Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Short and To the Point

The School board meeting this year was surprisingly short. Don anticipated the meeting to be over around 8:00 to 8:30 PM but instead it ended around 7:30 PM making this blog substantially short.

My day began by going through the motions of school. At the end of the academic day, Jackie and I walked to my house to get ready for the school board meeting that was going to take place at 6:00 PM in De jean Middle School. We took our time since it was too early to head to the meeting.

Friendly faces
Once it was time, my father accompanied us to the event. We still got there very early so we decided to go outside for some fresh air and to kill sometime. When we went back in the multipurpose room, many of our fellow ILCers had gotten there. Jackie and I quickly spotted Aimee and headed over to say hi.While we were talking about our day, I saw my cohort gather so I headed over to exchange greetings.

When the meeting started we proceeded to seat in the from because we were going up first. Mr. Hillyer sat on the second row and gave us a small talk about the presentation. When we went up, Mr. Hillyer talked about who he was and what universities we are going to visit before our class starts then turned it over to Chris, who was standing next to him. Chris expressed how grateful we all are for the opportunities to expand our horizons through the Ivy League Connection. 

After his small speech we sat back down and waited for the other cohorts to go up. The last one to go up was the Vanderbilt cohort for which Edward was speaking. Thanks to Ms.Kronenberg we got to finish our presentations early and as a result  got home in time to finish our school work.

After the meeting it was time for pictures! Don had set up a stage out in the courtyard for our group picture. I sat on the second row behind the guys. After what seemed like a thousand pictures, Don was satisfied and it was time to go home. 

I enjoyed the meeting because it wasn't too long like last time. It made me realize that we are on the verge of going off to Pennsylvania to pursue greater knowledge to ma
ke our lives and community better.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Presenting The Future

DeJean's Logo
It was 5:25 PM when my mom and I arrived at Lavonya DeJean Middle School in Richmond. Both she and I had to be there for the West Contra Costa Unified School District Board Meeting no later than 6:00 PM in the school's multi purpose room. I was dressed in my black semi-sheer blouse, tan dress pants, navy blue cardigan and my black flats with my hair in a high ponytail ready to go. Whenever I'm early to something, I get excited and feel as if a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, leaving me stress-free. I grabbed my teal matte portable charger and exited my mom's dirty, white 2006 Town & Country van. 

Since I was early, I decided to do some exploring of the campus. DeJean Middle School is fairly large for a middle school but is inconveniently built in front of BART tracks. I can only imagine how annoying that must be hearing the loud sound of the train passing by while you're in class learning or while trying to take a test. 

All of the front gates were locked, so I went around to the side where I found doors that opened to the multi purpose room. I walked back to the car, dragging my mom along to the entrance.

I opened one of the double doors, letting my mom in first. I turned around, checking if there was anyone else behind me and I saw Allonna and her mom walking up the sidewalk toward the multi purpose room. Holding the door open for both of them as they walked in, I said "hi" and wished Allonna a happy birthday. Attending a Board meeting is some way to spend a birthday. 

Inside Lavonya DeJean's multi-purpose room.
Allonna and I spotted Don in a gray button up working at a table in the back of the room; we greeted him eagerly. He informed us that the meeting wouldn't be starting until around 6:40 PM so we had a lot of time still on our hands.

Allonna had a smart idea to take pictures of the place as we waited for the time to pass by and the rest of our cohort to appear.

While we were taking shots of our surroundings, Diana had arrived. She was dressed in her black and gold flats, black slacks and blazer with a tan and black polka dot top. The last of our cohort to arrive, pointed out by Allonna, was Chris. He was outfitted smoothly in his black suit, red tie, white button-up, and square-tip loafers while checking in near the front with his mom. We all chatted for a bit before making our way to our reserved fold-up seats near the front of the room. Sooner than we knew it, the meeting's agenda began.

Diana and I
Thanks to Don working his magic, he was able to have us moved up to the first on the agenda preventing us from being out too late. I was relieved; I was still exhausted from the Town Hall dinner the previous night. 

The first cohort announced to present to the Board was, my cohort: The University of Pennsylvania. They called up John's name to introduce us. He walked to the podium with all smiles signaling us to follow him. As we rose from our seats, I felt confident knowing that we're being supported and being up there with my amazing cohort. We all grew comfortable and friendly with each other so fast, it's amazing. John gave an introduction of each of us, telling the board and the audience who we are, our grade level, and the high school we're currently attending. He also stated what program we'll be studying at Penn as well as the other university site visits we will be touring - Georgetown University in Washington DC, Colombia University in New York City, and of course, The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. 

It was now Chris's turn to give his speech representing our cohort. He made a lovely speech, thanking Don and Mrs. Kronenberg for the opportunity and founding the Ivy League Connection because without them, none of it would be possible. He also shared how enthusiastic all of us were to be going to Penn to the Social Justice Research Academy and how we will come back blossomed from where we first came in. Listening to Chris present drew a smile on my face because everything he was saying spoke for all of us. I was more than happy just thinking about what our future has to bring to us. The Ivy League Connection is genuinely a one-of-a kind program that we're so blessed to have and the opportunity to be a part of. I know the process of our month long expedition will spark a change in all of us for the better and we're going to take advantage of this. 

The five of us, including John, still holding our grins, made our way back to our seats as the audience applauded for our cohort. We all respectfully listened to each cohort present themselves and discuss the future of their journey. It was satisfying hearing how appreciative everyone is for the programs they're going to, giving the ILC a stronger purpose for its existence than it already has. 

John, Diana, Me and Mike
Once the last cohort, Cornell, finished closing their final words, we all walked together outside to take an annual group picture enforced by Don. Don had specific instructions of how we would be placed in the picture. We ladies were instructed to sit on the long, wooden bench covered by a pink set of tablecloths. Four of us were required to stand in the center right behind the bench because there were so many of us. The five guys sat with their legs crossed centered on the floor. Our parents and chaperones filled in the spaces in the back standing behind all of us. Taking photos of all of us smiling and with our eyes open was a difficult job to do, which is why Don took 26 shots of the entire group to ensure he got at least one good quality image. 

