’m going to exercise extreme understatement now and say that the dinner at Kuleto’s in San Francisco tonight was pretty cool. (And I apologize for the terrible pun in the title. I had planned to use Cooleto's as my title, but Donna had a similar idea and had that for her blog draft title. I didn't want to steal it.)

We met at BART before the dinner; the cohort would be going to San Francisco together. The students and parents (and some of the alumni and special guests to the dinner) stood in a circle under the BART station as we waited for people to arrive. It was strange to see Don wearing a suit; Don’s aloha shirts had started to seem like as much of an identifier for Don as his glasses were. He gave us the usual “do this, don’t do that,” about this ILC event, which was obviously necessary since he said some of the “don’t” things (like following the person before you into the station instead of scanning your Clipper card) had happened frequently. I got a chance to talk to a Penn student named Roger, whom I would later sit with at my table, and I learned that he had participated in the Yale program with the ILC.

On BART, I sat next to Julia Mason, who seemed terrified of speaking at the dinner. She told me (perhaps in an effort to calm her nerves) that she had heard that in public speaking, only about seven percent of a presentation is what you say. Since most of what people remember about a speech is apparently in your body language and voice, Julia joked that she might just end up saying random vegetable words, but making sure she had a good delivery.  I gave the example of ending a passionate sentence with the word “rutabaga” instead of “thank you,” and during the rest of the BART ride we said the word so often that she sincerely feared that “rutabaga” would somehow find its way into her speech. 

All of us started walking from BART to the restaurant together, but when we were about a block away, the group was split at a crossing light, so my part of the group (which had to wait for the light) entered behind the first part. Mr. Hillyer was waiting outside Kuleto’s for us, and he told me to follow the people in front of me. Donna, the person who was closest to me (the one I would follow), was still pretty far away and always seemed to be ducking around a corner just as I made the last turn. It felt a bit like a movie chase scene. But, fortunately, I found my way to the room where the dinner would be held (I could imagine how embarrassing it would be to have to call Don and tell him that I had gotten lost in the restaurant!).

We mingled for a short while after reaching the room while Mr. Ramsey laid out the seating cards, and I found myself having a conversation with three other members of my cohort. That is, until Don came over and told us that we should probably go hunt down some alumni to talk to.

We ended up finding three: Phil, Tom, and Beth. The three of them kept the conversation flowing with details about the campus and the academics. I mentioned taking a course at Brown last year, and Phil gave a helpful comparison of Penn and Brown. They entertained us with stories from their years at Penn until Don shouted to get our attention, then quietly announced that we could take our seats.

I was seated at a table with two current Penn students named Alex and Roger, Mr. Hillyer, my mom, and Bryan Moran and his mom. Alex had been a part of the ILC in high school and was now a rising junior with rising hair (it was about as long as mine and straight up in all directions), a communications major who would minor in photography. Roger, who will be a sophomore next year, was leaning towards an environmental science major (at least, I think he said environmental science…sorry, Roger!). We made brief introductions around the table, but soon a glass was tapped and the conversations stopped. Don moved around the room flashing pictures as the students, alumni, and special guests were asked to stand and introduce themselves. I had to stand twice, because I sat down before I was asked what program I did last year.

A blur of speeches followed, and each one was interesting and, even though they must have been improvised, many of them could have easily been written before. They were structured and well-phrased, and each person who stood to say a few words brought new ideas for the group to consider. And yes, I do mean everyone. Donna and Julia seriously kicked butt up there. I’m sure it must have been incredibly nerve-wracking to stand in front of a group of people who were paying attention to everything they had to say, and it was probably difficult to stay focused with Don snapping pictures of them while they spoke, but somehow they completely pulled it off. (Great job, guys!)

It wasn’t until the later people spoke that I realized that I needed to hurry up and finish my appetizer; I had been so distracted by the excellent speeches that I had barely eaten, while most of the people at my table had almost cleared their plates.

Soon, dinner arrived, and the filet mignon was amazing. I had to remind myself not to pay too much attention to it. The dinner was about learning about Penn, not about learning what on earth they put in the edible masterpiece that had been placed in front of me. While we ate, I got a better chance to talk to the Penn students at my table. I asked Roger more about Penn; for example, I asked how he ended up deciding that he wanted to study there. I also learned that Alex and I both did Speech and Debate, and that Roger and I had had the same volleyball coach (even though we went to different high schools).

