Wednesday, July 30, 2014

From Past to Present and Beyond

I look back and find it hard to believe how large of an impact the Ivy League Connection has had on my life. For two years now I have been a part of it, and I still find it very difficult to articulate into mere words how much my life has changed because of this program. Compared to two years ago, I now classify myself as a changed person. I feel as though I am much more outgoing and confident. Making new friendships or even something as simple as talking to a stranger is something I am more comfortable doing. I have learned that collective thinking, in addition to independent learning, is the best way to achieve a common goal or overcome any obstacle. The Ivy League Connection has opened my eyes to a world greater than that of my community and has expanded my academic horizons beyond anything I could have ever imagined possible. Two years ago, I would have never been able to imagine the change I have undergone and how much I have grown as a person to create who I am today.  

Even now, I find it remarkable how fast time can pass without one truly taking note of it. It seems as though it were only yesterday when I anxiously sat in a classroom at El Cerrito High School, awaiting the final decision from the panelists on who had been accepted for the Social Justice program at the University of Pennsylvania. I remember how nervous I was as the names were slowly read out loud and the sense of relief I felt throughout my entire body as my name was read. It was a dream come true and I could not even begin to put into words the excitement that coursed through me in that moment. This was all thanks to the panelists, who had just handed me the opportunity of a life time and whom I could not even begin to express to, how grateful I was. Upon leaving the building and heading home I instantly began to imagine the adventures that were in store for me on the East Coast.

The work, however, in no way halted there. Being selected by the panelists was only the beginning of a long line of other required events that came with being a part of the ILC. The months that led up to our departure date tested my dedication and my determination in being a part of the program. Among the first of the events was the School Board meeting, which introduced me to the numerous people I would be representing while I would be on the East Coast. Being a part of the ILC meant that I was now an official ambassador for everyone in my school district; a big responsibility which I was determined to accomplish to the best off my abilities. Next on that list was the dinner in San Francisco, which gave me a deeper taste of what I could expect while at UPenn by allowing me to meet alumni and current students. Everyone there was eager to pass on their experiences going from high school to college, and how they had been greatly impacted by the UPenn lifestyle. Last on that list was the orientation session, the final event separating me from the departure date. It was where all ILCers for the 2014 season gathered together and were given final briefings over what we were about to see on the East Coast and what was going to be expected of us while over there.

Every event that I partook in only elevated my excitement for the summer and made me long for the months separating us to turn into days. However, as the saying goes, "be careful what you wish for", as quickly those months became into weeks, then into days, then into hours. Before I was fully able to be aware, I was standing in front of El Cerrito High School, bright and early at around 3:30 AM, waiting for the shuttle that would take us to the airport. I remember that day distinctly as it was the day when I realized all the work I had put in over the months prior, had paid off, and now I was about to collect my reward in the form of an unbelievable opportunity to spend the summer on the East Coast.

