Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Reflection on my ILC Journey- Chris Tan

Although my ILC journey was an amazing experience and culminated in success for me, it actually didn't start out quite so auspiciously. In fact, I found out about the Ivy League Connection on the day of the initial presentation they held at Pinole Valley High School. A senior friend of mine, Sara, had asked me if I was going to the presentation, to which I could only respond to with confusion, as I had never heard of the program before. She then described the program briefly and told me that the only requirement to get in was a 3.5 GPA, which I had. To this day, I am so glad she did, because if she hadn't, I would not have had this incredible opportunity. During our lunch break, I went to go see my school counselor and asked about the program. She informed me that I should have received an invitation (I had not), but I clarified that I was a recent transfer student and showed her my transcript. She then told me she would add my name to the list of attendees, so I thanked her and left. When fifth period started, I went over to the multipurpose room to attend the presentation and was surprised to hear that my name wasn't on the list. However, I insisted I was supposed to be there and offered to show the assistant principal my transcript, but he declined and told me I could stay.

Despite the rocky start, I was finally able to take my seat, which ended up being front and center, right in front of a man wearing a now familiar aloha shirt. He introduced himself to us, but asked us to address him mononymously as Don before proceeding to talk about the Ivy League Connection. As I listened, I grew more and more fascinated, and resolved to get into this program, despite the difficult aspects he mentioned. After hearing three previous ILCers- Katherine Phan, Lisa Romero, and Jagjeet Kaur- talk about the respective universities they went to as part of the ILC, I was certain that this would be something that I wanted to involved in. The first program I applied for was for the University of Chicago, and although I made it to the interview process, I did not secure a spot in the Chicago cohort. That was somewhat difficult to accept at first, but with some help and support from Don, Katherine, and Lisa, I persevered and succeeded in securing another interview, this time for the UPenn Social Justice Research Academy, and, as you can probably tell by now, was among the four students fortunate enough to land a spot in the cohort.
However, the others that were not quite fortunate enough to be selected were still very competent, and I think the amount of competition each of us faced from each other demonstrates that the West Contra Costa Unified School District is fully capable of producing adept students, despite many being underserved. The Ivy League Connection further tries to help underserved students by providing each of those selected with an opportunity to go to the East Coast and take a course at one of the top universities in the nation at little to no personal expense. It also helps WCCUSD students expand their horizons and explore universities beyond the boundaries of California. Personally, I feel more comfortable with the notion applying out of state now and am very confident I will do so in my college application process. The site visits to other universities also helped us gain a better sense of our college preferences. Prior to my visit to Columbia University in New York City, I was considering applying to it. However, after actually visiting it, I realized that the environment wasn't really a good fit for me, as I found it a bit too intense for me and discovered that I wasn't particularly fond of New York City due to the tight, busy spaces and the lack of fresh air. The visit to Georgetown University in Washington D.C. was also elucidating, particularly in contrast with Columbia University from the day before, as it provided me an example of what I considered a more pleasant experience and an environment I could potentially feel comfortable in, although it turned out they didn't really have an engineering program themselves, instead offering a joint program with Columbia. Through these college visits and the time spent at UPenn, I believe that I now have a much better idea of what I want in a college.

Being in a college environment and living life more independently also inspired personal growth for me. While there, I developed a stronger sense of accountability with the knowledge that I was essentially responsible for myself, and that led me to act with greater maturity. I became more organized, created a more structured routine and schedule for myself, and kept in mind both the activities I wanted to participate in and what I needed to accomplish so that I would be able to create a better balance. I also tried to take full advantage of the once in a lifetime opportunity I had been granted by trying out many new things, including meeting more people there and trying new foods and activities. As a result of the course, I have greater motivation to use my abilities to create change and promote social justice and I hope to invoke in others a similar desire to advocate social progress. This course also emboldened me by allowing me to prove to myself that I can be just as capable as other amazing students from around the world, and I have been inspired to pursue greater knowledge not only in topics related to my anticipated major in computer science, but also across a broader scope so that I can be an informed and conscious global citizen that contributes to the improvement of not only our society, but also the environment around us. Hopefully, I can spread this grand and largely idealized vision of our future to others, starting from those I directly interact with in daily life, at school, and in the various clubs and organizations I participate in, to those beyond my immediate vicinity.

Before I underwent this amazing experience that has transformed my outlook on the future, I had the pleasure of meeting several a number of former ILCers, including a close friend from my childhood, some of my classmates, a fellow member of the Youth Leadership Committee of Richmond, some that showed up to support us at the interviews, and of course, the special guests of honor at our dinner at the Town Hall restaraunt in San Francisco. In each of them, I noticed a unique, but distinct aura that all of the former ILCers seemed to possess, one that radiated confidence and the power to produce change. one that I greatly admired. At that time, although I recognized that it had something to do with the ILC, as that was the common thread among them, I wondered about how they had each acquired it. Now, after going through the ILC experience myself, I believe that I have been able to unlock this capacity within me as well and that at least to a slight degree, I, too, am capable of influencing change.

This has been a truly invaluable experience for me, and although nothing can adequately express my gratitude for being presented with the opportunity to be a part of the Ivy League Connection, I'll begin with a simple "thank you." Thank you to all the people that make this program possible: the administrators, the sponsors, the WCCUSD and the Board of Education, the interview panelists, the program coordinators, the universities themselves, and everyone else involved that I may not have mentioned. They provided each of us, the ILCers, the means to go across the country to study and live on a university campus for a few weeks through funding and their dedication to helping students pursue their academic aspirations, myself included, and I'd like to acknowledge and show my appreciation for their efforts. I'd also like to issue special thanks to Don, who worked with us tirelessly to ensure everything went smoothly, and to John, who served as our chaperone and made sure all was well regularly. I hope that I have been representing the WCCUSD and the Ivy League Connection well, as well as that this program will continue for years to come. I believe that the ILC is an incredible opportunity for any student with greater educational aspirations and will advocate it in hopes of inspiring other students to become agents and beacons of positive change.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

My Experience at UPenn- Chris Tan

From the moment I stepped onto the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the atmosphere felt calm and welcoming. I enjoyed the setting, as it actually felt how I thought a college should, somewhat removed from the intensity of the city itself, instead occupying its own space. The campus itself seemed what I would describe as refined: aged, yet still well-maintained with an air of dignity.

