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.

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