When Don dismissed us, we were allowed to leave. My close friend, Diana Valle, and I decided to stay for a bit and take some pictures of our own. We gave her dad and my mom our phones to capture us together. Since my mom is nowhere near tech-savvy, even though all she had to do is hold the phone and press the white, circular button at the bottom. She gave my phone to Diana's dad instead to get some pictures on my phone. Diana had spotted her chaperone for Cornell, Mike, and asked him to take a picture with us. I called John over as well so we would have both of them in our picture. Diana's dad took around 20 pictures in total; satisfied, we thanked our chaperones for joining us and split up from there. 

Ending the evening on a good note, my mom and I left, saying good-bye to everyone then headed to the car, where my older sister was waiting. I had an enjoyable evening and am even more anxious for Philly.  

An Intersection of ILC Journeys

The Ivy League Connection presentation at the WCCUSD Board of Education Meeting took place at 6:00 at Lovonya Dejean Middle School in Richmond on May 25th, just a night after my cohort's formal dinner with sponsors and alums. Fortunately for me, it happened to be on a Wednesday, so I got out of school at 2:09 instead of the normal 3:09, providing me with more time to get prepared. I was still apprehensive about delivering a speech in front of the Board, as well as a sizable audience, so I decided to review the main topics I needed to mention a few times more. I had considered writing a full transcript of a speech, but after the last few speeches I had made, I didn't think I would be able to use a podium and believed it might make my delivery more mechanical, so I opted not to write a speech, a decision I would continue to question and eventually come to regret. For the second consecutive night, I was expected to dress in formal attire, so once again, I donned my black suit, complete with a white button-up and solid red tie.
Inside the multipurpose room at Lovonya Dejean Middle School, featuring Diana Valle and Shuxin Zhou.
I departed my house with my parents at about 5:30 PM to ensure I arrived there before 6:00 PM, but when we neared the school, the streets were already packed with cars. We managed to maneuver our way through the crowd of vehicles and attendees as we approached the multipurpose room, where the meeting was being held. Once we entered, we were warmly welcomed by two women sitting at a small table, who then proceeded to ask me whether I would be speaking that night. Rather confused, I responded in the affirmative, to which they replied by handing me a small sheet of paper while instructing me to fill it out so that I could speak in front of the board. I finished the form and headed towards the far back corner of the room, where my fellow ILCers were congregated. The first person along my path was Alice Johnson, who I had met from the University of Chicago ILC interviews. She congratulated me on being selected to the University of Pennsylvania cohort as we discussed our ILC journeys so far. We concluded our conversation just as I noticed the rest of my cohort approaching, each with a broad smile across her face.

From right to left: Diana, Kamillah, Allonna, and me
I returned the gesture with my own smile, inwardly marveling at how quickly we had become comfortable with one another as we greeted each other. As we discussed our upcoming journey excitedly, Don approached with a UPenn banner while informing me that I had wrongly filled out the form, as my speaking time had already been included in the ILC segment and that he had taken care of it. However, my embarrassment subsided mere moments later, when Allonna brilliantly suggested we take a picture with the banner, which we all readily agreed to. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hillyer arrived, greeting us with a big smile. He asked me if I was ready for my speech, to which I responded that I hadn't written a whole speech, but he and my cohort members reassured me that I would do fine. He then informed me that we would be the first cohort presented, as if the prospect of delivering a speech in front of a large audience wasn't daunting enough without also establishing the precedent for the other speakers.

We then migrated towards our seats at the front of the room as board members began to arrive, among them the familiar faces of Mrs. Kronenberg and Ms. Liz Block, who I recognized from the dinner the previous night. As we waited in our seats, the room slowly filled and the rest of the board took their seats. Finally, the meeting commenced. After the mandatory introductory remarks were made, Mrs. Kronenberg moved to have the ILC segment moved first, to which the board consented. As promised, our cohort was first. We stood, carrying the banner, and walked next to the podiums as Mr. Hillyer stepped in front of one and began to speak. He introduced each of us, with only minor confusion when Kamillah and Allonna had to switch spots, before welcoming me to the podium.

I let the edge of the banner I was holding drop as I approached the microphone amid the clapping, but my focus was on the main points I needed to cover, drowning out everything else. My voice boomed through the ensuing silence, resonating throughout the room as I began my speech. Speaking for my cohort, I thanked the board, the sponsors of the ILC, the community, as well as Don and Mrs. Kronenberg for founding such an amazing program. I proceeded to talk about how excited we all were for the upcoming trip and its significance to us. I concluded my speech by stating how we would use our experience to advance my speech before expressing our gratitude once more.

Polite applause and congratulations from my cohort followed me as we headed back to our seats, but in my mind, I was already critiquing my speech and reflecting upon my mistakes and shortcomings, drawing upon my dissatisfaction to note improvements to make for the future. I resigned myself to the fact that it was done and acquiesced that I could no longer do anything about my speech, but regret insinuated itself into my mind as others delivered their written speeches, which sounded far better. Finally, after the last cohort had concluded, Arnold Dimas, a Millennium Gates Scholar, who I already knew from being on the Youth Leadership Committee of Richmond together, stepped up the microphone and began his speech. He looked directly at us ILCers as he emphasized how this program had changed his life. He told us how he had not been selected to the first ILC program he tried to get into, but that he had persisted and become a two-time ILCer. His words helped me to realize that failures aren't necessarily an indicator of future success and that my underwhelming speech wouldn't weigh me down on the rest of my journey.
Families and chaperones with the ILCers.
After his speech, we all headed outside to take pictures, where Don began arranging us in a very particular order. I and my fellow male ILCers received the position of sitting on the floor, which I can't honestly say was very comfortable. Don proceeded to take numerous photos to ensure everyone had their eyes open and their mouths contorted into at least semblances of smiles. I found it rather ironic that Don, the backbone of the ILC, was not pictured with us, so I decided to get a picture that does include him.
Actually pictured this time: Don
Afterwards, I looked for Arnold to congratulate him on his Millennium Gates Scholarship. I found him talking to Jacqueline, who was also with us in the YLC. He greeted me enthusiastically with congratulations on my selection to the UPenn cohort. We had a brief conversation, and as it approached its end, he proffered me his hand, which I shook before he gave me a brotherly hug. He offered to help me with my college applications and encouraged me to have fun during the summer and in my senior year while I wished him good luck at UCLA and in the future.