We took a group photo and had dessert, and then it was time to leave. We made our way back to BART and rode home. I had expected my blog to end the moment after I said, "It was nice meeting you," to Roger as we left him behind on the BART train. 

This is a sort of artsy San Francisco picture I took as we were walking towards BART.
But the night did not end there, and the blog will not end there either. We made our way down to the platform, and as we stood on the escalator, it lurched to a sudden stop, throwing all of us forward. We were all extremely surprised, but I don't think anyone was badly hurt. After a moment of confusion, we all marched down the now stationary steps. We returned the Clipper cards to Don, said goodbye, and separated. 

Tonight was amazing. I learned more about Penn and Philadelphia from the conversations I had with the alumni, and I feel more confident and prepared to go to the East Coast. I am so excited about this program. The month I'll have to sit through before I go to Penn is feeling like an eternityI can't wait.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Night of Gratitude and Appreciation

I have never attended a School Board meeting before, so being at LaVonya Dejan Middle School today was a truly valuable experience. Once all the members of the Penn cohort arrived, we were ready to go. Mr. Hillyer took us aside to give us instructions on how to present ourselves in front of the Board. As we waited for the meeting to begin, a kind parent approached our cohort. In addition to congratulating our group for our acceptance, he gave us a bit of advice on seizing this opportunity and making the most out of it. His generous words were a great start to my first time at a Board meeting. 

It was a pleasure to listen to all the speeches of the other groups as they each presented themselves in front of the Board. Most of the speeches made by the students were about how the ILC would affect them by giving them the chance to visit prestigious schools that were out of state. They also shared how they plan on giving back to their peers and community after they return from their memorable experience given by the ILC. 

A few chaperones talked about the many aspects of improvement that they've seen at their school because of the Ivy League Connection. Their words really hit me with a sense of pride and gratitude for I feel so blessed to be part of this incredible program. 
Julia, as she undermines other people's speeches
Finally stepping up to present ourselves in front of the Board members was a thrilling experience as all the cameras in the room were pointed at our group, broadcasting us on television. I felt so honored to walk with my cohort as we held the flag of the University of Pennsylvania, but I was even more proud of the speakers who represented our UPenn group. Props to Mr. Hillyer and Julia Shebek for delivering such amazing speeches! 

Don took a bunch of pro pictures that included a group photo and that marked the end of the meeting for us.

Gwennie abandoned us for her Intel International Science Fair
On my way out of the building to join the meet-up with Mr. Hillyer and the cohort's parents, I bumped into one of the old security guards from my middle school: Pinole Middle. He recognized me and seemed so excited and proud that I was a part of the Ivy League Connection. Seeing a familiar face from a few years ago made me realize how much I have grown as a person. I can't wait to fully experience the program's effect on my personal growth this summer. 

Many thanks to Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Don Gosney, the School Board, the benefactors, and everyone else who helped make this happen for all of us. I will now be looking forward to our UPenn dinner at Kuleto's



Another Step of the Journey

Today marked another milestone on the road to our departure date for the University of Pennsylvania...  the School Board Meeting.
 At Lavonya Dejean Middle School, all members of the ILC congregated together to present ourselves to the School Board. It was the first time I had had the pleasure of meeting everyone who would be participating this year in the Ivy League Connection. Also, as I had yet to have been given the opportunity to meet the other members of my cohort, I was finally able to introduce myself and learn a bit as to who I will be spending the greater of my summer with. After meeting all but one of them, I can positively say that I am excited for what this summer holds.
 
Prior to the initiation of the session, our chaperone met with us to discuss various aspects of our trip that he had previously not mentioned before. While he was speaking I found myself being infused with excitement at the thought of being able to bask in the glory that is the East Coast for yet another summer. To some it may seem like nothing grand, but to me, it is an extravagant experience. The shift in lifestyle is incredible compared to the one that the Bay Area possess. I can only describe it as being part of an entirely different world simply waiting to be explored.
 
To begin the meeting, we heard testimonials from two alumni of the ILC. Among them was Leonard Eisen, a student I have personally grown to know very well. As he attends my school, he essentially served as my inspiration my sophomore year to apply to the ILC program. He introduced me to the incredible and unique opportunity the ILC presents to students of my district. If it were not for him, I would have never mustered enough confidence and motivation in myself to have taken the first step in applying. I owe the success and experiences I have had with this program in large portion to him and I am truly grateful for everything he has taught me. I one day hope to follow in his footsteps and inspire other young students to join this outstanding program like he did for me.
 