College Tours

During our first week while on the East Coast, our time was primarily dedicated to college tours. Among the schools we visited were Georgetown University, Columbia University, NYU, Princeton and of course UPenn. Being a rising senior, these tours were an invaluable opportunity to do a bit of research on the schools I would most likely desire to apply to. Before departing, I told myself that I wanted to establish a list of schools that I wanted to apply to when my time came in the coming months. Being able to visit these schools, rather than reading about the through a computer screen gave me that exact opportunity. I was able to fully immerse myself in the environment of each school, and I often found myself attempting to pretend to be an undergraduate student merely heading from class to class. This was another plus of visiting these schools first hand. It gave me the opportunity to see if each school fit who I was and whether or not I could imagine myself attending. In addition to just the tours, we sat through informational sessions for each of these schools (except Princeton because it was closed due to the holiday weekend). This provided me with a lot more information about the logistics of each of the schools, and gave me a sense as to what kind of student each one was looking for. It allowed me to reflect upon myself and see whether or not I was a match for their criteria. In truth, after the first week, I had felt stumped, because each school appeared amazing to me.
Various pictures from our various college tours!
More pictures from our college tours!
 Social Justice Research Academy
A few inspirational figures from SJRA
The official name of the program I attended was the Social Justice Research Academy. However many of the students began calling it SJRA for short. I can not even place into words what this course did for me. Out of every class I have taken in my academic career, this one by far was the most impacting and revolutionary for me. Never before have I taken a class that has caused me to not only change my perspective on the world I live in, but also change my outlook on who I am. The primary reason for this was my professor, Andrew Lamas, although he urged all the students to call him Andy from day 1. On our first day of class, he began by explaining that everyone in the class was a teacher and that over the course of the three weeks, we would teach and learn from each other. His goal was always to transcend the traditional framework for teaching, which usually customarily involved a teacher spewing vast amounts of information at students hoping they retain bits and pieces of it. In order to accomplish this goal, he made the class more interactive. Among his methods for this goal were bringing in numerous guest speakers, field trips that would allow us to assess in more depth what we were learning about, and a host of group discussions where we could all express our ideas and opinions freely. I felt very comfortable in this style of teaching as it allowed me a lot more liberty to express what I believed without fear of being laughed at or shut down by the teacher. Moreover, it allowed me a new way of learning material, as opposed to the traditional method of a teacher giving instructions. I learned from my peers, I learned from the books we read and the movies we watched, and I also learned from the environments where we would take field trips. One of the most important aspects of the class that truly enhanced my experience there were the other individuals who through the course of the three weeks I went from calling my classmates to my SJRA family. As everyone came from different backgrounds, each offered a wide array of ideas and perspectives that greatly made me question my own perspectives. However, the characteristic I most greatly enjoyed was that everyone was very accepting of contradictory ideas. New ideas were always welcomed and ideas that were different from our own were respected at all times. Another key point about SJRA were the optional events that occurred in the evenings. While I tried to attend as many as I possibly could, I was unable to attend all of them. However, focusing on the ones I did attend, they were all life changing. Each one made me think of the world in a different way, and I learned that everything must be viewed through multiple perspectives. For example, one evening the issue of American aid to underdeveloped countries was brought up, which sparked the debate concerning the definition of "underdeveloped" and whose perspective it belonged to. Throughout the class we covered a variety of topics similar to that, which instigated a wide array of debates concerning the issue. What astounded me the most is that in the end, there was never a right or wrong answer as we are sometimes led to believe. Among the most prominent of these debates was capitalism, mass media, and politics. Each debate was consistently led by students which inspired others to join in until the whole class was involved in the discussions. Overall, I contribute the change I have undergone this past summer to my experiences in SJRA. Not only has it taught me a lot about myself but it has inspired me to "be the change I wish to see in the world".
SJRA Family!!!
 Residential Coordinator/ RC Group
Among the parts of my experience at UPenn that truly influenced me was my RC and my RC group. My RC's name was Jordan Gaither and from day one he was set on differentiating our group from every other. From day one, he was able to make 12 complete strangers into close friends and from there we only became closer. My RC was probably one of the most inspirational figures I met while on this trip. He was very philosophical and passionate about literature. He had even published his own poetry book called, "Poets Elixr" which really surprised me considering he was only 23 years old. Throughout the course of the three weeks, he became our older brother and our role model. On one occasion, as an RC group, we had decided to all go on one of the excursions for laser tag. Being that at that point we had all grown very close together, we all formed one team with our RC as the team captain. In both matches we emerged victorious because of our coordination and communication as a group. Our RC later told us that the unity we had displayed had been truly inspirational to him and that he was proud of how far we had come. In addition, my RC group had a profound influence on me. From our first day we became friends very quickly and soon we had developed a system for around our schedules so we could always spend time hanging out. Out of the twelve of us in our group, five were a part of SJRA, five were in the Biomedical Research Academy, and two were in the Physics program. At the end of each day or over dinner, we would usually spent a bit of time discussing what we each had learned in class. I felt that compared to the RC group I had last year, the one from this year was much more united in the sense that we stuck by each other for almost everything. If someone was sick we each volunteered to bring them food or anything they needed; if someone was stressed we all did something fun in order to take their mind off of whatever was troubling them. This strong unity is what kept me, in a sense, from feeling to nostalgic because it allowed me to have that sense of support I would get at home. Through the course of the three weeks, we went from strangers to friends and ultimately to brothers. Although many of us are now thousands of miles apart, we still constantly check up on one another and continue to act as brothers, which is a quality I hope will continue long into the future.
My amazing RC group
Columbia to UPenn