In a way, the Board Meeting was an intersection of our ILC journeys. As his dwindles further into the distance and he begins a new chapter in his life, mine is still rapidly approaching. It was also a reminder of how grateful we should be to be part of such an illustrious program and to know the other amazing people involved in it. After that night, I have newfound appreciation to have such a great cohort, to know a real one man army like Don, and to have the support of an inspirational figure like Arnold.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Meet, Talk, Eat, Sleep

University of Pennsylvania Flag
Stressing out over my routinely late mom,  like always, I couldn't help almost crying. The cohort and one of each of our parents had to meet at El Cerrito Plaza BART Station no later than 5:10 PM for our evening dinner with some of the sponsors, chaperones, and alumni from the University of Pennsylvania at Town Hall restaurant in San Francisco. It was 4:00 PM and I was still at my high school from when it ended at 3:09 PM, still needing to change into my formal attire. I was utterly terrified of being late and the risk of losing my scholarship to the university. I thought to myself, "You really had to do this out of all days? This is my future and the dinner is my gateway to so much more opportunities. I can't be late to this." As I was about to call John and Don, my mom finally appeared with my sister in the car ready to be dropped off. 

We easily dumped my sister at one of her friends' house and swiftly carried on our journey to the BART station. Looking at my iPhone 5s for the time only made me stress out even more. I put my phone down and on the charger before it died and gave me an annoying headache stressing over the time. To save me some time, I decided to switch into my blouse and put my slacks over my leggings carefully in the back of the car while my mom was driving. To my surprise, the time we arrived to the station was 4:34 PM. We were the first to arrive other than Don. I was more than relieved seeing the time; I don't even want to imagine what the inconvenience of me being late could have cost everyone.

My mom and I walked over to the station from the parking lot and greeted Don. He was pleased to see us early. It was cold outside in El Cerrito; I was shivering waiting on the rest of the party to find their way to the right station. As time passed by everyone began coming one after the other. Once all of my cohort and chaperones arrived Don gave us a spiel about public transportation, clipper cards, escalator courtesy, and how satisfied he was on our punctuality. At first I thought that it was unnecessary to go over these things it seemed like common sense, but then I remembered Don only goes over past mistakes and potential problems. Throughout the informative speech the rest of the people had appeared: Lisa Romero (Pinole Valley High senior, attending UPENN in the fall), Jun Zhou (Pinole Valley High graduate, attended Experimental Physics program at Penn as a part of the ILC and is currently at UC Berkeley), Alex Elms (Pinole Valley High Graduate and recent graduate from Penn), Mrs. Kronenberg (Co-Founder of ILC), and her husband, Mr. Kronenberg (alumnus from Dartmouth College and Colombia Law School). Don ended the speech just as the final person, John Hillyer, had arrived. We headed through thee automatic gates of the BART station and went up the escalator to the platform."

On the San Francisco train, I had sat next to Diana's older sister, Karen Ramirez. She told me about her experience coming from El Salvador six years ago and her life at Contra Costa Community College. She's majoring in Social Welfare and is transferring to UC Berkeley soon. She gave me some advice to stay involved within my school because it will help me further down the road showing me things that I may be interested in pursuing a career in; it shows me what I like and I dislike  making it easier to settle on my career. Karen had shared how proud she was of my cohort for going so far to attend the University of Pennsylvania over the summer; there was a true reason we all made it so we should take advantage of it. As the train pulled into Embarcadero BART Station, I thanked Karen for sharing her experiences and for the advice because I know it will assist me to continue striving. We all stepped off the train and continued to the escalator until we were on the streets of the city.
Town Hall Restaurant in San Francisco

The walk to Town Hall was close by from where we got off; It was just a few blocks away. The streets of San Francisco was beautiful and busy as always. There were a lot of construction work in the process as we were walking to Town Hall which probably caused the sewage odor lingering in the city air. We soon approached Town Hall leaving that repulsive smell behind us. The restaurant itself was small on the outside, but once you step in it's far from small. All that you see from where you first walk in is a patio with many lights along the borderline of the "ceiling" and "wall" and multiple waiters setting up a long, white table with around 24 chairs placed throughout the sides of it. That table is where Don, my cohort, UPENN alumnus, and sponsors were dining at. There were large heaters that hung above the tables for when the weather turned cool. The inside of restaurant had three floors where people had private reservations and where the bathroom was located. The main level stretched down and around the corner filled with a large abundance of people. It was hard to tell where the end of it was. 
Inside of Town Hall 1st Floor

Most of us had come to the restaurant earlier than from when our reservation was set for. We had a good amount of time to kill so we all began getting to know each other and asked questions for our sponsors and alumni from Penn to get a better feel of what it's like being there and learning more about themselves. We barely started talking to John, when Allonna randomly fainted. I was extremely confused and concerned as she started losing her balance and then collapsed against the hardwood floor. Her mom and John came to her side quickly, ensuring her safety. We took a few minutes watching her from a distance, giving her some space. Don took the alarming situation and turned the spotlight onto the sponsors and alumni giving Allonna and her mom some privacy as well as the opportunity for the rest of the cohort to get to know them better.