Before I actually went to the East Coast to experience UPenn firsthand, I hadn't quite known what to expect, and merely imagined that it was a small campus, given that it is a private university. I also expected sweltering heat and chaotic weather from various descriptions of the East Coast, as well as the purportedly "meat locker cold" dorms, a stark contrast that left me utterly perplexed when I was trying to pack for the trip. There were also conflicting accounts from the previous ILCers about the quality of the food offered at the dining commons and the condition of the housing, which merely added to my confusion. In addition, I found the prospect of assuming greater responsibility for myself and leaving a familiar environment rather daunting. However, I knew that I wouldn't be alone in this process and that, with the advent of modern technology, my family and friends were only a phone call or text message away,
Before our departure to Penn
Throughout my time at UPenn, most of my preexisting notions of what it would be like were dispelled. The weather was always warm, and only uncomfortably so on occasion, albeit somewhat humid. We also didn't see many instances of the unpredictable weather, although the storms we did encounter were sudden and somewhat more intense. Although Mr. Hillyer told us that we had gotten a pleasant summer, it was certainly nothing like what I had imagined it would be, as I had been picturing regular thunderstorms, when in actuality, I encountered about two or three in all the time I was there. The campus was also fairly large, or at least much larger than I had initially expected. In addition, I discovered that there is a temperature setting as well as a power setting on the air conditioning unit in my dorm, so I was able to control the climate in my room. As for the housing facilities, the quality varied from building to building, as some were certainly maintained better than were others. The food quality also varied from item to item, place by place, as some items were prepared better in all the food commons, and the Houston Market was better than the 1920s Commons, and breakfast was better than dinner, which nearly everyone reached a consensus on.

Prior to the social justice course, I had mostly gotten an understanding and developed an interest in social justice through reading news articles online, so my knowledge was still rather rudimentary, making me somewhat apprehensive and worried that my lack of knowledge about social justice would put me behind the other students. However, after starting the class there, I soon realized that was not the case and that most of the other students were at a similar level. Instead, we developed our understandings of social justice together, learning from the lectures, refining our positions on the various topics using each other as sounding boards in discussions, and gaining insights through our field trips. The course was not graded, so while it may be counterintuitive, I felt that it allowed me to dedicate more of my efforts to actually learning about social justice because I was able to spend more time reading and thinking about the material, as opposed to trying to complete various assignments. Of course, there are probably students that abuse that privilege and get away without having to learn or participate in anything, although that's somewhat of a waste of time and other resources, in my opinion.

I really enjoyed the sense of independence and the culture of learning I experienced during my time at UPenn. I actually liked being responsible for myself, even though I had been uncertain about it before the program started, because it gave me a greater sense of control over my own life. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to prove to myself that I was able to assume responsibility without dramatic changes to my lifestyle. I was able to have plenty of fun spending time with friends and participating in the activities offered by the Summer Discovery program while still learning from the course and attending to my responsibilities.

The culture of learning I'm referring to was the general interest among the people there to advance their knowledge and understanding, their willingness to challenge what we heard rather than accepting it without question, and open-mindedness to discuss more difficult topics rationally, although our subconscious biases affected our thinking to some extent, of course. I really enjoyed this environment, as it allowed me to present unorthodox ideas and engage in actual discussions about those ideas instead of being personally attacked in response, which I encounter in many other situations. The safety of an environment where any topic was open to discussion was something I really appreciated in my time there, and I believe that it contributed to my learning experience at UPenn.

Of course, the people I interacted with and the activities I participated in at UPenn helped make my experience there fun and shaped it into a summer to remember. Nearly everyone there was friendly, and within the first few hours of meeting my RC group, I had already gotten fairly comfortable with them and remained on good terms with them throughout my time there, even as I made other friends along the way. The RCs of the Summer Discovery program as well as the Social Justice Research Academy teaching staff were also really friendly and helpful, which only contributed further to the warm atmosphere (figuratively, although it was literally warm as well). There were plenty of activities available for us to take part in, and the ones I did join were lots of fun, including laser tag and bowling, as well as the mandatory ones to Hershey Park and Ocean City. Even though we went to UPenn for the course in social justice, I don't feel like I sacrificed having fun or enjoying my summer break at all. In fact, this trip is the highlight of my summer, which has now become one of the most fun, meaningful, and significant summers of my life as a result of this experience.
The House of Representatives
My RC group
Hershey Park
Ultimately, the Social Justice Research Academy at UPenn made me aware of all the issues facing society today, but also provided me with the contexts of each of them through lectures and the diverse perspectives of my fellow students in the discussion groups as well as exposing us to real-life exhibitions of social justice or injustice via field trips. I was also able to experience the college lifestyle there, which defied almost all of my expectations and allowed me to gain better insights into my college preferences. Finally, I was given the opportunity to be in an environment that allowed me to truly express my ideas safely. This course also gave me a greater sense of purpose, as my goals have expanded beyond simply living out my existence to wanting to make a positive influence  and perhaps even bring about change in the world. Furthermore, none of this came at the expense of fun or enjoyment, as I was able to spend plenty of time with friends and create many memories from all the activities I took part in. I'm so grateful to have been granted this opportunity to experience the entirely different environment at Penn.
After our trip to Penn

7/23 Tastes Like Home

5:30 AM is the time I woke up for the day I would finally return home. I set an alarm so I would have the chance to say my final goodbye to my friend before he left at 6:15 AM. Him being very busy, I wasn’t able to in person. I decided to send him a snap chat goodbye before it was time for him to leave instead. I felt disappointed that it wasn’t a real goodbye but it was better than not saying anything at all.

I went back to sleep for about an hour before packing up the rest of my belongings. Fitting everything in my luggage was harder than I remembered it being when I was first packing to come out to Philly. I had to sit on my bag while zipping it closed to make it easier to ensure its security. I made a final clean throughout my room and tossed out all my garbage near the trash chute. On the way back to my vacant room, I saw so many people walking all over the Quad with large rolling boxes filled with their things or soon to be filled. Their parents and RC’s aiding them and other students crying while saying their final goodbyes to one another. A depressing and solemn feeling grew within my stomach facing the reality that this was it; most of us would never see each other again, at least not for a while.

I unlocked the door to my dorm building, Leidy, walked up the four, dusty, black, stairs, turned left into the quiet hallway, and to the second door on the left was the final time I would unlock my room door. Time was running out for me. 10:00 AM came closer than I had hoped it would for when the airport shuttle would come pick us up with John to leave UPENN for the rest of the summer. I picked up the handles of my luggage and rolled out the door. I paused for a minute to imprint a mental image into my mind of what was no longer my room. I sad smile appeared on my face as I reminisced the memories of me rushing in and out of the room to make it on time for class, working on my homework late at night, lugging my laundry over my shoulder in and out, and my favorite one, the time when I first walked into my room the first day I was there. I remembered all these emotions and feelings as if it just happened yesterday. It felt as if I just unpacked the same morning I was leaving. I turned my head around and took those final steps out my door, out the hallway, down the stairs, and out of Leidy for the final time. 

