Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Final Blog

Once in a while, you have an experience that surprises you and changes your life. The ILC is predictable in giving students that experience, year after year. Over the past few days, I've had time to reflect on my time as a part of the Ivy League Connection, and it's mind-blowing that everything I've learned and everything I've done has all come from a few wonderful people in one school district in California. For the amazing gift they've given me and scores of other WCCUSD students, I'd like to thank Charles Ramsey, Madeleine Kronenberg, and Don Gosney.

This summer started with a few emails from Don about applications and essay prompts and ended with a hug from my parents at the airport.

My Social Justice essay took too long to perfect (I could nitpick punctuation for an eternity) and the interview blew by, then the applicants were stuck in a room with our hearts in our throats while we prayed for our names to be called. You'd think that after letting me in to Women and Leadership last year, the ILC would know better, but I was extremely lucky; the ILC handed me another scholarship, this time to Penn. We sped through the dinner, the tutorial, the school board meeting, and the orientation, and after about a billion and a half emails from Don (written, proofread, and set in ALL CAPS and bright red with care), we were on a plane together, ready for it all to begin. We had a preview of what makes each college unique from all of the college visits before the class started, and once it did, we were as ready as we could be to learn. 

Each day of Social Justice was a different collection of stories told by a few new people (I often found myself wondering, "Where the heck does Andy find these people? Where can I find them?") who shared pieces of their lives with us. I can't remember a single bad day, and I can't choose one best lesson, because it was the combination of all of them together that really made Andy's class so special. It's hard to say how Social Justice has changed me. I'm looking at the world through a different lens and trying to stay aware of my privilege. I hope to be a voice for the voiceless, now, on a small scale, and in the future, on a larger scale. 

The ILC has given me an unforgettable experience and a set of lessons that will last a lifetime. To everyone who made this possible, thank you. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

And So It Ends...

The first time I became cognizant of the ILC and the opportunities the organization offered was early last fall when I was herded into the ECHS theatre along with many of my peers, and Don told us about what the ILC was and what it offered us. I had been aware of the ILC's existence in my sophomore year because many of my friends were participants and upon their return, they had been doing great things for our school. I was inspired by the actions of ILC alumni and their vehement endorsements of the program, and I wanted to become involved in the program myself. 

From the moment I learned about the various courses offered by the ILC, the Social Justice Research Academy was always my first choice. I agonized over my application essays and checked my email constantly to see if I'd gotten an interview or not. Then, one day at school Other Julia accosted me on the way to class with the news that I'd got an interview! (Spoiler: we both got in.) I prepared for my interview as much as I could, pestering my friends for advice and practicing my delivery with my patient, long-suffering parents. At last interview day arrived. I barely ate at all I was so nervous. When the panel announced that I was among the people they accepted, I stayed cool and composed, until the second I made it to the parking lot, where I was struck by the need to do an interpretive dance of joy. 

The various pre-trip events, tutorials and School Board meetings flew by. I tried to absorb as much information as I could for fear of inciting the wrath of evil Don. Up until then, the dinner with UPenn alumni in San Francisco was the fanciest venue I had ever been to. 

All at once, it came time for our journey to begin. I was so excited (and groggy) at two in the morning on June 30th, when my father woke me up and drove me to El Cerrito High School, where I met up with the rest of the cohort. The next week passed in a blur. I loved everything about the East Coast. College tours and sightseeing blended together. I had so much fun on our night time monument tour in Washington DC, geeking out in the Smithsonian, and touring Georgetown's campus. Our cohort had so much fun along the way. (I will always feel a pang of sentimentality when I think of our youthful exploits, like "Spoonhenge" and Other Julia's brilliant interpretation of the squirrels at Penn.)

The three weeks I spent at Penn were some of the most intellectually challenging and exciting times of my life. I felt so privileged to be a part of the SJRA. My teachers were amazing, the activities thought provoking, and my peers equally passionate about social justice. The experience as a whole was incomparable. The class challenged me in more ways than I expected. I didn't think I could become more of a radical, but thanks to the SJRA, I did.

I loved everything about the SJRA, from Professor Andy's golden retriever, (whose name is Emma Goldman, yes, that Emma Goldman,) to weekend discussions of Hegel and Zizek.

My time at Penn changed me more than I could have imagined. I knew that this would be a formative experience but I had no idea how much I would be affected by my time at Penn. When I think back on my experiences I am filled with gratitude to all the people who made this trip possible. Over the course of the last four weeks I learned many valuable new skills, but none of it would have been possible without help from people every step of the way. Now that I am home, I am determined to put the things I learned to use in my own community.