Distracting us from Allonna, Chris, Diana, and I began talking to Ms. Topor, Ms. Morris, and Ms. Andrea. Ms. Topor and Ms. Andrea both are alumnae from Penn while Ms. Morris is an alumna from UC Berkeley. They all told us about their experiences at their schools and how they felt about it. They decided to attend those schools because they felt as if it was meant for them to go there. Ms. Morris was amazed at Berkeley. She came from a small town in Southern California so the transition into Berkeley was different; she loved it. Ms.Andrea had a great time at Penn. The environment and the community is diverse and there's so much to do. 
Table Set Up

Don announced it was time for dinner, so we ended our conversations and went to find our name tags showing our designated assigned seats. I had thought to find my set earlier while I was taking pictures of the restaurant to save me some time later on. My mom was sitting to my right and Diana to my left. In front of me was Mr. Mahendra Prasad, left of him was my fellow Forensics member, Lisa Romero, and to his right was Ms. Liz Block. We all stood up and gave brief introductions about ourselves; some gave longer ones sharing a more detailed background. Getting up, my clumsy self accidentally fell back down before fully standing making me feel slightly uncomfortable when I introduced myself. Diana gave a pleasant speech thanking everyone for our opportunity and excitement of our future plans being in the East Coast as well as her past experience the previous year at Brown University for Women & Leadership in the ILC. 

Dinner Menu
The menu included French roll bread with butter, biscuits with a spicy-sweet jam spread, salad with fetta cheese, walnuts, and romaine lettuce, grilled mixed vegetables, asparagus garnished in bread crumbs, prime rib, and deep fried chicken, with a dessert of chocolate and sea salt caramel fudge brownies. As the food had came one by one, we all were engaged in conversation, but still managed to multi-task eating as well. Ms. Block is a graduate from Duke University, where she majored in psychology. She is also a part of the West Contra Costa School Board. Mahendra graduated Penn in 2004 and had a memorable experience. He's originally from Memphis, Tennessee and lived on a farm. As he was discussing his past experiences, he emphasized with his honest and wise words that accomplishments and awards are a side effect of your hard work; you need to focus on the process instead of the end result. After hearing that, I started self-reflecting and told myself to keep reminding myself that from here on and throughout my future. I will forever keep that saying with me thanks to Mr. Prasad; thank you. 

I had excused myself to use the unnecessarily far restroom on the second floor of Town Hall. I came back in the middle of hearing Don's closing speech. I felt embarrassed interrupting him from speaking, but thankfully no one really seemed to notice. I thought I had come near the beginning of his speech but it turned out to be near the end. I was ashamed missing a generous part of it thinking to myself, "I knew I shouldn't have drank that much water." We finished up the night with a picture in front of a boulder next to Town Hall; it was the cohort holding the flag of UPENN and alumni of Penn with our supporting sponsors right behind us. We all headed back on the train soon after, feeling tired and full. That night is a night that I will never forget.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Inspired to Aspire

The Town Hall restaurant in San Francisco.
On the night of Tuesday, May 24th, my cohort and I had the pleasure of meeting some of the sponsors, alums, parents, and School Board members at the Penn Dinner at Town Hall in San Francisco. Once again, it was the company present that made the night so memorable, although the food was fantastic as well. Despite my typically reserved nature, I felt at ease talking to everyone, which is a testament to how amazing they all are. They were all friendly and seemed genuinely interested in conversing with me, making the socialization I usually find challenging an actually enjoyable experience. I had been anticipating the dinner with a mixture of anxiety and excitement, with the anxiety primarily stemming from the prospect of being in a formal atmosphere with some sponsors present, a thought that intimidated me. However, the worry was for naught, because as aforementioned, they were anything but intimidating, proving my anxiety absolutely unsubstantiated.

I did not mind the formal attire, however, as I like to dress smartly and appear presentable. Besides, I am perfectly comfortable in a suit, so dressing up was one of my last concerns. When I arrived at the El Cerrito Plaza station (Don made it abundantly clear that it was the Plaza station, not the Del Norte one), the last of my cohort but still on time, I nearly didn't recognize Don without his customary aloha shirt, shorts, and sandals (kidding, of course). He reinforced the rules for the dinner (while we were all shivering in the cold wind), which included the no phone policy and talking to people besides our fellow cohort members. The latter proved to be a stroke of genius, as I got the opportunity to talk to the interesting people present. Don also gave me the honor of carrying a cylindrical black tube, which I later found out contained our Penn banner. On the BART ride to San Francisco, I talked to Mr. Hillyer for a while about classes, particularly AP U.S. History, before meeting two of the former Penn ILCers, Jun Hui Zhou and Alex Elms, who both coincidentally happen to be from Pinole Valley as well. I asked them about their ILC experiences at Penn and talked to them about their college lives as well, as Alex just graduated from UPenn and Jun is attending UC Berkeley.

Upon arrival at the Embarcadero station in San Francisco, we got off the BART train and exited onto the street. Strangely enough, the weather was warmer in San Francisco than it had been in El Cerrito, although it was still cold. After walking several blocks, we arrived at the Town Hall restaurant. Don pointed out the magnificent boulder behind the restaurant that we would later be using as a backdrop for our photos. We then proceeded to enter the patio of the restaurant, where we would be dining later. However, we had arrived about 30 minutes early, so we socialized while the staff continued to set up the table. I was soon engaged in a conversation with Mrs. Madeline Kronenberg, who is one of the founders of the ILC, and her husband, Mr. Hale Kronenberg, a graduate of both Dartmouth College and Columbia Law School, albeit briefly, as my cohort members and I were called over to Don to ask us about which university we wanted to visit. Between the options of Georgetown and Emory, we decided that we would rather visit Georgetown, quickly resolving that matter. Mr. Hillyer then began to talk to us about the site visits as well as the speeches both Diana and I would be giving.
Further inside the restaurant. Photo Credit: Kamillah
As he was talking to us, in a shocking turn of events, Allonna fainted and fell to the floor, which was quite alarming, to put it mildly. As Mr. Hillyer and Allonna's mother, Mrs. Nordhavn, hunched over her, checking to make sure she was okay, the rest of us stood in a small crowd several feet away with bated breath, waiting to see or hear some indicator of her well-being. She regained consciousness shortly and was soon seated at the table, eating bread and drinking water, to everyone's great relief. This episode was by far the most interesting event of the night, and I'm certainly glad Allonna's alright.