Rolling my way through the Quad, I forgot the struggle I had carrying my luggage when I first came out here. It was such a nuisance. I signed out in the main office and headed to outside the gates the Quad where I would return my room keys. I was trying so hard to get my things done so I wouldn’t delay the group from getting to the airport. I signed in my keys to the front office and met with John, Diana, Chris, and Allonna in the front. Before walking to the shuttle bus, I looked through the automatic gates of the Quadrangle letting go all the sadness I had built up and locked in all of my summer experience in a safe in my mind and heart that I know will never fade away. We each stepped into the van and sat there as we pulled off the side of the road and to the airport.
Group Picture at Chickee Pete's
The time it took to go through the airport procedures it was around 11:00 AM. All of us were starving. John decided to take us to a little restaurant inside of the airport called Chickee Pete’s where we ate for the last time together as an ILC PENN Cohort. I ordered a chicken parmesan sandwich and had crab fries to share all together. I wish we all ate together more often while we resided at UPENN. I never would have thought we would be so preoccupied with our class, work, and activities at the university program that we would barely have time for ourselves. We all finished eating, and made our way back to the waiting area for our return home.

Before it was time for us to board, Allonna and I needed to go to Jamba Juice. Being out in the East Coast, finding a Jamba Juice is scarce. The only time I saw a nearby one was in Grand Central Station in DC on the way back to the Sheraton. We were in desperate need to have a sweet, thirst-quenching smoothie. Allonna had ordered a Caribbean Passion and I ordered a Pomegranate Paradise. The first sip I took reminded me of home and soon that’s where we would be.

As we boarded the plane, we found a mother and daughter sitting in our seats. Their flights were changed last minute because their original flight got cancelled. Their seats were placed in front of each other but Diana and I switched seats with them so they would be able to sit next to one another. The girl was five years old and asleep. I sat right next to them while Diana sat next to Allonna and Chris. Her husband and other daughter were seated somewhere else in the back of the plane and were trying to accommodate seating arrangements so they wouldn’t be separated. The mother was genuinely nice. She had told me that they moved to New Jersey for a job relocation for her husband and she eventually found a job out there herself. They are originally from California where she and her husband met at UC Berkeley and are coming back for their wedding anniversary to spend it with their families in Santa Cruz. It was pleasant hearing about her successful life, it gave me hope to have a similar one of my own.
Window View From the Waiting Room
Everyone on the plane patiently waited for the plane to lift off and zoom through the air back to the West Coast. All of us passengers soon found out that our flight would be delayed due to a rain storm that is potentially dangerous to fly through. Once the storm had passed over, we were fourth in line to take off. The closer it drew to us being next, we had to return back to the airport to refuel. It made sense because it was ninety-seven degrees outside and the AC was blasting throughout the plane the whole time we were stalled. The plane had finally filled up again with gas, but by that time there were thirty-five other planes who needed to take off as well. No one knew how long this was going to take and three hours had already passed. The time we finally made it in the air was 7:30 PM, three and a half hours later than from when we were originally set to take off. My mood went beyond irritation. We all wanted to stay in Philly a lot longer than three weeks but none of us had anticipated that this was going to be our ticket to stay. Frustrated and tired, I sat for another six hours for our plane to land at SFO.

The plane had landed at 10:51 PM in San Francisco. Everyone was eager to get off and go home or wherever they intended to go. Each row decreased in people until it reached the back of the plane. Before exiting the aircraft, I waved goodbye to the mother and her child and wished them luck on their vacation in California, and she did the same. I hurried into the airport of California grounds finally relieved that plane ride was over it. We waited for John to get off before we went to go pick up our luggage on the other side of the airport. I felt sentimental being back in the Bay. There’s no people out there like the ones from the Bay Area and that’s what I missed the most along with Jamba Juice.

After everyone grabbed their bags, we hopped into our black shuttle van to transport us back to El Cerrito High School where our families would pick us up at. The air outside was cool and breezy but somewhat warmer than I remembered SF to actually be. I was satisfied with my wardrobe choice to wear leggings and a long-sleeved shirt. The weather out here soon made me miss the heat and humidity the East Coast had. I hated the feeling right when I walked out an air conditioned building to the moist air but enjoyed the warmth and consistency of it. It was convenient knowing the temperature every day despite the environment of the weather. If it was overcast and breezy it was still warm, if it was raining with thunderstorms it would still be consistently warm outside.

The drive back to El Cerrito was a reminder for my brain to recollect my memories of the familiar, but faint surroundings of the Bay Area. I had forgotten how beautiful the Bay Bridge was until we were physically gliding right over it. I felt so embarrassed forgetting its gorgeous luminosity, especially when I looked back at my ugly drawing of it from the first day of class. My eyes became fixated with the scenery outside of the car window until we reached El Cerrito High. It was like I was familiarizing myself with a new area all over again except it wasn’t as difficult to remember.
Final Returning Cohort Photo
Twenty to thirty minutes passed as we finally pulled into the parking lot of the dimly lit school from where we originally departed on the start of our journey. Cars already parked in a line alongside the school waiting for our arrival. The first steps out of the van, Don was already snapping pictures of us like we were famous and he was the paparazzi. We all waited to grab our luggage from out the back of the barely visible vehicle. Before we could depart back to our homes, Don had required a group picture of the entire cohort together for the last time. Groaning because many of us were fatigued, we pulled our smiles out, hidden deep in our droopy faces in time for the last shots of us together. Once we were done, we each gave one another a final hug farewell and went our separate ways. This has probably been one of the best experiences I have ever had and with people who were fun and pleasant to be around. I could not have asked for a much better cohort, trip, and experience than what I received this summer. For that, I thank Don and the ILC for the opportunity

7/17 Day Full of Treats

*note: this blog is an entry from 7-17*

Today was the day I had been waiting for the whole program on the activities list; it was the day of the Phillies v. Mets game. I love watching baseball and being at the stadiums witnessing it first-hand. It makes the game more intense and better to focus on. I haven’t been to a baseball game since 2014 at the AT&T Park where the Giants were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks. The best feeling there is getting excited with other fans cheering on your favorite team to success. I wanted to get a feel for the stadium and the crowd the Phillies draws in. I dressed in my Giants gear having the need to represent my favorite team and Bay Area with my Adidas dri-fit shorts and Under Armour slides and headed down to the Quad grabbing my black, leather purse along the way out.

There were more people out there than I had expected. The Summer Discovery program did another Phillies game Friday night where I assumed most people would be attending. I stood in line to check in with Louise ensuring my spot on the trip. I found Therese there doing the same. All of us were separated into different buses by last name. Therese was designated to bus two while I was to bus three. As I waited for my group to move onto the buses, I made a new friend, Anjali, who was placed on the same bus as me. She’s from the Bay Area and likes the Giants, too. She goes to a private school in San Jose and does speech and debate tournaments as do I. When I told her that she said that I looked familiar but couldn’t place where, which was probably at the first tournament we had at James Logan HS in Union City. The world is so massive yet small at the same time.
Phillies Stadium
The yellow school buses they had rented for us were small and had no air conditioning. We all had pulled the windows down to the fullest as we rode twenty minutes out to the Phillies stadium. The longest part was waiting in the thick line trying to pull over to be released off the bus and into the stadium. In front of the stadium was a tall, digital board showing upcoming games the Phillies were playing. From August second through fourth, the Phillies would be playing the San Francisco Giants at home. I wished that game was now instead of the Mets; it would have made my day.