After these testimonials, we were all introduced, by order of school, to the School Board and to all those who were present. Among the shower of applauses, I had a flashback to last year when I also stood in that very position. It is remarkable how much one year has changed me from the you sophomore I was last year to the soon-to-be senior that stood before everyone today. Even I am in awe at how much the ILC has altered me, not only in terms of my academic potential and goals, but also on a more personal level. Before I used to be very shy, but the ILC infused me with vast amounts of confidence that has allowed me to conquer any obstacle placed in my path.
Presenting before the School Board
When every cohort had gone up and had been praised by all those in attendance, the meeting went to a recess in order to take the very famous group photo that includes all members of the ILC as well as one parent, the chaperones, and members of the School Board. Considering the large attention to detail in these photos, I always find it remarkable how Don is able to align so many individuals so that they coordinate themselves into proper positioning in order to create a very remarkable looking photo that anyone would feel proud to be included in.
 
At the end of this photo session, we were then taken aside by our chaperone whom introduced himself to our parents and gave everyone a basic back story over himself. He gave a brief overview of what we could expect to do prior to the beginning of the program and where we were planning to visit. To me this reminded me of how major movie producers release teaser trailers before the premier of a major motion picture premier. The intent is to create a large anticipation, and that is exactly the feeling that was evoked in me when my chaperone was discussing the basic details of our trip. After a few brief discussions with other parents and a cohort photo, we all said our goodbyes with everyone looking forward to our next event. 

UPenn Cohort of 2014
Personally I am very fond of this event out of the various mandatory events that are found in the ILC for multiple reasons. For one, I enjoy being able to meet everyone who has been selected to be a part of the program for this year. This is one of the very few times when all members congregate together and we are able to introduce ourselves. Secondly I like this event because it serves as a time to of reflection. Receiving praise for being accepted is great but this event is truly about the recognition of everyone who makes this program possible. As stated by an older gentleman who approached my cohort before the beginning of the event and gave us a bit of advice, "this is a once in a life time opportunity that no other school district gives its students." His comments made me sincerely feel gracious to not only Ms. Kronenburg, Mr. Ramsey and Don but to every benefactor who is behind making this opportunity plausible. I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am to everyone who puts in the time to the Ivy League Connection program.



Waving the Flag at the School Board Meeting

Today, Wednesday the 14th of May, 2014, was an auspicious day for the UPenn cohort. Not only did many of us take the AP test for US history today, it was also the glorious day that all ILC students attended the West Contra Costa Unified School District Board Meeting. Here is what happened, in meticulous detail: I arrived after an uneventful car ride that was tragically lacking in British accents, and chatted with my friends and members of the cohort. Then our chaperone Mr. Hilyer talked to the cohort, providing us with more details of the trip, such as the importance of bringing power strips and electric fans. (I've heard a lot now about the sweltering east coast summer we are going to enjoy. But really, it can't possibly be THAT bad. ...Can it?) 
The cohort with our banner. 

The Ivy League Connection was one of the first items on the School Board Agenda, and as the meeting proceded each cohort was introduced and the chaperone and a student representative from each cohort gave a brief speech. I really enjoyed hearing from other ILC participants about how their participation in the ILC had affected them personally. Everyone who spoke was eloquent and passionate. Our speaker was Julia Shebek and her speech was excellent. Do not let her humility deceive you! Julia's speech was stirring and poignant. Seriously though Julia, good speech! My only job, it should be noted, was to hold part of the UPenn banner, walk about ten feet in a vaguely dignified manner, and smile. Not to toot my own horn, but I think my performance was outstanding, especially in the flag/banner holding department. I expect a promotion any day now to chief executive flag/banner holder.

After all the cohorts had been introduced, the herd of ILCers migrated in an efficient and orderly fashion to the back of the room where Don took many pictures and no one blinked or moved their heads at all. When the picture taking was finished, we all received certificates, and then reconvened outside the school.
The UPenn cohort with our certificates
Even though we got to leave, the School Board had to stay and work late. Since the ILC took up one of the 18 pages of the school board's agenda, at that rate the meeting would last for 36 hours. Therefore, on behalf of everyone in the ILC, I would like to express my gratitude to the School Board not only for doing all the important work that school boards have to do, but also for your patience in letting us all hijack your meeting for nigh on two hours. I would also like to thank the community in general for your support, and the benefactors in particular for making the ILC possible.