To ease the tension that remained from the incident, Don introduced me, Kamillah, and Diana to some of the adults present in the room. I began to talk to Ms. Beth Topor, a Penn alum, and Ms. Mary Morris, an alum of UC Berkeley, about the respective experiences in colleges. Both found their respective universities to be a great fit and had interesting backstories to go with them. Ms. Topor actually transferred into UPenn from another college while Ms. Morris moved from Southern California and happened to find her perfect fit in UC Berkeley.
Our table.
Photo Credit: Kamillah

Shortly thereafter, everyone began to seat themselves, with each person finding his/her respective seat  at the table according to the name cards at each seat. Seated to my left was Kamillah's mother; mine was to my right. In front of me was Alex; to his right was Lisa Romero (I actually sit next to her in our AP Calculus class) and to his left was Ms. Topor. Before the dinner started, Mrs. Kronenberg, Diana, and Alex all delivered speeches, with Mrs. Kronenberg introducing us, Diana talking about our excitement for the upcoming trip, and Alex speaking about the powerful impression Penn left upon him. Throughout the meal, I conversed primarily with Alex and Lisa on a variety of topics, including his recommendations for restaurants to try, with Ms. Topor joining the conversation occasionally. The food itself was superb, consisting of items such as salad, biscuits and jam, prime rib, asparagus, fried chicken, and a chocolate fudge. The ambiance was actually fairly relaxed and socialization came surprisingly easily, contradicting my initial expectations, which made the dinner a much more pleasant experience.

After the dinner, Don delivered his speech about what the ILC is really about and how significantly it has been able to impact our community. We then proceeded to head outside to take pictures in front of the boulder before heading back to the BART station. As we boarded the train and it began to accelerate, Don's words continued to resonate in my head while I contemplated what he had said. As I observed each of the former ILCers, I recognized the aura of hope and confidence each of them radiated, qualities the ILC had instilled in them. 

I hope I too will be able to represent our community well on the East Coast as one of its ambassadors, just as they did. I also hope that I will be able to bring back the knowledge I acquire there to advance our community. I am so grateful to have been presented with this opportunity, as it becomes increasingly apparent how amazing this program truly is. These alums, who I had the honor to meet, embody the spirit of the program, as they inspire others to pursue excellence simply with their presence, a quality I hope to acquire through my experience with the ILC as well. I have immense respect and admiration for each of them, and after this dinner, I am inspired to aspire.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Excitement With a Side of Fudge

After a long morning of presenting at Hilltop mall, I was ready to once again meet with my cohort to have dinner at Town Hall Restaurant long various sponsors and UPenn alums. I didn't have to worry much about getting ready since I was already dressed. When I got home, I touched up my hair and was ready to head to the Bart station with my sister Karen.

We got to the BART station with time to spare. Kamillah, her mom and Don were already waiting when we got there. Soon after, Allonna arrived and then Chris with his mother. Don broke down the evening for us while some of the ILC alumni arrived to join us on the very windy spot. Don finished up his little seminar then we boarded the train headed towards San Francisco. I sat next to Lisa Romero and we talked about her excitement for her life at UPenn. We kept talking through the whole ride until it was our stop. We had arrived in San Francisco.

Entrance to Town Hall
We made our way onto street level and began our short walk to the Town Hall Restaurant. We arrived to the restaurant pretty early and got to mingle with everyone there. After the mingle session, Ms. Kronenberg, who is apart of the WCCCUSD school board, introduced the alumni, sponsors and us, the ILCers, to each other at the table. This lead into my small speech about ILC, what the opportunity means to me and my cohort and how it personally changed my life as a whole. Soon after the food, was served and we dug in. For the reputation of the restaurant the food was not what I expected. Liz Block and Mahendra Prasad were sitting across from me at the table and we talked through the whole dinner.

Liz went to Duke university and majored in psychology and Mahendra went to various different universities and is currently getting his phD  at UC Berkeley. Mahendra recommended a couple books to Kamillah and I about how to make the best transition from high school to college life. he also told us that during his high school years, he wasn't much of an academic but still got good scores on the SAT and ACT. Liz told us that she was a first-generation college student and had an amazing time at Duke. That struck me, because I will also be a first-generation college student along with my sister. Then all too soon, it was time for dessert.

With delicious fudge brownies by our side, Don gave one last speech. He summed up all of what ILC stands for and reminded all of us of the generosity that went into the scholarships we received. After we finished our amazing dessert, we stepped outside to take a photo with all alumni and all the ILCers by a huge boulder next to the restaurant ending our beautiful and splendid night.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Show of Support

The multipurpose room at Levonya Dejean, where we were presenting ourselves to the Board of Education

After an encouraging dining experience with the UPenn cohort the night before, I was enthusiastic about getting together with the Ivy League Connection as a whole for our school board presentation on May 25. I arrived with my mother to the site of the school board meeting a few minutes early, and watched as students from all across the district, but all beneficiaries of this incredible opportunity, filed in.

Parents, scholars, and facilitators mingling and preparing for the presentation
Our group looked notably different from the tutorial, having transitioned from leggings to slacks and hoodies to blazers. We were all eager to represent the ILC and our respective cohorts in the best way possible. As we waited for things to get started, we chatted about our experiences so far and how much we were looking forward to what was to come.

Once we had perfected how we were going to hold our flag, the UPenn cohort took our seats in the front row. Luckily, the agenda was adjusted so that we could get home early to complete our blogs and our homework. Now, ILC was the first item. And UPenn was first up. Mr. Hillyer and Chris did a great job of introducing us and expressing our gratitude at being a part of such a unique and important program. 

