Saturday, May 24, 2014

Keeping my "Eyes on the Prize"

Disclaimer: I'm sure this post looks a lot like monotonous rambling since it's not pretty looking, but bear with me as I will be adding more photos shortly.

Last night, my Cornell cohort and I attended another exciting event: the San Francisco dinner with ILC sponsors and Cornell alumni. Prior to the dinner, I was feeling apprehensive. I was nervous about making small talk and even more intimidated by the fact that the kind individuals, who are funding this amazing opportunity to go to Cornell this summer, were to be in attendance. But the night turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

My mom attended the school board meeting last week, so the dinner last night was my dad’s turn. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little worried about our punctuality. My dad has a tendency to be late to things. But I kept my faith and lo and behold we arrived to BART, not just on time, but early. And so did everyone else. As we waited in the wind (at this point I began to reconsider my decision to wear a dress) we began our mingling. Carla and I, nervously, introduced ourselves to Mrs. Madeline Kronenberg and within the first 20 minutes of the night, I had already received advice (secrets) on applying to college. When the train had come we finally got to get out of the wind. I looked for a seat next to one of the adults coming along with us, but everyone had already paired up with one another. So I sat in an empty row. Kevin’s dad ended up sitting next to me. I thought I was going to get in trouble because, though he is an adult, he is not affiliated with the Ivy League Connection. Still, we got to talking just fine, which reminds me: Kevin, you should hurry up and get your license…

Once we were in San Francisco, we had to hike a few blocks to the restaurant, Town Hall. I use ‘hike’ because I was wearing high heels, but anyways I survived. Town Hall doesn't look much like the fine-dining restaurant it is inside from the outside. In fact, my dad, who works at Genentech in South San Francisco, discovered that he passes Town Hall everyday on his bus ride home and had never realized it was a restaurant.

Our dinner was held in a private room upstairs. As we were notified ahead of time, we had to wait for Mr. Ramsey to set up name placards. This was the time for, as Don put it, our brilliance to shine. We were to speak with the alumni. Of course, I was still feeling awkward. Plus, everyone was already engaged in full-fledged conversations. I introduced myself to a few alumni, but soon after Don called us in to be seated. I found myself at a table with my dad, Carla, her mom and three Cornell alumni. From there, the night took off.

As the waitresses brought around hors d'oeuvres, I introduced myself to the special guests. To my right was Mr. David Zahora, a 2006 alumnus. Mrs. Carolyn Day Flowers, a 1989 alumna, was to my left and Ms. Ali Austerlitz, a 2009 alumna, was across the table. Our conversations were completely enlightening. I learned to not "box" myself in and how important it is to network and form lasting relationships. Cornell is the perfect place to do just that, so I inferred. I learned from Mrs. Day Flowers to always stay true to myself, no matter what. (Another helpful hint for writing my personal statement). And Ms. Austerlitz explained how she studied abroad, an opportunity I'd now love to take. Not once throughout the night was there a dull moment. I was constantly learning new things. As the night progressed, I even began to discover more of who I am.

Before our entrees came, we had a few presentations. One in particular resonated with me the most: Ms. Samantha Berg's inspiring speech. She spoke of how she switched majors from architecture to engineering until she finally settled with human ecology, in which her career centers around today. I am at the crossroads of choosing my collegiate-career path, so it is somewhat comforting to know I still have time to decide and that trying out a few things before finding your true passion is completely acceptable.

Then came our food. It was to die for. I had a salad as an appetizer, salmon as my main course and a delicious banana, cinnamon dish for dessert.

All the while, the conversation continued, lively and exciting. Ms. Austerlitz spoke of two "hidden spots" on campus: a bridge that has the most amazing views and a room in the library that is so silent unzipping your backpack would be deafening. She also mentioned a small place a mile away called the 'Commons'--at least, I'm pretty sure that's what it was called. I was overwhelmed with information last night so it's hard to remember all the details. However, she assured me all I had to do was describe these places as she had and any Cornellian would know what I was talking about. This along with Mr. Zahora's description of the botanical garden and gorges, which supposedly you use to be able to swim in, made me really excited to go exploring around Cornell. I probably will be too busy with the course to see all these places, but it definitely peaked my interest and I am already considering applying to Cornell this fall.

The night eventually began to wind down. We all shook hands, thanked the alumni for taking time out of their lives to enlighten us, said our farewells, and moseyed back to the BART station. Reflecting on the night, it is one that is unforgettable. I can hardly wait for June 16th, especially now. My dad even wishes he can go! He said last night, "I was excited for these kids before this dinner, but now I'm stoked!". I'm motivated to end my school year on a good note, thrive at summer college and come back and enlighten the rest of my community just as so many people did for me.

Of course, I must extend my immense gratitude and appreciation to all of those who make the Ivy League Connection possible. I will not let you down.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Enticed For Cornell from Conversation at the Dinner

The adequate Gumbo I ordered as an Appetizer
Note: To the people reading this and inquiring on why this was posted a day later, we came back from the dinner much later than expected.

Today the entire Cornell Cohort met up at the El Cerrito Plaza BART in order to travel as a group to San Francisco for the cohort dinner with the alumni, some sponsors, board members and some other people having to do something in general with education. I arrived there about 5 minutes before the planned meeting time with my father (each ILCer was to bring at least one guardian to represent them at the dinner), and I soon found out that Don had already gone over just about everything, so everyone just chatted away while we were awaiting some Cornell alumni to show up. Right before entering the platform to await our BART train, Don gave everyone of us Clipper Cards (pre-paid BART cards) which I had never used before but were actually pretty simple to use (just swipe or hover over the scanner). Up on the gusty platform, a vision of Evil Don flashed before my head, reminding me what the whole purpose of this entire day was about. Just before an imaginary Don could imaginarily yell at me I approached the first unknown person I had saw there that wasn't a parent. I introduced myself and realized that this person was very familiar. He introduced himself and it turned out he was the director of Hercules Education Foundation as well as a former Hercules city councilman (I recognized him from this): Don Kuehne. He later explained that he grew up in New Jersey, works as a researcher for Chevron and how he went to chemical engineering school at Cornell. I asked him what the weather was like in Cornell in the Summer and he said, that it was fantastic (which I found hard to believe later that day based on testimony of another Cornellian). He also mentioned how his daughter is currently studying organic chemistry at UC San Diego and mentioned how difficult the course is--I've already had a taste of a little organic chemistry in AP Biology last year and I don't see why I couldn't agree with his statement.