The Other 41 ILC Members in the Same Building

The Incomplete Penn Cohort with Bryan Sporting a Halo
Today was the ILC board meeting! It was held at the LaVonya Jean Middle School which was quite nice and modern. The whole thing was televised deviating from the normal board meeting as it included all 7 groups of ILCers going off. I felt bad that the board members had to wait for 2 hours, but I think they appreciated the gratitude expressed by the ILCers. 




So what actually happened in the board meeting? Well, a lot. To begin  with, the meeting started off with the introduction of some of the board members such as Mr. Charles Ramsey who presided over the meeting. Next, it was time for the ILC members to come up to the stage where the chaperone from each group described what their cohort was doing and what colleges they would visit on their ILC trip. It was pretty interesting to hear about the different classes other kids would take such as Hotel Management or Special Topics in Math. However, I still think that I'm taking the best class the ILC has to offer with the Experimental Physics Academy  at the University of Pennsylvania with physics, roller coasters, and astronomy all wrapped up in one class! Anyways, after the chaperone introduced the names of their cohort, a representative from each group addressed the board members and expressed their thanks for the ILC program. Not to be biased again, but I think the Penn cohort had the best speaker, Julia Shebek. She was profuse in her gratitude towards the ILC members and yet her speech was succinct and concise in addressing how she and her other cohort members felt about this once-in-a-lifetime trip. 
Not Bad, Don For a Quick Photo!
At the end, with much prodding from Don, everyone got together for a group photo with like 100 shots. Even though Gwennie was unfortunately not here today as she was at the Intel International Science Fair, I trust in Don's photographic skills to Photoshop her in there. I mean look at this photo Don provided. Though it's a rough draft, it still looks pretty good. All in all, today was a time where I could bond with my fellow cohort members and with other ILC members that are going on the same journey as I am. This meeting was thoroughly surprising!

Not a Bored Meeting

Today, after taking my exhausting AP U.S. History test, I outlined my speech (Don had decided that I would be representing my cohort and delivering a speech to the school board) on a notecard and made my way over to the board meeting. I insisted on practicing my speech in the car, using an a memorization technique my theater teacher had taught me of rehearsing in different voices. I was still incredibly nervous about the speech, but at least my mom was entertained by my British accent. 

The board meeting was held here

Arriving early, as is expected, I stood and chatted with the other ILCers while the board members held their closed session. Mr. Hillyer brought us outside to talk more about Penn (there seems to be no shortage of things to say about the program, each more interesting as we go). We were fortunate to have the agenda rearranged so that we were the first part of the meeting. The first four cohorts presented, each speech equally intimidating to my scrawny one.



By the time we reached the Penn group, my notecard had been flipped and fumbled with in every possible way as I had sat in my seat. Mr. Hillyer talked about the Penn program, introduced us to the board, and had me stand at the podium.

My heart stopped. This was the most important moment of my life.

No, I’m just kidding. But I did have to fight off nerves. Even though I love acting, public speaking is a little bit different, because you’re performing as yourself. I started my speech, struggling to find the right place to speak into the microphone, and trying to forget that this was on local television (being watched by hundreds of—tens of—okay, probably one viewer, my dad, who was sick at home). I managed to work my way through the speech trying my best to disguise my nerves. I still stuttered and my hands shook, but I think I did all right. 

The WCCUSD School Board

In comparison to the other speeches, I tend to describe it as “pathetic” and “weak,” while my mother takes a more optimistic attitude with adjectives like “lean” and “efficient.”

Nice try, mom. 

My mom assures me that my very brief speech was actually appreciated by the crowd, which had been listening to the ILC's many introductions. The rest of the presentations went smoothly, and Don went on to take photos of the group. Oyin and I joked about the picture while Don set us up in rows—we were reminded to smile, not to blink, not to look away from the camera, not to move, not to breathe…okay, we were allowed to breathe. But we all became statues for a few minutes as Don snapped pictures of us. Afterwards, we received some neat little certificates, and Mr. Hillyer finally got to meet our parents outside. We took a few pictures, and headed home.