Once the bus had finally pulled over to the side, I rushed off the bus as fast as I could. My excitement for the game and need to get off that suffocating vehicle became my priority. I waited for Anjali down on the sidewalk before heading through bag check and security to enter the grand stadium. As soon as we made it to the inside, it reminded me of a bit smaller version of AT&T Park but nicer than the Oakland Coliseum; it was gorgeous. Our seats were placed at the very top, which wasn’t a surprise to me. The view was great and the bright and sunny weather. We were in the shade the whole time making the seats even more enjoyable. Just as we sat down Therese had quickly found us making our duo into a trio once more.

After the first three innings, the hunger in my stomach began to grow intensely. I walked down a level lower with Anjali and Therese to embark on an adventure to find filling food. I went down the food stands in a line until I decided on trying Crab Fries. Once I had grabbed and paid for the container, I was slightly disappointed that my fries didn’t actually have crab meat in it and they were only seasoned a certain way. I took a bite and discovered how delicious it actually was but still salty; from that moment I still wonder why they call it Crab Fries.

The heat was building up as we stood in front of a table behind seats watching the game as I ate my confused fries. Therese had the smart idea of purchasing ice cream from the food venue behind us. The ice cream was placed in a little souvenir Phillies cap cup covered all over with rainbow sprinkles. A chain reaction was sparked leading Anjali to buy one and then me. The three of us now were indulging the delicious cold creamy treat as we watched until the fifth inning.

Ice Cream Helmet
After all of us killed our ice cream, we went to the bathroom and washed out our caps to keep and treasure forever. The three of us headed back to the top where our seats were to finish watching the rest of the game. There were more Mets fans than there were Phillies, or for what it seemed like. The Phillies fans were not as spirited as I hoped they would be. Maybe it was because they were losing against the Mets or they just didn’t know how to become cheerleaders. I wasn’t used to seeing this out of a crowd. Even the A’s fans were still cheerful when they lost. It was depressing watching the Phillies get crushed with a five to nothing lead.

The game flew by faster than I thought it would. I was so use to baseball games running long but this one closed quickly. We were all back on the bus before I knew it. As we pulled away from the arena, I had noticed how all of the Philadelphia sports teams were all next to one another. From the Eagles to the 76ers, they were built standing tall and united. This must make traffic really bad when games are going on, especially on the same days.

Back at the Quad, we returned around 4:30 PM. This gave me about fifteen minutes to prepare to meet for dinner with Chris and John at five. I quickly changed into my red wife beater and into my black Tommy Hilfiger flip flops before receiving a text from Chris that he was downstairs waiting for me. I grabbed my purse and repeated my routine out the door.

It took us about ten minutes to make it to the Hummus Grill where we were meeting at. I had asked if we could take the food to go because I had plenty of research I needed to complete for the Capstone Project we were required to have completed by the end of the week. John beat us there, early, and patiently waiting at a table for our arrival. I hadn’t had dinner with John since the take out from Bobby’s Burger Palace the previous weekend. I missed having our usual dinners together as a cohort but struggled finding the time for it all. We greeted John in all smiles and looked at the restaurant’s menu to place our order. I decided to try something new and got the chicken kabab sandwich.

As we all patiently waited for our food to come, we caught up with one another. It was scary yet amusing listening to John’s cockroach story. He had found a massive cockroach in his hotel room and called in room service to come kill it. The more horrifying part is the fact that if it was pregnant that its children would be all over the floor still growing. I had true sympathy for him because I would be handling that situation in a more unprofessional way than he did. Before we knew it, our food was ready and we were all heading back to our living spaces. After waving a sad goodbye to John I was eager to scarf down this beautifully made sandwich and get my research done. I finished out my night tired and full, ready to knockout at any minute. I needed all the rest I could get before class again on Monday.
Anjali, Therese, and I Posing in front of the Skyline

7/16 Sunkissed and Salty Hugs

*note: this blog is an entry from 7-16*

Approaching Ocean City
Early morning rise around 8:00 AM, I had a couple of errands to run before the big day at Ocean City, New Jersey. I showered, got dressed, and headed out into University City. I needed to deposit some money into my bank card at the Bank of America next to Chipotle to ensure I had enough in my account for the entire day out. On the way back, I decided to stop by the Starbucks on the corner and grab a quick breakfast before it was time to leave at 10:30 AM. I ordered an herbal mango black tea lemonade and a cinnamon raisin bagel to go and consumed it as I walked for seven minutes back into my dorm. The sun was already heating up the sky in the eighties and it was barely ten o’clock. Relieved to be back in my air conditioned dorm, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I headed back into the blazing sun.

10:30 AM finally came and everyone in Leidy, was outside in their summer gear ready to take on the beach weather. We all did role call and waited to hear our names to get checked off so we could enter the bus. The drive there was filled with many girls singing along to mainstream songs from Rihanna to warming up for the fun filled day. It took a little over two hours to get there but we finally made it to the Jersey Shore.

The weather outside was not as hot as when we left. The skies were overcast and a few drifts were flowing through the air. I first stepped out of the bus with a disappointed attitude toward the weather. I was expecting it to be bright and sunny and was bikini ready. I walked along the endless boardwalk in search to find a restroom. The boardwalk had so much going on along the sides of it. There were arcades, multiple food areas, souvenir stores, boogie board rentals, a water park, rides, and so much more along with a beach right across from it all. After finding my essential stop, I ran into Diana and Therese coming out. We all took a short break to put on some sunscreen before heading back into the hazy sun.

Therese had left to meet up with a friend who works at Ocean City leaving me and Diana. We explored from Starbucks to eating crab cakes, then the souvenir shops where we bought matching long-sleeved shirts and then off to the beach. I had not been in the soft, warm sand since I went to Santa Cruz a couple of years ago before the start of freshman year. The feeling of my feet sinking into the deep grains was one that I had dearly missed. We had walked along the beach closer and closer to the water. There was a giant empty space of sand unoccupied by no one; it was perfect for us. We laid out our towels and rested there for about twenty minutes.

Ocean City Beach
I quickly sat up to wipe the glistening sweat from off my forehead. I soon checked underneath my swimsuit to find that I had turned fifty shades darker from when I first came to the boardwalk. I turned my body over for another five minutes before I couldn’t take just lying there being cooked in the sun anymore. I got up with Diana and headed into the salty Atlantic Ocean. The water felt amazing as it splashed against my hot skin cooling it down. Knowing I can’t swim, I only allowed the water to go up a little above my knees. The waves came in rushing fast and high making contact with my entire upper body as they pulled in. This was my favorite part of the day. Diana and I were both enjoying our time in the water that almost two hours had passed by before we headed back to our beach spot. Five o’clock drew near and was the time we were all required to meet at to return home. We gathered up our things and started our way back to the flashpoint.

