Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Grandeur of Penn

As I expected, given my prior experience with exciting trips, I found it quite difficult to fall asleep last night. Although I went to bed at about 10, which was still later than I had planned to go to sleep (although far earlier than my usual bedtime), I ended up falling asleep sometime after midnight. However, I still had to wake up at 2:00 in the morning to be able to make it to El Cerrito High School at 3:30 AM, so I was rather disoriented as I stumbled through my morning routine. As I tried to put my laptop in my backpack, I realized I had packed too much, so I ended up unpacking and repacking some of my belongings about ten minutes before I was supposed to leave the house.

As my parents and I arrived at the only lighted section of El Cerrito High School, we saw that Don had already set up two tables. By 3:30 AM, everyone had arrived, and Don began to reiterate the guidelines and expectations for us while we are on the East Coast. Once he had finished going over the important information with all of us, he began showing us what he had available for us to use. We each picked up a few plastic bags, as well as snacks, which later proved to be much needed, at least for me. After loading our luggage in the back of the van, we took some final departure photos before saying farewell to our parents and beginning our journey to the airport. As we drove and conversed along the familiar route to the San Francisco International Airport, I realized we would be leaving the familiarity of the Bay Area for about a whole month (a fairly profound notion for my still half-asleep brain), which will be the longest time I’ve been away from home. However, as we approached, my excitement continued to grow and despite my lack of sleep, I still felt increasingly invigorated with each successive step and this surreal experience coming closer to reality.


Upon checking in our large baggage, we proceeded towards Gate 45A, where we would be departing from. However, we first had to go through TSA security. While the four of us high schoolers were all miraculously pre-checked by the TSA and breezed through the security checkpoint, Mr. Hillyer was not quite so fortunate and had to undergo the standard procedure, which ended up taking a rather significant amount of time. We had arrived early and thought we would be able to get breakfast together, but due to the delay caused by security, we had to head straight to our gate and boarded the plane shortly thereafter.
Picture of us before our departure, courtesy of Don.
I had planned to try to remain awake for the entire flight, but that effort dissolved rather quickly as I succumbed to the exhaustion. However, once I awoke, I felt much more refreshed and alert and did not feel tired for the rest of the day. For the rest of the plane flight, Kamillah, Diana, and I talked about a variety of topics, as we were all seated together. Aside from a rather turbulent landing, the flight went fairly smoothly. We proceeded to pick up our luggage from the baggage carousels before requesting a van to transport us to our hotel, the Sheraton Philadelphia University City Hotel, which is certainly a very nice hotel.
My room at the Sheraton.
My first impression of Philadelphia was that the weather was very pleasant, which I had been apprehensive about, although Mr. Hillyer said it was better than usual and told us not to get used to it. I also found the city really interesting in that it was a mixture of old, run-down buildings and ones that looked almost brand new, a juxtaposition I felt gave the city a unique feel. We were still hungry after the flight, so we decided to head to Axis Pizza, which is just across the street from the Sheraton, and get some food. Afterwards, we decided to go on a brief visit to the nearby Wawa and the university bookstore. However, upon arrival at the Wawa, we found it was closed, much to our disappointment, Mr. Hillyer’s more so than the rest of us. We continued on to the UPenn bookstore, which did not disappoint at all. The exterior was impressive already, but the interior was truly grand, although the photo below didn't quite do it justice.
Inside the UPenn Bookstore.
Finally, after walking through the store in awe, we finally returned to our hotel for a quick break, agreeing to meet up again in the lobby, along with Ms. Dyana So, a graduate of Pinole Valley High School, and as of this past May, of the University of Pennsylvania as well, where she is going to be an admissions counselor. I was the first one to the lobby, where Dyana was already waiting; however, as I hadn’t met her yet, I was unable to tell if it was her. Tentatively, I went over and asked if she was Dyana, to which she responded in the affirmative. I introduced myself to her and we began to talk about my cohort’s Social Justice Research Academy. Within a few minutes, Mr. Hillyer and later, the rest of my cohort, joined us in the lobby before we headed out for gelato. As we walked, she pointed out the university’s buildings and told us what they were while also talking to us about her experience at UPenn, including how she spent two summers in Israel.

Capogiro, which has some great gelato.
We soon arrived at the gelato place, called Capogiro, where, after ordering our gelato, we began to talk about the significance of the WCCUSD to her as well as UPenn admissions. She started out by mentioning that she and her parents had immigrated from Hong Kong and that she and her brother are first generation college students, which make her success all the more remarkable. Her parents manage local businesses in Pinole, further cementing her connection to West Contra Costa, and by extension, us. She also talked about her time with the Ivy League Connection, as she is a two-time ILCer, having spent a summer at Cornell and another at Yale, making her experience even more relatable.

From there, Dyana then transitioned to talking about UPenn admissions. Knowing that costs of attending college were likely on our list of priorities when selecting colleges, she told us about the need-blind financial aid offered by UPenn, which take income into account and provide aid accordingly. She informed us that there were four major schools within UPenn for undergrads, which she likened to the four houses at Hogwarts, the school from the world of Harry Potter. She also make sure we knew that unlike the other Ivy League schools, Penn focused more on preparing its students for the professional world, as opposed to academia.

Locust Walk
Mr. Hillyer then interjected that we should go on a short tour of the campus while the sun was still up, apologizing as he did so. We all agreed and began walking towards the main part of campus, with Dyana promising to show us a Wawa along the way. We then stopped to briefly at one end of the Locust Walk, where almost all of us took out our cameras to take pictures, as it looked amazing. We proceeded down the Locust Walk as Dyana continued to talk about the various buildings, which consisted of residential halls, some dining areas, and even an Amazon store, which doesn’t actually sell anything, but serves as a convenient in-between point for students.

At last, we reached our long-awaited destination: Wawa. I’m not sure it ever had a chance to live up to the hype and my expectations after hearing such great things about it, but it was definitely decent, at least. We also stopped by the residential hall where we will be staying shortly, called the Quadrangle, which looked pretty grand as well. Dyana then told us about the food trucks that sell food during the day, saying that they had great food at an affordable price, so I’m sure we’ll try that out sometime during our stay here. Finally, after stopping by a CVS Pharmacy to pick up some supplies we had forgotten, we returned to Sheraton, where she answered any last questions we had.
The front of the Quadrangle.
I’m so glad to have had the chance to meet and talk to Dyana tonight. She had unmatched enthusiasm and seemed to be genuinely passionate about helping us with our future plans in higher education. Anyways, that about wraps it up for day one in Philadelphia.
View of Philadelphia from my hotel room.

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