The Pork Chop I had that was a little too Well-Done accompanied by rice/beans and two Serrano Peppers--still good

On the train ride I felt like I needed to know more about Cornell in general so I scouted like a hawk for another Cornellian speak with and asked to sit by one that was nearest to where I boarded. Her name was Carolyn Day Flowers. Mrs. Flowers graduated from Cornell in 1989 (way before I was born) and answered ALL of my bazillion questions that I threw at her, and she answered with as much incite-fullness as possible. She chose to attend Cornell because it was a family tradition along with the fact that she fell in love with all that Cornell had to offer. She studied Japanese Language as well as Economics at Cornell, both of which she studied for very good reasons. She studied Japanese Language because she enjoyed it, and she studied Economics because it was interesting to her and there were many job opportunities she could land with a degree in this field. She said her experience at Cornell included being very independent (which I later noted was a common theme amongst Cornellians) as in many didn't receive too much help from teacher assistants or the like, and that self study was a key part to being successful. She felt that with this experience at Cornell, partaking in the outside world was made easier. She also talked about how she enjoyed political science and history (just like me) and how Isaac Kramnick is one of the best professors that Cornell has to offer--teaching there before she even came. 

Exceptional Banana Ice Cream with Caramel Cracker
 When we got out off our train at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, I ran into a little problem. As I so thought I mastered utilizing the Clipper Card, I waved it before the scanner and it didn't work. I was panicking because I was holding up the line, as I hovered it over, and over and over the scanner various times--the entrance wouldn't open until I placed my card into contact with the scanner and then it worked (*whew, how embarrassing). On the way to the well-known restaurant on Howard Street: Town Hall, I stuck to Mrs. Flowers the entire way there talking about San Francisco and how it is always chilly. Then she told me that the weather in Cornell was far different as compared to the Bay Area, with extremely humid conditions in the Summer (Oh boy humidity--I don't do so well in moisture). We walked by and talked about the construction site of the Transbay Tower, which will be the new face of SF, which will be the tallest building in the city once completed and as well as my high school. At this point in time I should've paid more attention/added to the conversation because I felt as if I didn't contribute as much nearing the restaurant, for I was re-jogging my speech in my head. Either way she was a very charismatic and nice person, so and that helped keep the conversation alive. And on another note, she approached me later that evening in the dinner to make sure to keep in contact (with her email provided) so that she can help me with my college application process starting basically right after the school year ends--I'll make sure to keep in contact with her.

At the waiting room in the restaurant on the third floor (meant for private parties) we were served delicious appetizers including one that was a beef slice on short bread with a strawberry drizzle on top. Not only that, but the waiters also served us crab cake bites (I love any form of crab), and they were both VERY well received (for I didn't eat lunch because of make-up classwork leftover from AP testing of the previous week). When we entered the dining room, the tables had name tags arranged on each one of them in order to maximize the our (the ILCers) interaction with the alumni. I was placed in the farthest table back, in counter clockwise order: Jason Levy class of 2007, Ms. Fraser (Natalie's mom), Alex Vollmer class of 1965, Natalie (directly in front of me), Alison Leaf class of 2009 and to the left of me, my dad. I began to talk to Jason since he was the nearest Cornell alumnus and he spoke on his choice on why he chose to attend Cornell. Which was first off, a great education, second he wanted to experience the extremes of weather (since he group up in the Bay Area: Marin County) and lastly he wanted to get away from his parents because he wanted independence. From studying at Cornell he received an internship in San Francisco and is now a web designer, and even joked around and said he may be the next Mark Zuckerberg.  He is also the director of the the Nor-Cal Cornell Alumni Association. After a while, an introduction was made by school board member, Ms. Kronenberg, who allowed everyone to introduce themselves and began with the student speeches--starting with me.

Me Speaking to Everyone
 I was really nervous, since it was my first real speech that didn't include some form of acting. I started it off with a story about how in first grade I was placed into the English Language Development program even though I already spoke English. But the experience helped me realize how I could compete effectively with essentially anyone and its the hard work that counts and never saying no to an impediment. I later spoke about how the Ivy League Connection is an enormous opportunity and how we will give back to the community in the form of continuing local college clubs in our high schools where we will explore college options and help each other with personal statements. Then I thanked the sponsors, alumni who came, the school board members, Don Gosney, and my dad for all their own respective reasons. To top it all off, I ended it with a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that my aunt once told me that goes, "To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--that is to have succeeded." Everyone seemed to like my speech, and many alumni said I did well--so all the nervousness and preparation of an hour (the day before and on the way to BART) didn't go to waste.

After I gave my speech, I called Carla up to give hers. She followed suit with starting with a story that told of the Ivy League Connection process, and how she moved from Arizona and is in totality grateful for the oppurtunity. Then a alumnae of Cornell by the name of Samantha Berg spoke on behalf of her experience at Cornell. In my opinion she was extremely inciteful on how many classes she took which she mentioned to be nearly every interesting class Cornell offered and how she now designs all sorts of mechanical things such as cell phones to automobiles. Honestly, she was one of the most forward thinking individuals that I have seen in my life and I'm more than sure that will stick as a positive influence in my head for the rest of my life. Lastly, Mr. Ramsey (school board President) gave the last word, emphasizing the fact that the ILC is not specifically meant for just us--it's meant to help the entire community, after all as a community we can only have progress if we help each other out. In other words you are remembered for what you have done for others.

Don made us hastily take a photo outside the restaurant because the Cornell alumni were dispersing (I'm on an island)
After all that, we all ate dinner which for me consisted of gumbo for an appetizer. I wasn't impressed by the gumbo, even though I had only had it one other time in my life at a football team potluck in sophomore year made by a coach with his secret family recipe. The gumbo I felt, had an incorrect balance of spices but the sausage morsels in the soup were amazing. My main entree, the pork chop was over-seared (thus well done) but nonetheless was good because I was hungry. My hats off to the dessert, since it was something extraordinary I hadn't had before. It was I believe banana ice cream with white chocolate bits inside with a caramel cracker and seared banana slices with cream top it off.