Finding our way there was not a problem. All of the RCs were wearing bright blue shirts and made the umbrella stands on the beach all of the American Flag. Just drying off and removing all of the sand off of us, Diana and I were extremely reluctant to step back into the sticky sand. Being forced against our will, we both stepped back into sand where roll call was taken by our building RC. Shortly, we all went back to buses to take us back to PENN. The day was short but we made it last. I was just ready to go back to my building and take a nice warm shower and rest in my bed. Ocean City was the highlight of ending my busy week. 

7/15 Backtracking Our Culture

*note: this blog is an entry from 7-15*

There have been many instances within the news involving violence against police and the brutality they inflict on other black men. This itself has led us back to the topic of race and policing. Our guest speaker of the day, Keeanga-Yamhtta Taylor, had an idea of why or how this specific group was being targeted and it roots back to the time of Jim Crow Laws and the segregated era.

During the early 1900’s, Blacks were trying to move out of the inferior South and into the North. People made it difficult for this to happen because around this time, the government allowed people to do whatever they want with their property, sell it to whoever they want, and fluctuate the prices however they pleased. If people did not want to sell you property because of your race, they were allowed to. Many Blacks were sold overpriced, low quality housing in the North and their landlords would not maintain their homes in a fair or livable condition. Landowners thought of ways on how they could make more money so they removed many of the restrooms and kitchens in homes owned by colored people and transformed them into bedrooms where it could fit more people. 40% of homes did not have indoor plumbing within and made the hygiene of the area plummet. Many families that were overcrowded in these homes were forced to live on the streets because of lack of space. The housing separation allowed for foul stereotypes to flourish and made it seem as if people of color had poor hygiene. Not until 1968, where the Fair Housing Act was implemented, did this stop. 

Afro-Caribbean Mural 
Since no one really cared about what happened in the Black areas, this allowed violence, drug trade, and police brutality to occur. Poor people were always held in suspicion while being on the street. Categories of crimes began to develop in specific to targeting Black people leading to higher arrest rates, violence against them, and a way of degrading their race. They spent days in jail waiting to be convicted for a crime they “committed.” Riots began against Black people led by Whites killing fifty-five of them with the police joining in during the Red Summer. The larger the police force grew, the more unsafe it became for Blacks. Instead of the police protecting the people, they hurt them. It ensured poverty, criminal records, and brutality against them. Even today this is still occurring. So far in the year of 2016, 571 people were killed by the police. Nothing is changing while history continues to repeat.

Returning back to class in the afternoon, we were to embark upon another field trip to a Puerto Rican neighborhood in North Philadelphia called El Barrio. When I got off the train and exited the station, I knew that this wasn’t a well maintained neighborhood. Walking down the streets there was garbage and litter lying around the streets and sidewalks. The streets were quiet and vacant and have not been repaved in a long time. The small number of people you did see, you can tell they were in poverty. There were fire hydrants busted open with water gushing into the air and buildings were worn down and old in need of some remodeling. The area itself reminded me a lot of areas back home like Richmond, East Oakland, San Leandro, and certain parts of Vallejo. There were many corner stores and restaurants open on nearby blocks. Cars parked on the sides of the street were run down or damaged.  On occasion there would be some nice brand new car. Children played in the streets on their bikes and scooters while others hung out on the stoops of buildings.
Community Center in El Barrio
Ten to fifteen minutes of walking through the neighborhood, we all finally reached our destination. We stopped in front of a building that had beautiful mosaics and paintings along its walls. A man had stepped out, Rafael Damast, and welcomed us graciously inside of the center. There were tables and seats all placed out and around ready for our arrival. Over 50 us there, fit all together in seated in the nicely air conditioned room. Surrounding us were art pieces designed and created by young children from the ages of six to fourteen along with a black empty stage with different background pieces laying in the shadows. Mr. Damast had told us that this center we were in, was home to many children. It was created as a community center for young children to find an outlet or passion and teach their Latin history using the arts. They took classes on photography, painting, performing, etc. and at the end of each day they would perform for their parents in a talent show of what they learned and enjoyed the most. Once he finished speaking, he gathered us outside to take us on a tour of the different murals and culture of their community.
Rafael Damast Explaining One of the Murals
The feeling I had exiting the building was not a pleasant one. The heat of the sun had beat me down in the face so hard, I was already in need of a sip of water. No longer protected by the cool air of the air conditioned space, it was a struggle not passing out along the walk through the streets. He explained to us about each mural we had paused at. They all were painted to tell a story of their struggles being accepted coming into Philly and how they came about living there. Many of the people were discriminated against for their Afro-Caribbean culture. They used this negativity and hardships of adapting into a positive reaction by painting these murals around the community. The people shaped their culture into a proud manner and continued this throughout town until it finally felt like home.

7/14 Knowledge is Power

*note: this blog is an entry from 7-14*

Education is an entitlement for everyone, at least in the present of today. Back in time from before the 17th Century until around 1955 -1965 education was only for the white and privileged. Since the Constitution itself does not cover education within it, it made it even harder for this right to be even considered. Laws such as the Separate but Equal Act (Plessy v. Ferguson), are evidence from the past proving the difficulties in receiving an equal and fair education as the rest of the more favored students. Cases like Brown v. The Board of Education in 1954, challenged this problem residing within the society.  Brown had challenged the idea of segregating schools proving how unconstitutional it all was. By 1955, the Supreme Court ordered public schools to be desegregated. Even with this massive change, equal school education still remained unrepresented.

If you were a minority, life in school was much harder. Students were grouped into a school based on where they lived. This made it easier for people in poorer areas having fewer resources to have a qualifying education. Because of a lack in funding, many students were neglected or left behind in the system such as girls, LGBTQ, low-income, special needs, non-native speakers, immigrants/refugees, etc. They were more likely to get suspended or expelled and have fewer qualified teachers to instruct them versus privileged students. Their education was not corrected until the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It was implemented by President Lyndon Johnson and provided “compensatory education” to poor and minority students. Even with this implemented, many students were already so far behind the privileged students that it would make it extremely difficult in trying to catch up.

Reviewing this, I found it easier to apply this to our education system today. Many of our schools are stuck with little to no resources to help students learn on the same field as others across the nation because of the lack of money. In these areas, many of us are minorities. Even with all of the reforms that have been implemented such as Common Core, teacher training, charter schools, anti-bullying campaigns, etc., there are many schools with students who are still struggling to have a safe and a learning enriched environment. The areas or private schools with financial wealth are filled with a greater quality and amount of facilities for students to learn in. It’s surprising but interesting how things seem to still continue until present day even with all of the changes put into effect throughout the years.

