Friday, May 30, 2014

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.

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