Photo with Natalie
I also spoke to Mr. Vollmer (who preferred to be called Alex) right across from me (who I had to shout to because the room was so loud--and at times Ms. Fraser had to relay my questions to him). It turns out that he was a civil engineer many years ago and surprisingly has built many buildings in Latin America, including in Venezuela. He said that he is still amazed when he travels to those countries and finds that his buildings are still standing. He like many other Cornellians have said, at Cornell there isn't really that much help from other people and one must learn to thrive on their own and be very academically independent. He even remarked how it got so bad for him at one point, that the Dean told him to be bring his grades up or else his time at the university could be up. He began to utilize what he had learned in high school--how to learn-- in Cornell and picked up his grades and joined the swim team and a fraternity. He also mentioned, to my surprise that being in a fraternity led him to many later connections in life to the position he is in now. Next, my conversing followed up with Alison Leaf who only graduated 5 years ago and is now in graduate school at UCSF studying cell biology. Good thing I got paired up with alumni who also enjoy the same subjects as I do, like biology so we began talking about what she is focusing her thesis on. Her thesis she said, is going to be on how exactly the protein receptors on each cell know where to allocate themselves on the outer-membranes of cells in order to receive the histamine signals from other cells--which I easily understood thanks to AP Bio last year. She also said that she took an education path that she felt was most comfortable for her and thrived in it, but she said she later regretted not giving other options a fair shot. I'll take her experience into mind when choosing a college path.

By this time, Ms. Leaf had to leave to another Cornell dinner and many other alumni from different tables were leaving as well. Don saw this moment and couldn't take it anymore and thus called everyone to take a picture at an assembly of rocks outside. There Don, as well as parents took many pictures and I was confined to my own island as the middle rock was too small. After the picture, we all came back to the restaurant, where after not too long, all the remaining alumni had left home or to other social get-togethers.

The much awaited back up train-after the 1st was delayed
Then, when Don felt like it was time, we all left the restaurant as a group to the BART station. A night walk in any city in my opinion is nice, because of the complexion of the lights and the variety of people you'll see/meet on the street. When we got to the station, I met one last person to give me college advice for the day. I met Reggie Terrell, who simply gave me advice on choosing college options. He said it's always good to choose something you are comfortable working with the rest of your life, not so much the money. I have always had this battle in my head whether on getting a great paying job or a job that I like better, but pays less, I'll probably decide in college so I know what to major in. Mr. Terrell also mentioned the ROTC, which I know about and probably will not join. It's a valid option indeed, which is why he emphasized with the grants given and its benefits, but I more than likely will not join it because it's time consuming--whereas I can be in clubs or in other activities. Well, after he went home too I was left with Don as his BART buddy on the train talking about the ILC in general and cats. Don talked about how the Chicago cohort almost wasn't going to have a dinner with alumni, until rather recently, and now it is going to happen next week--I'm happy that the first year cohort will have a very similar experience as the rest. Although before we could move on to cats (even though I may be more of a dog person even though I don't own a dog, cats are still cool pets to me), we had to transfer trains in Oakland and guess what... THERE WAS A DELAY. Of course we all wanted to go home, but this only reassured the fact that Don said earlier while walking back from the Town Hall restaurant in SF, that we didn't have to write a blog on the same day (write it the following day) because it was so late....YES I can sleep.

When we finally arrived in El Cerrito again, we were all exhausted from not normally doing this, but glad that it all happened so we could receive all the college advice the Cornell alumni were able to give us in one dinner session and at the same time learn more about the university that we will attend this Summer. Also my arm was tired because of the flowers I had held for a district counselor ever since walking from the restaurant.  We all bid each other tired goodbyes and until next time, which will be in the not so distant future. Today was a good day.

Impressive Persons At Town Hall

Last night was the Cornell dinner, and it was the best-executed evening I've ever had. Everything was planned down to the last minute, and, barring slight issues with a BART train and an obstructed crosswalk, everything went swimmingly.

Town Hall occupies multiple floors of a small and beautiful brick building in the city. On the interior, white hallways and large windows contrast with the darker elements of the dining room to create an atmosphere of fresh, lighthearted sophistication. As we mingled with the adults and waited for Mr. Ramsey to set the name cards around the tables, we were served various hors d'oeuvres. I didn't have any because I was determined not to spoil my appetite; I had foolishly eaten a large bowl of ramen after school and wasn't too hungry yet.

Once we were ushered into the dining room and found our places, introductions multiplied at an startling rate. I was seated in the far back of the room at a table with my mother, Kevin and his father, and three alumni. On my left was Mr. Alex Vollmer, whose name card said class of '65 but who told us he graduated in '62. On my right was Ms. Alison Leaf, class of '09. Across from me was Jason Levy, class of '07. At each place setting there was a menu with multiple options for each course and a schedule for the evening. We each ordered either gumbo or salad, and settled in to converse. Alison Leaf told me all about her Cornell experience, describing the community and academics, and adding charming details like the campus-made ice cream and the lakes and gorges. She expressed not a single regret about attending Cornell, although she did state that after her time there she knew she wanted the city life.

Conversation paused as speeches began. We heard from two students, one alumna, and Mr. Ramsey. I was grateful for the perspective the speakers provided: the alumna, Samantha, moved from architecture to engineering before she settled into design, proving that it's not paramount for high school students to know what they want to do as they first enter college, and Mr. Ramsey reminded my cohort that the experience the ILC is offering us is for the good of the community more than it is for us.
I'm not going to describe the food because it sells itself. 

As Samantha was finishing her speech, an alum at another table stood and presented Mr. Ramsey with a small Cornell banner and a baseball cap. He used them proudly as props when he spoke.

With the speeches concluded, we were once again free to enjoy the food and learn from each other. Alex Vollmer, who worked as a civil engineer, engaged Alison Leaf, who is working towards a biochemistry Ph.D, and the rest of the table in a discussion of her work. Gradually, the conversation shifted to Cornell's quirks, like that every incoming freshman has to either know or learn to swim. Mr. Vollmer said that both his mother and grandmother attended Cornell and had to learn to swim - the requirement's been around a while.