We broke into groups to participate into an activity facilitated by the student teachers. In these groups, we would talk about the school systems we were learning in such as a public school, private, home school, charter, international, etc. and listen to how different schools were throughout the nation and world. We described our own personal experiences, the advantages, weaknesses, the quality of education everyone received and if everyone in the school and town receive the same value, and who received the better or worse education depending on their wealth/class, race/ethnicity, gender/sexual identity, and special needs/disabled.
Group Presenting Their Ideal Education System
As I listened to others speak, I learned unexpected things about other schools. Unlike what I’m used to in the Bay Area, many schools do not have diversity incorporated within them. A lot of the public schools in Philadelphia are predominantly Black with very few white people. Most of the private schools are consistent with White and Asian students. At schools which do have a variety of ethnicities rep[resented, the white students would group together and all of the other races would stick with each other. 

In schools in China, they would go to school from 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM, the time they would go to bed. What seemed to be consistent with most of the schools is the people who had more money to send their children to private schools or well-funded public schools, received the better education than most. 

Learning for people with special attention or disabilities seemed to isolate those students from the rest of the school; they were taught separately and did not socialize out of that group. If there were no separate classes for students with learning disabilities, they would struggle trying to receive help or the attention needed in the average classroom. The LGBTQ+ community were treated the same way as any other students at the school; they became more socially accepted among their peers.

At my school, we are privileged in ways that a lot of schools aren’t. The administration that we have makes the student support strong and flexible. Our principal is always dedicating his time to make my school the best that it could be. He makes time accessible to students and parents who need his support along with the other vice principals and some staff. There aren’t many schools which are eligible or have people like that at their schools and long for someone to actually come in and make a change to correct that. I am lucky enough to have administration who actually care and put effort into supporting the needs of the students. 

We have different program resources in our district such as The Ivy League Connection, Upward Bound (program allowing students to take math and science classes at UC Berkeley and live on campus), EAOP (UC Berkeley program where students commute there and pick classes to take over the summer), and more. The student diversity is high, we learn from one another, and adapt to our given environment making the most of what we have.

Our disadvantages are our facilities, some teachers, and lack of money. We have class in portables as we wait for our new school to be built and don’t have much of a campus. Many of our well qualified teachers are leaving for multiple reasons and we will be getting a large number of new staff, which can either make or break the school. Everything may not be perfect about it, and we do lack in some areas, but I believe that there is plenty of room for improvement that we are still pushing and progressing in profoundly.

In the afternoon, coming back from lunch, we spent the rest of the time designing our own education system for a new country ran by us. We were counted off into groups like the first time we were split up. In my group, we didn’t get much accomplished. People were disagreeing on who should be taxed and the amount, what type of schools would be incorporated such as private, public etc., how much money each school would be funded, and still be able to make it competitive against other countries. Some were saying we should tax the rich more, but others were against the idea. We only had a few points jotted down before it was time for us to present to the class for two minutes. Our group pulled through while presenting but ended up annoying one another. Doing this not only showed how hard it was for us to form an education system but to actually work together as a team and find mutual ground for all of our different views. Even though it was rough, I wish we could have more activities like this in the future. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Our Version of The Odyssey

On Saturday morning, the day of our departure, my RC group and I had planned to get breakfast at Wawa together for one final excursion together, but since some had left already and others were running late, I ended up going with just Sravan and his friend from the math course. There, I bought my usual yogurt with granola and mango along with a pretzel and tried to use up as much of my change as possible so I wouldn't have to carry it with me back home. Unfortunately, I was not entirely successful and still ended up with a sizable amount of coins.
The Wawa on the corner of our street
Upon returning to the Quad, I continued the effort I had started the previous night to pack all my stuff. Somehow, there seemed to be less space in my luggage than I had remembered, but eventually, I managed to pack in all my possessions, including the ones I had bought during my time on the East Coast. I cleaned my room, wiping down all the surfaces with cleaning wipes before donating the rest to the Summer Discovery program. During that time, I was distracted a few times by my RC group, once to witness the chaos one member had left in the room adjacent to mine and the others to say goodbye to each person as they departed. Finally, after putting the finishing touches on restoring my room to its original state, I brought my luggage downstairs, said goodbye again to the friends I encountered, checked my keys back in to the Summer Discovery program, and waited for Mr. Hillyer to show up with his shuttle. Sure enough, he did, easily recognizable by his tall frame, and we all said goodbyes yet again before loading our luggage into the shuttle, getting into the vehicle ourselves, and being whisked off to the airport.

Once we arrived at the Philadelphia Airport, we printed out our boarding passes and checked in our large luggage with only minor difficulties with the tags for my luggage and Diana's that were quickly settled. We then walked through the airport to get lunch at Chickie's and Pete's, which Mr. Hillyer seemed pretty enthusiastic about (although he usually seems enthusiastic anyways). There, we ordered their supposedly famous Crab Fries to start with while exploring our menus. On a side note, we didn't understand why they were called that, as they didn't have any crab in them, as far as we could tell. The fries came out shortly, served with both a creamy cheese sauce as well as maple syrup. Although we were all somewhat apprehensive about the syrup, I decided to continue with my adventure to try new things and go for it. I discovered that I actually liked the sweetness that the syrup added to the flavor, much to the surprise and amusement of the rest of the cohort. I also tried the cheese sauce, and although it was good, I decided I somewhat preferred the syrup, although occasionally, I would revert to the cheese sauce. Keeping up the effort to be adventurous, I ordered the Mussels with White Sauce, which, according to the menu, was an award-winning dish with nationally acclaimed sauces, so I trusted the lofty advertisement and went for it. I certainly did not regret that decision, as the mussels were absolutely delicious. However, I was somewhat disappointed that I realized I should probably have been dipping the bread they provided in the sauce after I was more than halfway through. It was still a great meal, though, and I'm glad I took the chance on the mussels.
The Chickie's and Pete's in the airport
The only picture of food on my blog
After our meal, we headed over to Gate B9, where our flight would be taking off from. To our surprise, the area was already relatively full when we got there, despite being several hours early. Since there were no outlets available to plug in my laptop, I had to go to Gate B8 instead so I could continue working. However, I was still exhausted and ended up being unproductive. In the meantime, I saw Trisha and Jason, who were on the same flight as us, as they passed me on their way to Gate B9. Eventually, it came time for us to board the plane. Just before we did, I bought a bag of Chex Mix from a nearby stand and managed to use more of the change I had.
One of the gates in the airport
Some of the stores inside the Philadelphia Airport
After boarding the plane, I decided to do some calculus, simply because I have a greater propensity for math. We had also been doing so much reading and writing about social issues that it was actually somewhat enjoyable to go back to doing problems with definite answers. Shortly after the plane started to taxi, I succumbed to exhaustion once again and returned to consciousness only to discover we were still on the ground. Confused and still somewhat disoriented from waking up, I thought it hadn't been very long and ended up staring at the time on my phone screen for a while, trying to process that it had been an hour and a half. Finally, I had the bright idea of asking Allonna what had happened in that time. Apparently, our flight had been delayed due to poor weather conditions, and once it had improved, we had run short on gas from idling so long and had to refuel. Upon refueling, we were then further disappointed by the news that we were on a waiting list to fly. Finally, nearly five hours after we had boarded the plane, we finally took off into the air, much to the happiness of everyone aboard. I had the window seat, so I had the responsibility of taking photos of the group. I ended up taking pictures every few minutes while I was awake before drifting back out of consciousness. Since we were flying westward, we had a great view of the sunset for a few straight hours until the sun finally dipped below the horizon for us. However, we also saw some lightning storms during our flight, which was not exactly what I was hoping to see while we were up in the clouds. I also had dinner on the flight due to the several hour delay, as the Chex Mix was helpful but not enough to satisfy my hunger. Of course, like all food on airplanes, the pastrami sandwich I had was subpar, but it accomplished its purpose.
To illustrate how long we were on the ground: from broad daylight to dusk.
The progression of the sunset
Finally, the captain's voice disrupted the silence as it filled the cabin, informing us that we were almost in San Francisco and to fasten our seatbelts for landing. Once we disembarked from the plane, we headed over to baggage claim, where we picked up our luggage and said our final goodbyes to Trisha. We then boarded the shuttle, which took us all the way back to El Cerrito, where Don, in his signature aloha shirt, was waiting. After we had taken our luggage out of the shuttle and loaded it into our own cars, we stood under a tree to take some more pictures, our final ones of the program, before heading to our homes.
Coming home: an aerial shot of the Bay Area
One last group picture
After a long day of waiting, both before boarding the plane and during the delay, it felt like we had undergone a journey, hence the title, although I'm certainly very glad we spent "only" 10 hours on the plane rather than 10 years like Odysseus did in Homer's famous epic. Upon arriving back at my house, the only thought on my mind was that I was glad to have finally made it back home.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