After the students and chaperons from every university were finished presenting, we all went outside to take a group picture. It took a minute for everyone to get into place and for Don to get enough shots so that there will hopefully be one where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling. We'll see how we look when the poster comes out.

I realized during the presentation just how lucky I am to go to school in a district that is actively attempting to create a college going culture and making it possible for students to learn about different schools and prepare for life after high school . It means a lot that not only does the Board of Education and the district in its entirety cooperate with the ILC and finance certain aspects of it, but they also want to see and hear from the students who they are helping. I appreciate the support that I could feel from everyone in the room during the presentation; it makes me much more confident going forward with this experience and even more determined to bring back what I learn to the community. 

Making Connections

On the evening of May 24, the UPenn cohort took a trip to San Francisco for dinner with a group of alumni from UPenn and the Ivy League Connection, school board members, parents, chaperons, facilitators, and sponsors of the program. The purpose of the gathering was to introduce us to a support network that we will be able to take advantage of throughout our time in the ILC and beyond. 

We ate on the beautiful outdoor patio at Town Hall Restaurant

For me, the night got off to an interesting start. After a BART ride into the city and a short walk to Town Hall Restaurant, where the dinner was held, I had mingled for a few minutes when I started to feel woozy. Before I knew it, I was on the floor, not having realized that I had fainted until I registered the sore spot where my head had bumped into the ground and the concerned faces of Mr. Hillyer and my mother hovering over me. There was no serious damage, but I had never fainted before in my life, and the experience was rather disorienting and embarrassing. On the bright side, it gave me a good story to tell (unfortunately for you all, but fortunately for me, Don did not get any footage of the fall).
A table setting with my name on it was carefully and beautifully prepared for me

Once I recovered, I quickly sprang back into action and began connecting with new arrivals. Within minutes, the value of these dinners became very clear to me. I was receiving so many bits of wisdom and advice from those who had attended prestigious universities and gone through the ILC process before. As we sat down to eat, I became aware of the community that I had become a part of, and I was very grateful. 

Throughout the meal, I continued to speak with my neighbors about what my summer on the East Coast would be like. Between bites of delicious fried chicken and salted caramel fudge, we discussed everything from weather to course load to prospective tourist destinations. I also shared what my hopes were for after I graduate. After some final words from Don and a group photo, I was sad to be heading home. As usual after an ILC event, I felt energized and ready-to-go, and I was disappointed when I realized that we still have over a month before we get to leave!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Building Bridges

On May 20, all of us attending The University of Pennsylvania met our chaperone, John Hillyer, for the first time. It was hard to believe that we were meeting him so soon. Time has been moving faster than a blink of an eye. It scared me but the thought of attending UPENN and going to the East Coast gave me a rush of excitement and curiosity outweighing my nerves. Our meeting place was at Zachary’s Chicago Pizza on Solano Avenue in Berkeley at 5:30 PM. Zachary’s is my all-time favorite pizza parlor. It has been at least six months since I have been at this welcoming, street-style restaurant. Hearing the news prior triggered flashbacks of all the mouth-watering deep-dish style pizzas they have and sent a wave of pleasant remembrance; I soon grew hungry and eager.

Don graciously offered to give me a ride to Zachary’s. I took his offer appreciatively; knowing how my mom is with time, I knew I would have been late. We arrived to the restaurant around 5:10 PM. To burn some time, Don and I cruised around Albany and Berkeley until it got closer to the meeting time. He showed me some of the million dollar houses in the residential areas. The neighborhood was peaceful and the houses were gorgeous. I cannot recall seeing such stunning homes before, it was slightly hard to believe people could afford to live there. I thought to myself, “I wonder what it would feel like living in such luxurious places like those.” The styles ranged from modern designed to old-fashioned one car garage homes or small one-story homes to massive two-story ones; I was left in awe.

As 5:30 PM drew near, Don swung by Zachary’s again to drop me off. By then I saw familiar figures of my UPENN cohorts – Allonna, Chris, and Diana – standing patiently communicating with one another in front of Zachary’s waiting for everyone else to arrive. I thanked Don for the nice mini tour and ride as I carefully got out his car. John walked up casually with his surprise guest, Liz Sanders. I didn’t recognize him as I first glanced at him, but as they came closer to us I realized who he was, answering my mental question of “Why is this tall man approaching us so casually like he knows who we are?” Soon after, we all headed inside of the famous pizza parlor.

Zachary's on Solano Avenue in Berkeley

Zachary’s is a small place, but can fit a reasonable amount of people. The waitress seated us near the door and politely handed us our menus. John, thinking strategically, advised we order our food first since it takes around forty-five minutes to make the pizza. The menu had so many scrumptious choices to choose from; making this decision was a challenging task that required extensive thought. We all agreed on what to order by the time the waitress came by to take our order. John confidently ordered for us the Barbecue Chicken deep dish pizza, the weekly special – “Za-Curry’s” Chicken Pizza, thin crust – and a small cheese pizza for Allonna with some healthy appetizers: Greek and Caesar salads suggested by Chris.

Chris and Me Sitting Near the Door
After ordering we all introduced ourselves and started speaking to one another, getting to know each other better. John shared with us that he is an AP US History at De Anza High School and attended school at Chico State. He began telling us about what the life is like on the East Coast, all the things that he’s experienced in the past with the ILC and college, some of the possible university visits, what we should expect while being there, and what he expects from us as our salads arrived. Some of the stories seemed to blow me away. For example, he was stuck at an airport in Texas for twenty-four hours with the past UPENN cohorts due to a massive storm. I can’t even imagine how terrifying or horrible that must have been. From all of his stories, I’m most interested to see other than all of the prestigious universities and marvelous traveling visits on the East Coast is “the Target of all 7/11’s” Wawa. I’ve heard of it in vlogs (video blogs) that I watched a few years ago from people on the East Coast. The way it’s described, it seems as if it’s a luxurious mini market that has a wide variety. When we come across one, I’m absolutely going to explore the inside and snag a delicious snack.