At around 9, a couple of alumni had to leave, so Don hustled us outside to take a group picture. Within a few minutes of returning to the dining room, Kevin and I had thanked and bid goodbye all three of the alumni at our table. We were left with only our parents, who took advantage of the photo opportunity.
Before we left, Mr. Ramsey came around to each table, saying "We always make sure the moms get the flowers" and pushing the beautiful red-and-white centerpieces towards the mothers. The server provided cardboard boxes to better contain the vase and the arrangement. Outside, we removed the water so that there would be no risk of spillage on the ride home.

The flowers were a very kind gesture, but they became cumbersome when, after we'd been sitting in an ailing train for several minutes were were told to get out and wait for the next. Still, the wait was relatively short and we were soon on our way again.

Riding home, I reflected that this was certainly the fanciest meal I'd ever eaten, and that the event was beautifully organized down to the smallest of details. I'm grateful to have spent an evening in the company of such brilliant, idealistic, and well-spoken people, who have convinced me that the college experience at Cornell is one worth striving for.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Inspirational Alums, Inspired Me.

Being at Town Hall as an ILCer last night with the School Board members, sponsors, and alums was an involvement I'll never forget. As we took the BART towards Embarcadero I thought, "Wow, am I really going to get to talk with Cornell alums?" During the dinner, I opened up and let the alums know more about me as an individual, and more importantly, why I applied to Hotel Administration course out of all the others.

Yesterday was such a hectic day for me. Tuesday night I was studying for my finals, trying to cram all the last minute information into my brain. And right after I finished my Calculus 2 final on Wednesday, I hurried home to get ready for the amazing enchanting Cornell dinner. We arrived at the BART station a little bit after 5PM, just early enough to see Good Don smiling.

At first, it was awkward since I didn't know my cohort that well and furthermore, the alums. But right after we got onto BART going towards Embarcadero, I took the initiative to talk to a fabulous parent of our cohort. Sally was accompanying my cohort, Natalie to the dinner and our topics branched off from gymnastics to speech and debate. It was really interesting hearing what a normal high school has to offer as to my high school is purely academic based, providing no sports and little to no clubs. Sally was talking about how MCHS students are able to join neighboring high school's clubs and that made me want to go and check out the speech and debate team at El Cerrito High School. Time went by fast and soon we were heading out the Embarcadero Station going towards Town Hall. I thought to myself, "See, taking the proactive choice to spark a conversation with somebody isn't so hard." I then introduced myself to a Cornell alumni, Mr. Don Kuehne. Mr. Kuehne is Civil Engineer that studied his undergrad at Cornell and then moved to Caltech during graduate school. I wanted to see how a laboratory setting, Caltech, was like compared his four years at Cornell, a more country setting. He was taken aback when I suddenly approached him so abruptly, but soon we were talking about the massive BP oil spill a few years back to new ways to prevent future oil spills from happening.

After that five minute walk which seemed like an hour, we finally arrived at Town Hall, our main destination. My heart was pounding as I ascend the stairs. When we reached the third floor I saw that there weren't just a few Cornell alums inside, but around twenty alums in addition to sponsors as well. It was well long before everybody got situated inside the room, but when we did, I got the honor to sit next to a Cornell Hotel School graduate, Mr. Kenneth Kushman, Class of 1982. I must thank Mr. Ramsey for this seating arrangement since I will be attending a Hotel Administration course: Tactics for Profitability this summer. Nonetheless, my table also included my fabulous cohort Sue, ten year Cornell graduate Mr. Doug Mitarotonda, Ms. Rachel Reichenbach, and our parents.

Ms.Kronenberg halted our talks and thus started the introductions of ILCers, parents, alums, sponsers, and other amazing people. I am really thankful for Kevin Mendoza and Carla Martinez for speaking on behalf of the Cornell Cohort to express our gratitude to each and every one of the sitting individuals last night. If it weren't for all of them, we wouldn't be here today. As the student speakers came to an end, Ms. Samantha Berg, spoke about her experience at Cornell. She probably touched on all the available majors during her time at Cornell and that made me realize Cornell is "any person, any study". Mr. Ramsey's speech concluded with the final advice directed to us ILCers, "give back to the community". I believe all the knowledge I accumulate during my time at Cornell will definitely be put to use as I come back from the east.
Pork chops, yum yum~

While talking to Mr. Kushman about why I applied to the Hotel Administration course, I replied by saying, "It's astounding to see hotel chains expanding so fast!". He also added that when he was a child, Mr. Kushman loved being at hotels and just seeing how amazing it is, and that's what made him want to major in Hotel Administration. As our talk expanded throughout various subjects, our entrée came and we then talked about Mr. Kushman's residence at Hong Kong a little bit after he graduated from Cornell. I got to hear amazing stories while eating such luscious dinner.

By 10PM, alums started heading out for the door and Don immediately said, "Before we lose all the folks here tonight, why don't we take a picture first and then leave?" So as Don instructed, we left our half eaten banana dessert to go downstairs in the chilly evening and took some awesome photos of Cornell alums and ILCers. After saying farewells to the Cornell alums, we headed out for the next BART to Pittsburg/Baypoint. We would then transfer at Oakland and then reach El Cerrito Plaza. But who would've known, the BART we got on had a maintenance situation and twenty minutes of waiting followed. And that's how I knew everyone was tired.

This is, without doubt, one night to remember. Just meeting so many outstanding people gave me happy chills on this cold, yet wonderful evening.

It's All about the Community

Wow. Yes, that's all I have to say. That's all I have to say about yesterday's dinner.  Once again, I've been caught with my mouth wide open, not only because of the captivating food but mainly because of ILC's dedication and efforts. I've caught myself in this situation once already at the school board meeting, and now, yet again.

It all began at the El Cerrito Plaza BART Station. All members of the Cornell cohort combined with Don, Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, the sponsors, and Cornell alumni gathered at around 5:20 pm. As we waited for our 5:42 train to Embarcadero, I was able to talk to Don Kuehne, an alumnus from Cornell and a research engineer at Chevron. Being interested in engineering myself, I drew inspiration and gained insightful advice for what to accept when I head on over to Cornell this summer.

