Monday, May 30, 2016

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.

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