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.

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