Once we departed from the El Cerrito BART Station, I couldn't believe how swift the train ride was. Perhaps, this was thanks to Ms. Kronenberg, who kept Carla and me engaged by talking about personal statements and college in general. Before I realized, we were all standing amidst skyscrapers, which touched the skies majestically as they boasted San Francisco's classic urban feel. Within the next five minutes, I was standing across the street from a small, red building titled "Town Hall" -- our restaurant.
These were awaiting me at my seat.
Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, student speakers including Kevin Mendoza and Carla Martinez, and Cornell alumnus, Samantha Berg, did a fantastic job reaching out to the audience and helped reestablish the reason why we had all gathered: not only for the students, but also for the community.

My mom and I at the dinner
·         Just as my mom and I took our seats along with my other cohort member, Jun Chen and her father,  a very sweet couple greeted us. This power couple was Rachel Reichenbach and Doug Mitarotonda who set a very casual and friendly environment for all of us.  Both of them have an entire life story in Ithaca together (They have almost 6 degrees from Cornell under their belts!). All I can say is that I was so fortunate to be seated next to them because the information they shared is truly priceless and I hope to use much of their advice once I land in Cornell. One thing from Doug that I remember most vividly is what he said when he was talking about how important it is to have people older than you as mentors and advisors in life. I clearly remember him saying, "While there are people constantly pushing you forward, there are also people at Cornell who are ready to catch you if you are about to fall." Such insights have really relaxed my nerves and have prepared me all the more for not only college, but for life in general.  Sitting directly across from me was Kenneth Kuchman from Bernard E. & Alba Witkin Charitable Foundation located in Berkeley, CA.  He too shared wonderful insight about his years at Cornell University and was willing to give us any answers to our questions. 
A group picture of our wonderful table (Mr. Kuchman is missing here.)
Meeting such influential people in this spectacular ILC journey has allowed me to experience something I've never felt before. Never before did I think I would be seated at a restaurant like Town Hall in San Francisco next to wonderful people including Rachel Reichenbach, Doug Mitarotonda, or Kenneth Kuchman. All of this has been possible only because of the Ivy League Connection, which has put so much effort into celebrating our accomplishments and sending us to prestigious programs over the summer. But at this point, I would like to remember what Mr. Ramsey had told us (the students attending Cornell)  in his speech: "Stop thinking about yourself. It's not always about you. It's about the community." To reinforce his point, this is about the community. Though we had gathered at Town Hall to celebrate our accomplishments thus far, we had also gathered to mark the rise of new ambassadors of the WCCUSD School District. We will make our district proud and this dinner has brought to light the individuals who take time off their busy schedules to give back to their community and help young individuals like us smoothly transition into the next stage in life. Now, they serve as role models; people who have inspired us to do the same -- give back to our community.
The beautiful flowers gifted by Mr. Ramsey.
At this moment, on such a great platform, I would like to thank ALL the sponsors for coming together for a wonderful cause and being the backbones for our success. We still have much more in life to accomplish, but you have helped plant the seed. We will come back to WCCUSD from Cornell hoping to instill change in every possible way.  To all the sponsors: On my behalf,  a very sincere thank you for everything.
Here it is!
How can I complete a blog post about the dinner and not talk about the food. Isn't that simply against blogging rules? I'll stick to my favorite part, the dessert. For dessert, the waitress served a beautiful masterpiece before me. It seemed so delicately crafted that I didn't want to ruin the presentation of the oozing dark chocolate fudge, caramelized bananas, and cinnamon filo. After turning my dessert into a superstar by allowing it to pose for my camera several times, I decided to delve right in. It had a creamy, rich interior and a slightly crisp exterior. When I took a bite, the two textures mixed as one and allowed for a wonderful taste. This emblem of perfection was none other than the scrumptious Caramelized Banana Icebox Cake.

                As the ILC journey continues, the Cornell cohort has a few more stops and before we know it, we'll be on the plane to Ithaca. Ready or not, here we come!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Everything Went Smoothly...Towards The End

One of Don's Point of View Pictures of the Meeting
Today was one of those milestone events that ILCers have once very year--the WCCUSD school board meeting, where the ILC is presented before the school board to say a few words on how excited and grateful we all are, while also stating what we are to bring back to our schools. Although before all that fun could happen, my day started off with something much less pleasurable--AP testing. Yes its that time of year, the dreaded two weeks of AP exam horror and if you're lucky enough, you'll end up having two on the same day (like me!). Those two tests were the AP U.S. History Exam in the morning and the AP European Exam in the afternoon. Now it may sound bad, but to clarify, history in general is one of my favorite subjects and most of it is surprisingly not boring to me. Some people try to memorize it without caring about its importance, others don't memorize it because it's too boring, although in my case, it just sticks in my head like an enjoyable story. 

My Former Best Friends
Nonetheless when the hour of cramming came to a halt--exactly 8 AM to be exact, the first test soon enough began. The multiple choice for the U.S. History exam began and I nailed it and had enough time to go back and double check my answers. The essays were surprisingly easy as well as I wrote away on Puritanism  & Enlightenment on one and Reconstruction on the other. The thing I hate about history tests in general is how much it hurts my right hand. I remember last year, while doing the AP World History Exam my hand wouldn't stop hurting until the end of the day. Yet of course, I had to take the European right after--with a 15 minute break in between (approved by my kind counselors). The European test was slightly more difficult than the U.S. one because I self-studied and not for very long, either way it wasn't as bad as I expected since I knew the material. After surviving the day (by that I mean not breaking my wrist as I had feared) and getting out of school at 4:26 PM I managed to get home around 5 and got dressed for the meeting.

If You Look Closely You'll Realize it's not the Best Picture
Originally I was set up to speak at the meeting today but, was rather recently changed to the dinner next week, so basically no difference. When  the meeting began at Lavonya DeJean middle school, I expected it to be filled with parents and of course students, and sure enough it was. There at DeJean the meeting starting off with some pending issues and then it got to the good stuff (us). Among the things that were first to happen included two former ILCers speeches which were both uplifting and made me think about my future choices. The first one to speak was Leonard, who is going to attend Penn this coming Fall. He explained how his experience in the ILC affected him and how in the end his mind was set on schools that he never thought of applying to. Tamilyn was the other to speak and also reflected on her own personal experiences with the ILC such as having breakfast with my future teacher Professor Kramnick in the Freedom and Justice course and also being independent. Knowing Tamilyn from mock trials this year, she's been a great academic influence on me, like a role model and now she's headed off for Harvard--just like her sister. 