Being that this was my second year as part of the ILC, I have had the wondrous opportunity of attending two highly prestigious schools, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Often when I told someone about my experiences at Columbia, they would ask me a common question: "which one do you like better". For some this question might be very easy, however for me it is a very difficult question to answer. I chose to attend Columbia last summer because I was greatly interested in the course, Constitutional Law. For a long time I had had my mind set on desiring to become a lawyer, and even now this dream lives on strongly within me. However, my decision for desiring to attend the Social Justice program at UPenn came from a more personal perspective as I wanted to learn more about the social issues that exist not only in my community or country, but those on an international scope as well. When attempting to decided which school I liked best, I could easily argue in terms of logistics (amenities, friends, campus) but the way I view the question is, which one impacted you the most. The answer to that question is much more difficult for me as each school has left a lasting influence on me in different ways. Each has allowed me to grow as a person and has developed a new form of intellectuality in my mind. I see the world in ways I could have never imagined possible for a teenager growing up in a small community in the Bay Area. In addition, I am also asked how Constitutional Law could be related to a course based on Social Justice. For me, the answer to that is quite simple. At Columbia I learned lot of the legalities associated with common social issues that made their way up to the Supreme Court and why the justices ruled in a certain way, however at UPenn I was able to delve a lot deeper into the social issues and understand a lot more about the different points of view that surround them. In my opinion, both courses constitute two of my personal characteristics. I still have strong dreams of seeking a profession associated with Law, but I also want to be an activist for social change. I want to  be a catalyst for social change and reform the society we live in through Law.


For two years now the ILC has been my gateway to a distant world. It has allowed me to expand my horizons far beyond anything I could have imagined. It has taught me more about myself than even I was aware of.  Before my first participation with the ILC, I was a shy and very introverted person. My greatest displeasure was public speaking and having to talk to new people. However, through my time with the ILC I have become much more extroverted and social. I am no longer afraid to walk in front of a crowd and speak my mind. I no longer fear having to meet new people or make conversation with complete strangers. The ILC has changed my life dramatically, especially in my outlook towards colleges. For a long time, I had my eyes set on attending school within the university system of California because that was the mainstream ideology of college. Anyone who believed otherwise was normally struck down by being told of the miniscule possibilities of ever being admitted. For that reason I never once could have pictured the reality of what existed beyond. The ILC has allowed me to realize one crucial detail about Ivy League and East Coast schools in general, they do not seek perfection. Nobody is perfect, and schools look for students that they feel will best fit their campus, which is not necessarily manifested in whoever possess the highest grades or has attended the most prestigious high schools. Before the ILC, I could never envision myself ever standing a chance of being admitted into a prestigious school outside of California, however I have come to learn that your background does not matter. Your ethnicity, socio-economic status or even beliefs do not hinder your ability to be able to attend a good university. What matters most of all is the dedication and the determination you place in everything you do. Everything I have learned through the ILC has truly revolutionized my life. I cannot even begin to express how thankful I am to everyone who allows this program to function. Don, Ms. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey surpass the abilities of any individual I have ever met and put in so much work and time to allow this program to prosper. I am truly amazed at the success it has in impacting the lives of students because I am honestly one of the students it has greatly changed. I must extend my gratitude to my chaperone, Mr. Hillyer, who not only spent the majority of his summer guiding us through our experiences at UPenn but served as an inspirational figure. Everything I have learned from my time with the ILC will stay with me forever and I am proud to say that my life will never be the same because of it. Although this is my last year participating in the ILC as a high school student, I stay true to saying that was consistently mentioned on our last day of SJRA, "this is not the end, but rather it is only the beginning!"
The end of our UPenn journey


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