One Final Night

Finally, the Friday we had all been dreading had arrived. Not only was it the last day of class, but it was also the day we would have to present our capstone projects. I woke up at 4:00 AM that morning to make some last minute adjustments and look over my project with "fresh" eyes, although they were more exhausted than fresh, given the time. However, after reading my essay a few more times and making some final revisions to my essay until I was ready to submit it, I discovered my laptop was having Internet connectivity issues. After spending several minutes unsuccessfully trying to resolve them, I decided to leave it alone and work on my PowerPoint presentation instead. For my theme, I decided to use two shades of green alongside various shades of the grayscale as well as Oswald and Alcubierre for fonts. I also used some basic geometry for visual effects to make my presentation look more interesting as well. After I finished my presentation (or at least when I thought I had, as it later turned out I had forgotten a slide), I made another attempt to fix my Internet, to no avail, so instead, I simply let Yun know about the problem and brought my laptop with me to class.

When I got there, I was making a few more adjustments to my PowerPoint when I realized I had forgotten my laptop charger as well, so I went over to Yun and asked to go back to get it, to which he responded I could go when we were going from the McNeil building to College Hall. Dissatisfied with the problems I had been encountering so far but with little I could do, I was forced to put it out of my mind as Caroline presented with Patrick about the LGBTQ+ community. Although most of the people they interviewed thought that it had been a linear path of progress from the 1960s to the present, they revealed that the journey for equal rights for the LGBTQ+ had suffered some setbacks along the way and described the process as "two steps forward, one step back." They went on to demonstrate this through a chronological sequence of events by decade from the 1960s to the present before concluding that there was still a need for the gayborhood. I thought that their presentation was quite organized, starting with a video of them interviewing people to show what people thought before using the timeline to provide the factual evidence, and finishing by making a pitch for their argument.
The Memorial Tower
While my section started heading for Room 311-F, I ran all the way back to my dorm, where I grabbed my laptop charger and double-checked that I had everything else I needed before running back out to our room in College Hall, where I found I had arrived not too long after the rest of them, a relief to hear after all the problems I had run into so far. The next presentation was by Charley, who talked about the history of workers' rights and how it has led to the outsourcing of jobs. Over time, the U.S. has passed more measures to protect workers, but that led to outsourcing due to companies seeking fewer restrictions and cheaper labor. While I recognize that companies need to try to maximize profits and that these measures may be more difficult to comply with, I don't think it's right of them to make money at the expense of humanity, as they are promoting poor conditions for workers simply by using it.

Charley's presentation was followed by Matt and Mike's, who had prepared both a slideshow and a rap for their topic, police brutality. I appreciated that they presented multiple perspectives on the issue, as they demonstrated the disproportionate instances of police brutality towards blacks while also clarifying that there are still many more whites being killed at the hands of the police. I also liked the rap, which they performed live over the instrumental of Eminem's "Mockingbird" because it was a more interesting and memorable manner of conveying their point.

After them was Ayyah, whose topic was about the portrayal of Muslims and Arabs (which are not synonymous, as Muslims are followers of Islam while "Arabs" refers to a cultural and linguistic population of people) in the U.S. media. Interestingly enough, even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Arabs were already being portrayed as terrorists, as numerous movies released before 2001 still featured Arabs as the primary antagonists. She also made it clear that not all Muslims are Arabs and not all Arabs are Muslims, and most importantly, only an extremely small number of either group are affiliated with terrorist organizations.

From there, we shifted over to a presentation from Sam Ruiz (the guy) on women in the military. He informed us about all the injustices women are faced with in military service for the United States, including discrimination, as they are sometimes unable to get the position they desire, and sexual harassment, which is in part due to the masculine environment. There is also an equality vs. equity dilemma, as some argue for the same fitness requirements for both men and women to make while others believe that would lead to de facto segregation in the military and instead support the different tests for men and women. I would support the equity side, as men have a natural advantage over women and that should be taken into account, making it unfair to have the same tests for both men and women.

It was my turn to present once Sam was done, and although I was somewhat nervous, particularly because I hadn't had the chance to rehearse my presentation, I was pretty comfortable, as it was a small group of people I had gotten acclimated to already. To my surprise, the presentation came to me fairly naturally and it went quite smoothly, with the exception of a slide I had forgotten to add under the "Detrimental Health Effects" section. I covered the correlation between concentration of air particulates and SES as well as the one between concentration of air particulates and race, demonstrating through statistics on my presentation that people of lower SES and racial minorities are both exposed to disproportionately higher concentrations of air pollution. After that, I covered the harmful effects air pollution has on human health, which include increased susceptibility to asthma in children and higher mortality rates in the elderly, as well as the local relevance of the issue to me, as I live near Richmond, which has high levels of pollution due to the toxic emissions of nearby facilities. With the exception of the missing slide, I thought my presentation had went pretty well and was satisfied with the results.

Following me was Jin, who talked about the role of education in the process of stratification. He demonstrated that education plays a key part in establishing one's place in the social hierarchy and illustrated through graphs and charts that minorities have a stronger inclination towards downwards social mobility while whites are more likely to move upwards. Going back to the earlier debate we had over the role of education as an equalizer or a stratifier, I think that Jin's presentation helped demonstrate that it is more of the latter.