We also got Recognition Certificates
Another person I had never seen or met was Mr. Ray. Who Mr. Ray is and his affiliation with the ILC, has  something very  significant to do with its founding. It turns out he helped administer it since its  prototype  year  with  Dartmouth  (when  I have free time or am bored and happen to remember to research this, I will). Then he proceeded to announcing the cohorts one by one where we all had our time to represent who we were. I remember I told Mr. Chan-Law not forget to mention what schools we are to visit in the Mid-West (since Mr. Ramsey was calling the previous chaperones out for not mentioning it) and he happened to forget it, even though he said he wouldn't and he also said he was looking at the preceding cohorts and making sure not to copy mistakes--oh well, it was funny. Then most importantly to Don, we all took a giant group photo in the back that soon enough will  be posted on the ILC website sometime once the final photo-shopping is implemented. This was the moment I knew Don was going to stress out the most over, because he knows from the past years the hassle that comes along with large group photos. In the end he managed to take about 20-30 pics as mentioned earlier and then chose the "best one." After the meeting, everyone seemed content and more than happy with this day of recognition. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Presenting the 2014 ILC Cohorts to WCCUSD

Although I've gone to school in the West Contra Costa Unified School District for the last 12 years, I have never attended a school board meeting. At least up until tonight. 

One aspect of being in the Ivy League Connection is one's commitment to communicating one's experience to his or her community. The ILC expects students to express their thoughts through events like tonight's. At the beginning of the meeting, we heard the testimonials of 2 ILC alums who were accepted to Ivy League schools--the "real deal". They shared their ILC experience and gave advice to us, newbies. Later a representative from each cohort spoke out and shared our own experiences thus far and how we expect to relay all that we are to learn from the ILC to our peers. For my cohort, the Cornell cohort, Sue was our representative. I commend her for eloquently conveying our thoughts, emotions and gratitude to the school board. I really don't think I could have... 
Listening to Sue speak to the School Board
The school board meeting was not only a way to voice our feelings, it was also a way to introduce us to our community and to those who were actually sending us to the East Coast! I swelled with pride standing alongside my fellow cohorts, holding the Cornell flag. I kept my composure though, since we were on TV and all. 

So after hearing from all the cohorts, all the benefactors of the ILC were introduced. I was honestly overwhelmed with gratitude towards all of those who are providing me this opportunity. It is a special feeling knowing someone cares enough about your future to help you reach your college dreams by sending you across the country. I'll save my emotions for our dinner next Wednesday though, when I can thank the sponsors personally. 

We had to take a group picture with all of the ILCers and our parents after our introductions. All I can say is that it was hot and there were a lot of us. But it turned out very nicely, so it was worth it. 
Successful group photo (I got to pose with my mom)
All in all, I enjoyed being with my cohort once again, as well as with all the other cohorts. The time is soon approaching for us to board the plane headed for Missouri, Chicago and finally New York. Just as one representative said tonight, I wish we could leave tomorrow, but as you know school awaits... 

Proper Suits In Shocking Weather

Today the students of Ivy League Connection attended the School Board meeting. My mother and I arrived a few minutes before six thanks to some traffic and were among the later arrivals, but I don’t think that any students were actually tardy. It’s nice to be part of a program for which punctuality is so important. Everyone was dressed quite nicely in some variation of a classy suit or dress, but I couldn’t help wondering whether they weren’t a little too warm, considering that the temperature has been in the nineties all day.

Shortly after six, Don called us around to receive instructions for our presentations to the Board. I was in the back of the group and couldn’t hear too well, but Mr. Chan-Law was able to repeat and clarify the instructions. I didn’t have too much to worry about: stand at the end of a line of six students, hold the edge of a Cornell banner, and don’t screw up because it’s televised. The parents of our cohort took pictures, and within a few minutes we sat and the meeting began.
I'm afraid I have yet to learn to crop photos or wear scarves well. 

During the ILC presentation, each chaperone spoke briefly. In an exasperating but humorous epidemic, several forgot to list the additional universities their cohorts would be visiting. While each of these speakers went to great lengths to express their gratitude to those who support the program with time or money, and to describe how ILC forms students into capable young adults, I was struck especially by the anecdote shared by the chaperone for the Women and Leadership program. She described a student in her Spanish Three class who returned from the program confident, articulate, and well versed in the issues that women face in periphery nations. I wish that I had an extra summer so that I could apply to the Women and Leadership course.

As the chaperone spoke, I was struck by the fact that all of the Women and Leadership students have hair of a similar length and color. It didn’t help that most of them were dressed in black suits.

When each cohort had been presented, the representatives of the organizations which support the ILC were asked to come before the Board, where they received a long standing ovation. The men and women at the front of the room seemed genuinely glad to be helping make the dream of ILC a reality year after year, and I know that we students felt a gratitude which cannot be sufficiently expressed through words. We often think of corporations and firms as businesses that exploit people for profit, but it’s easy to forget that they give regularly to help people like us achieve brighter futures.

After we applauded to financial enablers of the ILC, we applauded those who make it happen through influence, effort, and many man-hours: Don, Mr. Ramsey, and Mrs. Kronenberg. I know that their contributions are the result of many frustrations.

I would like to briefly acknowledge another member of the School Board: Mr. Groves, who whenever he interacts with me, whether in Math Club at Portola or as a writing coach freshman year, never hesitates to push me to be the best I can be. His dedication to a rigorous curriculum for all students is preparing us for college just as the ILC is.

After acknowledgements it was time for the group photo. We students were crowded efficiently into three rows, with chaperones and parents behind us. Don, as expected, had several adjustments to make, but we were done quickly and were immediately shooed outside so that the meeting could continue. 
This organizational feat of photography was achieved in only a few minutes. 
Today I took the last of my four AP exams. That means that the next big event for me is the Cornell dinner, exactly one week from today. I'm excited.

Unlike many posts about events, this post contained not one word about food. However, next week there will be plenty, plus photos. 