Carpe Diem

Somehow, at the end of everything, there is a way to love every moment, and there is a way to be sad about it. There's a time for tears and a time for hugs, but this time is for neither. This time is for thought. 

I still remember the night of my interview. The nerve-wracking walk towards El Cerrito High School and the long wait for our turns to impress the panelists. I had previously applied to the DNA Biotechnology program at Brown University, but I was not even chosen for an interview. So I still remember the pulses of anxiety running through me and the voice in my head, telling me that it was my one last shot for this opportunity. But better yet, I remember this feeling of a burden being lifted from inside of me once I sat down at the end of the interview table and faced the panelists. Every bit of worry and anxiousness escaped, as I realized how privileged I was to be in the presence of these amazing individuals who were dedicating their time to listen in on all that I had to say. I dropped all my "preparations" and doubts, and just spoke. However as the interview prolonged, the nervousness began to build back up again, and my confidence was slipping away. It wasn't only because of my fear of not getting accepted into the ILC, but also the fear that all my efforts put in towards this program was in vain. After everyone was finished with their interviews, the moment of truth was coming near. I gathered with the others as we all waited for the panelists to finish making their decisions, and began to converse with each other without all the pressure and tension. We struck up some of the most interesting conversations about school, physics, and math, while supporting each other when a few of us brought up their own interview experience. And it was in at that moment where my respect for these individuals grew even more. We each shared a common goal, and no matter who actually reached it, I was glad that they were among our group. 

The wait, which seemed like an eternity, finally came to an end. And when Don announced my name, it felt as if time froze. I was still waiting for Don to say that he made a mistake, when I realized that this was real. It was not a dream, but rather more of a dream come true. Not only did I feel like the luckiest person in the world, but I also felt privileged to be a part of this remarkable program. 

Following the never-ending excitement over the prospect of leaving for the East Coast for the summer, was the actual application to the Penn summer program, Don's countless e-mails, and the ILC events such as dinners, orientation, and tutorials. Each event, big or small, was a stepping stone in our journey, and held great value towards our preparation for the trip. When summer had finally arrived, my excitement for UPenn could not get any larger. I busied myself by taking a Film Analysis summer class at my school, and attempted a physics "crash course" by studying off a few physics books  to prepare for Penn. But sooner than expected, our departure day for the East Coast arrived, and I found myself sitting on a plane, headed for Washington D.C., with a big fat smile on my face.
First week of being in the East Coast
Arriving in the East Coast was like landing in a whole new world--a recurring pattern of foreign buildings, unfamiliar people, and different surroundings everywhere I looked. Although having to adapt in such a new environment may sound incredibly frightening, it actually felt more exciting. Because there I was. In a place where no one knew me and I knew no one. A place where I was truly independent and can be absolutely anyone that I wanted to be. 

From the moment that we stepped foot off of the plane, we were busy--day and night--with exploring the East Coast, fancy dinners with university alumni and representatives, and college tours. One of the most valuable experiences that I brought back from this summer trip was our first week of college tours, where we visited Georgetown, UPenn, NYU, Columbia, and Princeton. Being able to physically be on the college campus provided a much better experience than simply fantasizing about "schools that might be right for me". Questions such as "Where should I go to college?" became "Where do I see myself in two years?"

"What kind of environment do I see myself thriving, growing, and learning in?" 

"Would I want my college to be strictly academics?"

"Or would extracurriculars and student life be a huge factor as well?"