In the subsequent presentation, Lucie discussed the injustice in rape cases, as well as the inaction of institutions on the issue. She mentioned several cases, but focused more attention on the Stanford rape case, in which the perpetrator got a rather lenient sentence of six months, pointing out a possibly dishonest connection between the judge and the rapist, who both attended Stanford. However, according to Lucie, Stanford said it had done all it could to bring justice, although she did not believe that. Instead, she placed the onus on society's preference for males. I certainly agree that the sentencing is rather kind for a detestable crime like rape and hope our justice system will eventually be more fair.

Next up was Sam Wilder (the girl), who delivered her presentation on the right of women to decide when to get pregnant in the style of the New York Times' Room for Debate section, although she was the one who provided all the perspectives. Even though contraceptives have been around for a relatively long time, they have only become considered more acceptable recently. While it provides women with greater agency, those opposed to contraceptive use argue that it allows women to be more promiscuous. Although that is a valid argument, I think that we should still promote agency and trust in women to be responsible.

As we moved into the last three capstone projects, Elene demonstrated hers, which was on Stalin's cult of personality. Despite some of his cruel actions, including "purges" of certain people, he managed to amass great support and affection for him through propaganda that portrayed him as a strong leader that cared for his people and that merely did what was necessary for the country. To this day, he is still widely revered. It seemed rather worrisome to me that people could be manipulated into accepting what the media shows without questioning it first, although it also demonstrated the power of the media.

Kamillah, the second-to-last presenter, began with a video that illustrated domestic abuse from the perspective of a child. While everyone else simply saw the external image of kindness his father projected, the child also saw the violent outbursts of rage at home that started over rather mild situations. She then gave us a visual model of the cycle of domestic abuse, which consists of four stages. Essentially, the model demonstrates that there is a buildup of tensions, which then explode before a period of reconciliation and calm before the cycle starts again. I think that it's important that people recognize these symptoms of an abusive relationship so that they can avoid these situations, as no one should have to endure toxic behavior. I liked that she engaged us with questions through the presentation that also demonstrated general knowledge about the topic, including symptoms of domestic abuse as well as possible solutions.

Finally, we reached the final presentation, Diana's, on the topic of depression. She chose it because it is such a prevalent problem, particularly among teens, and because she had a personal experience with it and wanted to help others. I certainly appreciated her honesty and willingness to share her story with us and think that it's great that she's trying to bring more awareness to the affliction. She showed us that, despite how widespread it is, how infrequently people receive help or treatment for it, largely due to the great expenses it comes at, as sessions with a therapist could cost $90 an hour. She concluded her presentation with a video of a man suffering from bipolar depression delivering a performance about his condition in a more lighthearted manner. I thought her presentation brought up a good point that treatment for depression should be widely available without taking too large a toll on a family's finances, as that discourages treatment.
The McNeil building
After that, we headed back to the lecture room in the McNeil building, where they had pizza and soda for us. Once we had all satiated our hunger, one of the students, named Omar, delivered his own poem on media in the United States. I found his performance very impressive, as it had great wordplay and lyricism. Nevertheless, he managed to execute it almost flawlessly and received a long round of applause from the class for his effort. We then transitioned over to an evaluation of the course. The first part consisted of three components: describing an Aha! moment we had during the course, sharing what we learned with others, and discussing our goals for effecting social change. For my Aha! moments, I included Chris Rabb's lecture, as it truly demonstrated the power and influence of speech, and Valarie Kaur's Divided We Fall, as I found it quite moving and because it made me more aware of my own prejudices. As for the sharing aspect, I intend to share the understanding of these situations that I learned from presentations, the different perspectives I gained from discussions, and the insights I gained from the field trips. Finally, my goals for effecting social change are to create an active and conscious community in Richmond and its surrounding areas and possibly expanding it beyond our borders if that's successful. I will also be promoting environmental justice and sustainable practices through a club that I am founding, called the Revitalize Club. We also completed a small form including our feedback on the various aspects of the course, including speakers, field trips, our section leader, and other changes we would make to the program. My primary complaint with the program was that it wasn't long enough, as I had wanted to spend more time delving into the topics deeper and engaging in more discussions about them. Once we had accomplished that, we gathered into groups to talk about our experiences with the course. Almost everyone agreed that we had learned a lot from the course, and although some of the topics we had discussed were rather heavy, most of us felt empowered with all the knowledge we had acquired.

Finally, in our own version of a graduation ceremony, Professor Hanson called each of us, one by one, to the front of the room to receive our certificate and a handshake, while the rest of the teaching staff lined up on the side. After the ceremony, most of us stayed for a while to take pictures. My section, the House of Representatives, gathered one last time for some final pictures. We did a regular photo first, then one where we copied a pose Caroline had invented earlier, and finally one with all the guys and one with Yun and the girls as well, before lining for individual photos with Yun.
My certificate
The House of Representatives
The guys of the House of Representatives
My individual picture with Yun
Once everyone had finally exchanged farewells and went their separate ways, I went around to each of the staff members to personally thank each of them for giving us the opportunity to participate in this course and learn about social justice and express how much I had enjoyed the course.
The amazing teaching staff for the Social Justice Research Academy. From left to right: Ms. Tonya C. Bell, Mr. Yun Cha, Ms. Diamond Zambrano, Ms. Angela Simms, Dr. David Salmanson, Dr. R. Scott Hanson.
Once class had ended, I hurried back to the dorm to change before heading back out to the Pottruck Fitness Center to try the rock wall there, which I had been wanting to do for my entire stay there. I ended up bouldering for over an hour before getting one last dinner at the 1920s Commons. After I had showered, I accompanied Kamillah to Shake Shack, where she ordered her dinner while I merely ordered a milkshake, specifically a Malted Chocolate Cheesecake milkshake, which happened to be the shake of the week. Along the way, we talked about our experiences at Penn and both of us expressed our wishes that it had lasted longer.
The rock wall
By the time we got back, the carnival in the Quad had begun. Although it seemed rather underwhelming at first, I ended up having a lot of fun at the magic station, where I remained for about the next two hours or so. I find magic tricks absolutely enthralling, and although I recognized some tricks, I still greatly enjoyed watching the magician, named Doug, perform his tricks, which included tricks with cards, foam balls, ropes, a bag and an egg, metal rings, and even an ordinary pen. Finally, after he concluded his performance, I went around the Quad to find the friends I had made to say my goodbyes and take some final pictures.
Doug, the magician
Me with Doug and his flaming wallet (yes, it was real fire)
My RC group and I, outside of the Franklin building
After we had the brilliant idea of taking a picture indoors, with better lighting
I really enjoyed hearing all my fellow section members (representatives, if you will) present their capstone projects and spending the last day of the course with them, and I'm going to miss the environment and people at UPenn.
The iconic Locust Walk