The board meeting is one of the milestone events for the ILC while we're still on the West Coast, and getting to know the other members of my cohort and learning more about the program is really exciting. I'm very happy to be a part of this program and extremely proud to be going with this group of amazing people.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

5 Students, a Teacher, and a Pizza Place

Excitement ran through me as I discovered I would make my epic return to the glorious city of Philadelphia for another year of work with the Ivy League Connection.  As luck would have it, I would be working side by side for another year with Don Gosney, who holds the fort down better than anyone and is a constant pleasure to work with.  The University of Pennsylvania is one of my favorite schools that I have visited and worked with due to its location on the edge of the urban metropolis, and ability of their school to get back emails to the teachers (You would be surprised how hard it can be to communicate with some schools!).  The WCCUSD also currently has 2 alumni students attending the school, one of which is a former AP student of mine, Roger Pharn.  I knew that I had a ton of information and ideas I wanted to share with my cohort and as soon as Don gave the green light to meet with the students I set up a nice little dinner on the edge of Berkeley where the best pizza is served.

The students arrived on time, even Donna waited for an hour before to make sure she was on time.  The importance of punctuality is crucial in becoming a young professional so these kids had it done perfectly.  Bryan was absent from the evening due to a previous engagement he could not get away from.  We ordered our food and proceeded to wait 40 minutes (because its deep dish!) and dived into the ILC program.  We started by introducing ourselves and the kids instantly started a great rapport with me and with each other.  They were able to share some funny and interesting items with each other that make them unique and slowly their personalities came out.

Some of the items I explained included acting professionally, our agenda for the trip (the first 5 days are a whirlwind as we will be going from DC, to NY to Philadelphia in a short amount of time), what to expect when on the east coast and of course, how to deal with home-sickness.  Personally I have been on long trips away from home so we talked about how to deal with new places and new people.  The philosophy of the ILC was brought up so that the students understand just what they are getting themselves into.  The district is attempting to broaden the choices for our students outside of California while at the same time providing them with some of the best educational opportunities in the world.  The hope is that these students will return to their neighborhoods after graduating to help our community continue to develop.  It is a lot of pressure to put on these kids, but its not a bad thing to ask a lot from them, and nothing they can't handle.

We completed our meal and following some more questions and follow up I successfully overwhelmed the students and gave them lots to think about.  We are all looking forward to the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday where we will present our 'Awesomeness' to the community of Richmond and West Contra Costa.  Each event brings us a step closer to Philadelphia and I am excited :)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bonding Over Pizza

After what had seemed like an unbearable wait, I was finally able to meet my UPenn cohorts along with our chaperone, Mr. Hillyer! We started off by introducing ourselves with a small icebreaker where we shared our name, school, the program we're attending, our favorite class, and an unusual talent or fun fact. From having a talent for climbing, to being able to eat ice cream incredibly quickly, Julia S. and Julia M. from the Social Justice program left quite a fascinating impression. It was also very exciting to see some old faces from the Physics interview.

Deep dish pepperoni and cheese pizza
Although the food was appetizing, Mr. Hillyer's words of Pennsylvania captivated me more than the cheesy deep dish pizzas did. With an informative conversation about our plans for our summer adventure, Mr. Hillyer gave us an overview of our agenda for the trip along with a lengthy description of UPenn. After finding out that most of my cohorts had already visited the East Coast before, I started to realize how exciting and new this summer experience would be for me. Mr. Hillyer described Penn to be very "Californian" and informed us about how it would be a great place to adapt to–especially if we have never been to the East Coast before. 


Talking about the trip was exciting but I was equally as eager to learn all about my cohort members and our chaperone. As a jock, but nerd at heart, Mr. Hillyer shared with us about how he became involved with the Ivy League Connection and gave us a few tips on becoming the ultimate ILCer. As somewhat of a book fanatic, he suggested that we go to the bookstore next door while we waited for our rides after the dinner. It was the perfect way to end the evening.

Hearing all about the places that we would visit such as Washington D.C., New York University, and the Liberty Bell felt like such a dream. I was wrong to think that I couldn't possibly be more excited to take part of this opportunity. 

After a wonderful dinner with wonderful people, there is no other group that I would rather be with as I set forth on this memorable journey.