Liz is a current AP Literature teacher at De Anza High School. She also taught at El Cerrito High School for one year. She had attended undergrad school at Stanford and Graduate school at Columbia; she is also an alumni of Oxford University. She told us about her experiences at Stanford and Columbia stating how different the environments were. She enjoyed both schools but the city life was more for her. Astounded I was from the choice of schools she was enrolled at, I knew I wanted to attend schools as reputable as Stanford, Columbia, and Oxford. As I thought about it, I realized that I was going to attend a similar school, UPENN, even if it will only be for a few weeks. Listening to Liz and John retelling their college life stories made me think to consider doing what they did in the future when I begin to apply for colleges or go on site visits and tours – try picturing myself attending the university and living around the area.

The dinner was going fantastic when Chris and I suddenly started feeling a bit cold. We sat closest to door being the cause of our seemed spontaneous chills. Every time someone opened up the door or left it open, a cold draft of air would creep its way to our table and give us a cool sensation that grazed our skin. I didn’t know how long we would be able to tolerate the cool breeze, especially since we both had on thin button-ups. Thankfully the feeling soon disappeared as the waitress came out with the hot pizzas as it warmed up the room.

Close Up of Zachary's Barbecue Chicken Pizza
She placed the pies on wooden stools that were the height of the table and courteously served us each a piece on our white saucers. The food looked delectable. The Barbecue Chicken had barbecue sauce drizzled all over the pie with chunks of tomato, cilantro and chicken on the inside and cheddar and jack cheese. The “Za-Curry” Chicken Pizza had pieces of curry chicken, onions, and golden raisins with and mozzarella cheese. It was hard maintaining my patience and self-control but I was able to hold it down. The food tasted even better than what I remembered. I felt somewhat ashamed at how I could forget about pizza this satisfying, even though it had been only six months.

The evening soon ended with all of stuffed and satisfied. I brought some of the leftover pizza home for my mom and sister to share since no one else wanted to take some of it with them. I felt so accomplished and more informed about getting to know my cohorts, chaperon, and special guest a little bit better. The experience of us all eating and talking with one another so comfortably  foreshadowed what I can assume it will be like between us in the future at Penn. That night, I built bridges with people that I know are outstanding people and who I can turn to for advice, help, or just to have a fun time.

Great Pizza; Great People

After school, I rushed to finish the project for my Civil Engineering class so I could catch an Uber to Zachary's Chicago Style Pizza on Solano Ave. My friends came along with me since they had never been to Zachary's before.

We got there very early and decided to go for a walk. I came across a Japanese antique store full of very interesting items that ranged from tea kettles to art pieces. After a quick stay at the antique shop, we walked and found Pegasus bookstore. To my surprise Chris was already in front of the restaurant taking pictures. I went over to say hi and to kill time we went into the bookstore. Shortly Allonna got there and joined us at the book store. As it got closer to 5:30 PM, we made our way out of the bookstore to find that Don was dropping off Kamillah. 

In no time our chaperon, John came with Liz. We walked in the restaurant and got seated almost immediately. Once we were seated quickly congregated on which pizzas we should order. together we decided on three different pizzas: the Chicago deep dish style BBQ chicken pizza, the "Za'Curry" pizza, and a plain cheese pizza. while the cooks were busy in the kitchen crafting our food, we talked about what we  should expect on our trip like during our college tour we must punctual on our of travels so that we can experience everything the day has to offer. We also got to know Liz. She teaches at ECHS and her father teaches at ECHS. What a small world! 

And so we eat the amazing pizza. I personally liked the curry pizza more than the others because it wasn't as sweet. John continued telling us about the exciting places we will visit in Pennsylvania like Wawas which sounds like 7 Eleven on steroids. All too soon, the dinner came to an end and we all asked our last questions and said goodbye. I think that it was a very successful outing because we got to make connections with each other over food. There is just no better way. I look forward to seeing more of my cohort this summer! 

Abstract to Tangible

Summer is rapidly approaching, as is my cohort’s trip to the University of Pennsylvania. It was only today, after meeting with our chaperone, that this realization finally struck me. In slightly over a month, I, along with my fellow cohort members, will be headed across the country to UPenn. Right after this revelation occurred to me, I was absolutely stupefied. I sat at my desk, stunned, trying to comprehend the implications of this realization, grasping to find a way to make sense of the situation.

Only several hours prior, I had been excited that we would get to meet our chaperone, Mr. John Hillyer, an AP U.S. History teacher at De Anza High School, and that he would be bringing along a special guest, an alumni of Stanford, Columbia, and Oxford Universities. Although I am typically not very punctual, I arrived at Zachary’s Chicago Pizza on Solano Avenue in Berkeley only a few minutes after 5PM, nearly half an hour before we were supposed to meet. By my standards, this was fairly shocking (another item to add to the list of today’s surprises), and I was unsure what to do, as the notion of being early is still relatively new to me. Finally, it occurred to me that I should take pictures, so here are some of the results.
View of Zachary's (center) from across the street, with the Pegasus Bookstore directly to the right. 
Right in front of Zachary's.
I was rather uncomfortable taking pictures of the restaurant, particularly because of the strange stares I was receiving from the diners inside the restaurant, so I was relieved to see Diana walking towards me and readily agreed when she asked me if I wanted to go to the Pegasus bookstore right next to Zachary’s. 
Inside the Pegasus Bookstore.
Inside Zachary's.
Shortly thereafter, Allonna, Kamillah, Mr. Hillyer, and his special guest, Ms. Liz Sanders, arrived, so we entered the restaurant and were quickly seated near the door. Mr. Hillyer advised us to order first, since the food would take a while to be prepared, so we heeded his advice and began searching the menu. Eventually, we settled on the Caesar and Greek salads for appetizers and the Za-Curry pizza and a deep-dish Barbecue Chicken pizza. 