Superstars of the Day

Rehearsing how we'd hold the banner in front of the board
After successfully completing the last of a string of five AP exams, I headed to the WCCUSD School Board Meeting where the school board took time out of their regular meetings to congratulate the 2014 batch of ILC. As a mafia of formally dressed, neat young women and men swarmed into the expansive hall of Lovonya Dejean Middle School, big smiles mixed with anxiety also accompanied the diverse ILCers and parents. A friendly Don greeted me and my parents as we entered and soon the various cohorts ranging from Vanderbilt to Chicago assembled in the back to rehearse how the meeting was going to proceed.  
The supportive board gearing up for a long night
Getting the Jitters
Once the meeting eventually began, two guest speakers – both of whom were former ILCers, now admitted to Ivy League colleges – approached the podium, shared their insight, expressed their gratitude towards the Ivy League Connection, and explained what a life changing experience it was. Soon the chaperones and student speakers from each cohort introduced the students and briefly described their experience and expectations to the board. Luckily, I had a chance to be a student speaker at the event, representing my cohort in front of the board. As Mr. Chan-Law, our chaperone finished off his introduction, he announced, “Now a few words from Sue Mani.” As I walked to the podium, butterflies violently burst out of their cocoons and began flying wildly; the nervous jitters starting taking over my stomach and my legs started to slightly tremble as I initially began talking. As I proceeded though, the butterflies emigrated to the next guest speaker as what I started to say became less rehearsed and more heart-felt. Once I was done, like always, I said to me, “Hey that was easy.” (Sorry for stealing your tagline, Staples.) After all of the speaking and intros were over, the students, parents, and chaperones gathered for Don’s iconic group shot which turned out wonderfully. Since the meeting was halted for the picture, we did our best to scramble out of the room in order to prevent further interruptions to the meeting. 
Proud to represent such a fabulous cohort
Our pose with certificates and as Charlie's Angels
Once we exited, Katelyn, Carla and I had a photo session on the grass with our parents in order to capture the moment. 

Altogether, tonight was definitely a night to remember. It’s extremely encouraging to see the kind of support that we receive from our community; they encourage us in every endeavor and serve as the pillars to our success. Tonight, West Contra Costa made us superstars and celebrated our success like no other. In fact, a well-wisher of the ILC stopped by each cohort and personally congratulated us and said, “I hope this will the beginning of your accomplishments and certainly not your last.” This support functions as the drive which keeps us motivated. I personally can assure that this enthusiasm will not stop here; the encouragement I have received tonight will serve as the fuel to help me succeed not only in Cornell, but also help me become a catalyst for change in my community in order to create an even better society for my peers and future college goers to build upon. 

An ILC Union

For the first time, all 42 members of the ILC came together at the school board meeting held at Lovonya Dejean Middle School. Despite the huge heat wave, we all arrived in pantsuits and fancy dresses and gathered in the multi-purpose room. Each of us sat with our cohorts after awkwardly intermingling with our friends and teachers. 

Each cohort went up to the podium one at a time and for us, our chaperone Mr. Chan-Law spoke as well as Sue. While they spoke, I was very nervous just to be standing in front of the school board and my hands were extremely sweaty, so I could only imagine how the speakers felt. Both speakers from every cohort did wonderfully and it was nice to see the diversity in the ILC and all the amazing places we all get to visit. While our cohort gets to go to Chicago, St. Louis and Ithaca, some other cohorts are going to places such as Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia. 
Katelyn, Sue and me with our certificates.
After all cohorts spoke about their programs and members, everybody gathered to take a group picture. Although it took a lot of effort, Don managed to squeeze all of us into the picture, including our parents, chaperones and Mr. Ramsey. My mom tripped a little during the process but she managed to make it out alive and looked better in the picture than I did! Following our group picture, we all ran off of the risers to receive our beautiful gold and silver certificates.

The whole night was absolutely terrific but I think one of my favorite parts was when an elderly man came to talk to my friends and I. I'm not exactly sure who he was, but he congratulated us for our acceptance into the ILC and told us that even though this is our first college experience, he hopes it is not our last and that this experience will be something we will remember up until we get to his age. He also told us he almost got recruited to the Cornell football team, which is very impressive.

Overall, I had a lot of fun meeting with the other members of the ILC and hearing others speak about all of our accomplishments. Events like these are just a reminder of how grateful we should be to have been given this opportunity and that we should cherish every moment of it.

2014 Ivy League Connection! Good-looking group of people,
even though my mouth is half opened.

A Never Before Experience

Today was an experience I've never encountered before. I got to participate at the School Board meeting alongside my cohort members tonight. It was very serious towards the beginning but later on laughter came about when chaperones gave their speeches about previous years trips.

ILC alumni Tamilyn Chen got accepted to Harvard University this coming fall, so she came up and spoke about her experience as an ILCer last summer and how much ILC has impacted the way she thought about out-of-state universities. As I listened to Tamilyn's speech, I realized that she just started the same as us, nervous newbies going off to the east coast being treated as an adult. The point she made about being treated not as a kid, but as an adult gave me further confidence that admissions officers from selected universities I will be seeing this summer will see the professional side of me as a potential applicant, and not just some random high schooler.  There was another alumn that spoke before Tamilyn, but I forgot his name (very sorry!) because his voice was too soft at the beginning. He mentioned that having this opportunity as an ILCer will lead you to some amazing discoveries and choices you might've not known. I am again, sorry for not being able to credit your speech properly but it was surely astounding to hear.

This year, seven cohorts will be attending rigorous programs at six high-end institutions. While the two ILC alumni wrapped up their speeches, the new groups of ILCers followed and started giving introductions. Cornell cohort was fourth to go up to present ourselves to the School Board Committee. I was first to be introduced by Mr.Chan-Law, and boy, I was shaking and occasionally thinking, "Is there something stuck on the back of my shirt?" But of course, I intently listened to Sue Mani's, our Freedom and Justice participant, speech. She expressed what I would've thought at that moment and I'm very honored to be represented by Sue this evening. 

As the clock ticks to 8PM, Don waited for every group to present and then he carried out how to take the massive picture of all the ILCers, School Board members, and sponsers. Believe me, Don was trying to make every inch flawless. 
We wrapped up the event and started heading home at 8:30PM. It was such a memorable moment being there representing Ivy League Connection! 