After only a few days of informational sessions and college tours, my view on college choices completely changed. UC Berkeley and UCLA were the only colleges that I was interested in before the ILC. But now, I realize that I know nothing about UC Berkeley or UCLA. I know nothing about the student life. I'm not even sure whether they're good colleges for whatever I plan on majoring in. Instead of considering schools solely based off of their reputation, I've noticed that there are far more qualities in a school that I have only just begun to look at.
Group picture on Moving Day into the dorms!
My three weeks at UPenn held the best days of my life. There was never a day when I would wake up feeling unmotivated or tired. How could I be? When I knew that there would be amazing physics lectures to look forward to each day? Being a part of the Experimental Physics Academy (also known as EPRA) granted me the experience of a lifetime. Bill, Craig, and Mary, my wonderful instructors, emphasized the objective to learn in class, rather than just remembering material to pass tests and get decent grades. Perhaps the greatest feeling that I have experienced out of my 3-week exposure to college life was walking into class each morning to a group of students who were passionate about what they were learning. There were no complaints nor boredom, only attentive and interested faces, as Bill, Mary, and Craig delivered their lectures. Learning physics at Penn was so much more different than my physics class at my high school. My classmates were different and the instructors in EPRA were much more well-rounded and enthusiastic. The lab material and physics curriculum was also very advanced compared to my high school's, but that only pushed me to work harder and learn more. It was no surprise when I found myself with such an expanded knowledge of physics by the end of the program, since it felt as if I learned more in a week in UPenn, than I did in a whole semester at my school! Our instructors not only taught us physics, but how to think like a physicist and a scientist, as well. "Never accept the answer; formulate more questions." This new method of viewing things impacted me in a larger span than just in a physics class. It also provided me a better outlook on life by encouraging me to become more open-minded and radical.
Physics Academy > Your Academy
Amazing friends at Penn
One of the most influential milestones before our departure was the fancy Penn dinner in San Francisco. It was the first time that I was able to speak with alums from UPenn, and I found myself learning so much more about the college experience, major differences between UCs and Ivy League Universities, and most importantly, about UPenn. Tom, one of the alums that I talked to at the dinner, shared quite a lot of information and provided plenty of insight about the school. However, one particular part of our conversation stuck with me the most while I was at Penn. I had asked him what he liked most about the university, and without a second thought, he said: the people. My three weeks at UPenn made me understand exactly what he meant. The students in the program were so diverse and unique in every way. I found the most fascinating and intriguing people that I have ever met, who I quickly bonded and created a tight friendship with. 

Being at Penn was never "all work and no play", since the program always had numerous activities available for us. I was able to get a full "taste" of the East Coast, on our trip to New York! Believe it or not, this trip was very meaningful to me, since it actually helped me narrow down where I would like to go for college. Although being in New York and Times Square was fun, the environment was too hectic for me. My preferences for my college setting are urban areas, and Penn and New York both displayed urban atmospheres. However, I began to notice more of the differences between the two. Realizing that I may never fully grow accustomed to the busy surroundings of a place like New York, I was able to confirm that a setting like Penn is what I am most suited for.

My Physics Lab Group!
I did not know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing to not feel any homesickness whatsoever during my stay in the East Coast. I was able to enjoy my time at UPenn without the constant longing for family, a larger shower, or a comfortable bed. On the other hand, I knew that I was bracing myself for the backlash of leaving this wonderful place I called home. I would be readjusting my lifestyle, from guaranteed exciting days of mind-blowing Physics lectures and endless amounts of fun school activities to……….a normal life. Ordinary. Boring, even. But now, after these few days of reflection and thought, I realize that I did not come back from the East Coast to the once bland life I was accustomed to. Instead, my eyes are now open to so many more possibilities. There is so much more that I have yet to learn in this world. So much more to achieve and discover. And so much to share with my classmates and peers in my community. 

I knew from the very beginning that this opportunity was going to change my life, but in no way was I prepared for its full effect. I fell in love with Penn. I fell in love with the environment, the class, and the people. I fell in love with the East Coast. During the course of 3-weeks, I was able to have the experience of a lifetime. This would not have been possible without Don Gosney, Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, the sponsors, panelists, and everyone who helped make the Ivy League Connection possible. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, but words can not even begin to express my full gratitude. The results of your hard work has impacted the students in our community in such a great way--past, present, and future. The ILC has completely turned my life around, and even that, is an understatement. I would also like to extend my thanks to the EPRA instructors: Bill, Mary, and Craig, for being such supportive, passionate, and inspirational people. And last but not least, I would like to thank Mr. Hillyer for being the best chaperone in the world, and for your upholding optimism and encouragement throughout the trip.

I felt myself arrive back to the Bay Area as a different person. The reserved piece of me is gone, and is replaced by an extroverted and much more confident side. However, I soon realized that I did not change the person that I was--only discovered who I really am. I remember how I had worked hard for my acceptance into the ILC program in hopes of proving to others that I am someone. Only now do I realize that the only person that I had to prove to, was myself. 
Last group photo: marking the end of this summer journey
This summer at Penn is an experience that I will never forget. I feel like I've been split into two. One part of me will always lie in the East Coast, while the other is here, waiting to be reunited with its other half. 

Carpe Diem
Seize the day
Seize the moment