Once we had ordered, we began our conversation with self-introductions. As if I didn’t have enough surprises in store for me today, I soon found out that Ms. Sanders is the daughter of my AP Calculus teacher, Mr. Sanders. In retrospect, it seems fairly obvious, as they share the same last name and because Mr. Sanders had previously informed us that one of his daughters had attended Stanford, but I didn't realize the connection until she told us. After introducing ourselves to one another, Mr. Hillyer began to describe what the East Coast (particularly Pennsylvania) was like during the summer, as Allonna, Kamillah, and I have not yet experienced an East Coast summer. According to him, the weather fluctuates regularly, interspersing between sunshine and rain, and tends to be muggy, unlike the pleasant weather we have here in California.

At about that time, our salads arrived, so we put our conversation on hold to start serving ourselves. I opted for the Caesar salad and certainly did not regret my decision, although the Greek salad looked appetizing as well (I suppose that's why they're called appetizers). As we finished our salads, the conversation resumed, with Mr. Hillyer discussing the various aspects of life in Philadelphia and Ms. Sanders talking about her experiences at Stanford and Columbia to inform us about highly selective private universities. While we talked, the rest of our food arrived, one by one. First was the Za-Curry pizza, followed by the cheese one, and finally the deep-dish barbecue chicken one. I decided to try both specialty pizzas, which were both quite tasty and unique in flavor.

Although the food at Zachary's was great, the company I was with was indisputably better. Everyone was lively and engaged in the conversation, and I had a great time with them. The dinner also helped me realize that we'll be leaving for UPenn very soon and turned an abstract notion into one that is quite present and nearly tangible. Up until the dinner, everything had merely felt precursory to the real experience. However, this has made me even more excited for the summer and I am looking forward more than ever to the trip.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Going Beyond Basic

Waking up and starting the day was exhausting for me, mainly because I had Prom the previous night and remained awake later than I should have. I wearily put on my gray Draymond Green jersey from my favorite basketball team, The Golden State Warriors, with my all white Express jean jacket, dark blue jeans, and white leather Converse. Before making my way out the door, I grabbed my camera for the photography and blogging lesson in the tutorial. I stepped into the passenger’s seat of my mom’s car and headed off to De Anza High School where the tutorial was held at.

De Anza High School
By the time I finally broke out of my sluggish mood, we pulled up to the front De Anza at 7:45 AM. All of the cohorts were required to be there no later than 8:00 AM. Making sure I didn’t forget anything, I began walking toward the inside of the large school. It was overcast and cold outside; I was shivering under my jacket until I reached the computer lab where everyone was conversing with one another. Finding the room wasn’t hard, especially since there was an Ivy League Connection banner covering a generous part of the front gate and past it, the only room with its door propped wide open. I was the last one to walk through the door. Some of my fellow cohorts were staring at me as I did making me feel slightly awkward and embarrassed even though it was around 7:55 AM. I took a seat at one of the computers in the back next to one of my fellow cohorts almost tripping over the many wires on the ground belonging to a lot of the tech equipment and servers.

The tutorial opened with Don welcoming us and announcing the available snacks he had in case we got hungry. I was completely elated when I saw the Red Vines and chocolate chip cookies. My stomach was nearly punching out of me because of my unsettling hunger. I guess those are the consequences of not eating breakfast before a long day ahead. I grabbed a considerable amount of food and casually walked back to my seat. 

Sooner than I knew it, we were flying through the agenda with great ease until we began blogging due to problems with the computers not allowing us to sign in and unresponsive servers. After trying four different computers, I became a nuisance. I was the only person who hadn't blogged yet preventing everyone from continuing with the agenda. I ended up sharing computers with my friend Diana. 

In an effort to make up lost time we quickly moved on to learning techniques to take photos and uploading it to the blog. I whipped out my Nikon camera from my light blue and gray Adidas drawstring bag to find that it was unusable because it needed to be charged. Disappointed, I used another alternative to reaching the intended goal. Don, being the resourceful person he is, had flash drives with images for us to use in case we couldn't use a camera. Using one of those images, I was finally able to post my blog successfully and catch up with everyone else. 

The rest of the tutorial went by smoothly. We reviewed on our expected responsibilities and behaviors, future upcoming events, packing and borrowing items from Don, and asked any risen questions that came to us. All of us learned the basics of being an ILCer and I’m fully prepared for more to come.

Getting Started

Despite the casual nature of the gathering, I found myself feeling nervous as I climbed out of my car on Saturday morning and made my way to one of De Anza High School's computer labs for an Ivy League Connection tutorial. I knew that Don would be teaching us about all of the basics that went along with being a part of the ILC, and a part of me was excited to finally get started. But another part of me was worried. This was the first event that I was attending as an official member of the ILC, and the gravity of the information scared me.   

The view as I pulled up to the site of the tutorial

Of course, within five minutes of the beginning of the tutorial, I began to see that my fears were totally baseless. Being in the ILC is a big responsibility, but it was clear that Don was there to help us navigate through the experience as smoothly as possible. He told us everything we needed to know, from what to pack to what to expect in the airport and in our dorms. Surprisingly, all of this information actually made me more calm, since, as is true in most situations, I realized that it was not as intimidating as I had expected.

During the tutorial, we also learned the logistics about how to create successful blogs, which Don assured us would be spending a lot of time on leading up to and during the summer. Personally, I like the idea of sharing what I'm going through during my time in the ILC. As someone who finds it easiest to articulate themselves on paper (or in this case, on a screen), it is comforting to have the ability to express my perspective on this process. However, I'm still somewhat wary of my photography skills.
The tutorial took place on a beautiful May day, which was hopefully a good omen
Ultimately, I'm very glad that Don hosted this tutorial. I think it benefited me in a lot of ways in addition to learning essential information about the Ivy League Connection process. Now, without the disconnection of email communication and online applications, everything seems much more real to me. After all, we leave for UPenn in only six weeks! After Saturday, I feel completely prepared for my time on the East Coast and all of the ILC gatherings in the near future.