Next week will be our official Cornell dinner and boy, am I excited!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Can't Go Wrong with Pizza, a Sandwich or even a Salad

Extreme Pizza Counter
This evening the Cornell cohort congregated at Extreme Pizza in Hercules at 6:00 PM. It was kind of a funny story about how we ended up choosing this pizza parlor to eat at. After we voted last week through an email survey put together by our chaperone Mr. Chan-Law, we ended up with a two way tie between pizza and sandwiches. I for one am tired of pizza--but I have my reason. Just up the street in Hercules is another pizza joint, Round Table Pizza (the rival of Extreme Pizza). I work there every Friday and Saturday of the week and often times eat pizza during my break along with a fountain soda (preferably Sierra-Mist).

Going back to the survey, Mr. Chan-Law later reported that someone in our cohort broke the tie by submitting their response a little later than the rest of the cohort, hailing pizza as the victor. When I arrived there, just about everyone was there except for one other member. Either way, just about a minute later the entire cohort was there and then the ordering began. At first we didn't know whether to choose a large pizza or individual items since Extreme Pizza offers an adequate variety of salads, sandwiches, calzones and of course PIZZA. In the end after a minute of semi-blankly staring at the menu and with the urging of Mr. Chan-Law we all ordered to our liking. I ordered two pizza slices named "Railroad" off of their "Carnivore" special menu, which was basically pizza with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions and cheese on top of the toppings instead of below the toppings (how unorthodox! but still tasty) along with a bottle of Ocean Spray "Pineapple Peach Mango Juice Blend"--which was awesome.

My half-eaten "Ugly Pizza"--Natalie Meacham
As we all sat down, it was kind of an awkward feel at first, since not everyone knew each other that well. After we all introduced ourselves and as Mr. Chan-Law's very witty conversations began to penetrate the silence, we began to socialize with one another. Among the first topics discussed were the actual courses themselves. Such as in-depth perspective about Cornell Summer College, specifically about the courses Hotel Management and Freedom and Justice. Mr. Chan-Law explained how Professor Kramnick teaches in a very old school manner, how the course is really a mixture of history, philosophy and political science--and sadly how there is no air-conditioning in his lecture room. As for the Hotel Management course, I learned that the professors are a married couple, the past ILCers that took the course all agreed that it was very challenging and that the room (being somewhat new) actually has air-conditioning.

Moving on, the most interesting part of the meeting to me was the part where Mr. Chan-law finally gave us the travel plan, which supposedly (according to Don) starts on June 16th when we depart and ends around the day of July 12th/13th. Our first destination is actually an ILC first, that of (*drum roll please) St. Louis, Missouri. Honestly, I do not know much about St. Louis, except that it's a city in the Mid-West, on the Mississippi and is home to the world famous Gateway Arch. Mr. Chan-Law informed us, that while staying there we are to visit the great institution of Washington University--I've actually heard of this college a few times, although never permanently picked up the location until now. After two days there, we will head on to the airport to take another flight to Chicago, Illinois. Now that's a city I'm well aware of, for its food, attractions, universities and such. While there we are to visit the University of Chicago and Northwestern University--although Mr. Chan-Law wasn't too clear on whether we are going to visit both or one--I definitely won't mind visiting both.

On another note Mr. Chan-Law also mentioned how by the courtesy of Mr. Ramsey, we (as ILCers) will be accommodated with some of the best hotels in the area in both St. Louis and Chicago. Not only that, but we will also attend to some of the best five-star restaurants in these cities. Thus, I bid Mr. Ramsey a very grateful and early thank you.
Group Selfie after Meeting (Katelyn and Mr. Chan-Law missing)

We also talked about how after Chicago we were to catch a transfer flight to possibly Philadelphia to Ithaca, New York. There we would commit to our respective courses and at the same time have some fun as a group on the weekends like go to Niagara Falls or catch a flick at the Cornell cinema. After the course is over, we are to attend a graduation ceremony and catch a transfer flight from Ithaca to possibly Detroit and back home.

All in all, the entire meeting was essential--for it was helpful and most of all was meant for us to get to know each other a little bit, so as someone said "We wouldn't want you guys to be total strangers before flying." As the Summer approaches we are all getting more and more excited for what lies ahead.

What's Bonding Time without Pizza?

Today, the Cornell cohort took one step closer to this summer's big trip. All six members got together at Extreme Pizza in Hercules to meet our chaperone, Mr. Chan-Law, for the first time. When I arrived at 5:57 with a few minutes to spare, the aroma of pizza soon captivated me. With Italian being my favorite cuisine, anything with a hint of oregano or mozzarella lures me; pizza definitely was no exception.
The kitchen and counter of Extreme Pizza. 
Can you smell the pizza? 
Instead of searching all over the walls for a nice logo, all I had to
 do was look down since I was standing right on top of one. 
A true delight! 

While we waited for other  members of the cohort to arrive, Jun talked to me, Mr. Chan-Law, and Natalie about her unique high school experience as her method  of schooling deviates from the  traditional high school setting. 

As  soon as everyone arrived, we began to order dinner. I went for  the "Drag It Thru the Garden" pizza slice. Perhaps, it was the  name that attracted me more than the pizza. With a perfect blend of various veggies ranging from  artichokes to vine ripe tomatoes, the pizza was a true delight -- especially after a tiresome testing day at school followed by a victorious badminton match. To wash this all down, coconut water provided the perfect side.
Captivating Name =  Clever Marketing Tactic

As we ate our scrumptious meals, Mr. Chan-Law discussed his past experiences with ILC and as he mentioned places like Niagara Falls, Baseball Hall of Fame, Chicago, and St. Louis, all of our eyes lit up with true excitement. He gave us a brief itinerary that was subject to change. This itinerary mentioned St. Louis, Chicago, and Ithaca.  To end this meeting, we took the infamous "selfie" sans Katelyn and Mr. Chan-Law since Katelyn had to leave early and since Mr. Chan-Law was busy communicating with a parent.
Our first "selfie" with a partial cohort
Altogether, this "Chaperone Meet-and-Greet Event" was a great way to bond with my other cohort members before the fancy dinners, school meetings, and eventually, the big trip. Since it was informal, we were all more casual and relaxed. And because of this friendly atmosphere, we were being ourselves and really enjoying spending time together. Since the summer is not too far away, I really believe communication is key and that the cohort should know each other well as we'll be spending a good portion of our summer together. Additionally, this chaperone meet-and-greet helps us prepare for the trip as it builds up the excitement and expectations that definitely will be worth the month and a half wait. 

Until then, stay tuned because the best is yet to come.