Monday, August 27, 2012

Brown Mentorship Program: Take 2!

Before I participated in the Ivy League Connection this year, I was in it last year as well. I went to Brown University and took the course Women and Leadership. A month before I left the trip, my father invited me to be a part of the ILC Brown Mentorship Program, which pairs Brown alumni/current students with ILCers who are interested in Brown University. I was paired with Corryn Browdsky, who also attended my high school. Over the course of my junior year, Corryn and I exchanged many emails, and she was a great source of comfort when I was stressed out. She also gave me great advice about dealing with the rigors of school and preparing for the college application process. The mentor program has many fun events, as we went to a brunch at the Olympic Club, a Raiders Game, and saw Billy Elliott in San Francisco.

I was invited to come back to the mentor program and happily accepted. I am really excited to see new faces, as majority of the student members who were in it last year graduated from high school this spring. The newest addition to the mentor program is the Yale component! While I am still pairing with Brown, I am happy to see this mentorship program growing.

This Sunday, the first mentor event was held at the Olympic Club. My Uncle Ismail is a member of the club and was able to secure this event for us. We had a buffet brunch and got to reconnect not only with other ILCers, but with some old faces as well. I was really happy to see Elizabeth Gonzales and Donna Chung again, who just graduated from Brown this spring! Both of them attended El Cerrito High School. Elizabeth majored in sociology and is looking into UC Berkeley's graduate schools, and Donna majored in psychology and education. She is now pursuing a Master's degree at Stanford University.

I thoroughly enjoyed the brunch. It was interesting to learn about how Brown is evolving as a campus. Donna mentioned that Brown is trying to make the freshmen more accustomed with each other, as they are trying to make freshmen-only residence halls and a possible freshmen quad. One concept I definitely remembered about Brown was there sense of unity.

Attending this brunch made me realize even more how my love for Brown really shines through. I have begun working on my college applications and hope that my new mentor can provide insight on my personal statement and supplements, especially for Brown University.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Negative Weekend Turns Positive, Thanks to the ILC

My weekend had been going horrible this week. I was so excited during the week because school started and I was familiarized with all my new challenging courses, and even more enthusiastic about receiving a letter in the mail saying that my application for the Junior States of America Northern California North Star Newspaper Editor in Chief position had been accepted! I was the new Editor in Chief of the paper I was so passionate about! I constantly wrote for the paper out of pure devotion, interest, and passion even though I did not have an "official" reporter position and despite the fact that I was already an editor in my school journalism committee. I just did it purely because it mattered to me. Now, I felt like, my passion had been discovered and I had been granted this position. Just saying I was ecstatic may be an understatement.

I later received an award in the mail, and I was also granted a special Junior States of America e-mail address especially for my position. I had incoming e-mails about future meetings, and an invitation to the cabinet confirmation event. It was difficult for me to attend the event since it was really far away from my house, but I still managed to go and meet my fellow cabinet members. There, I mingled, I chatted, and I met many of the people that were also on cabinet like myself. I introduced myself as the new "Editor in Chief" when we all shared our jobs on cabinet, and we later sat down with our appropriate departments to discuss plans and create goals for our specific duties on board. I sat with my new reporter and discussed a lot of duties I expected from her, created deadlines, made suggestions, and told her everything that was basically necessary to make a successful team and newspaper. LATER, they called each of us for an interview; I was one of the first to go. Just thinking of having an interview made me smile as I looked back at the time I had my first panel interview in the Ivy League Connection. I sighed in relieve because I felt like I was ready for an interview session since the ILC had already familiarized me with the process, and I realized that the confidence I had gained as part of the Ivy League Connection has really benefited me as a person.

It was odd to hear that we were being interviewed after the application process and being officially selected from the applicant pool, but I was still excited to meet the interviewers. I entered the room with a smile, and I was introduced to only a few set of questions that never really asked about my experiences, or my intended plans as the future Editor in Chief of the paper. The questions basically asked, "Will you be able to communicate with others? Will you be able to handle the stress? Will you be able to attend all of the events?" Of course, I referred back to my experiences to prove to them my success and capabilities in the areas they mentioned. The questions, however, did not ask for a lot of information about me and they were limited by time. They told me to turn around for them to discuss my confirmation and although I was not looking, I heard things like, "She's already doing a lot of extra-curricular activities." That was something they never asked me about, so I was shocked that they even said that. Now, before I even looked back, they told me they were then casting a vote. I murmured a prayer to myself, hoping they would confirm me, and drew a deep breath. They told me I could turn around within a minute and I did, only to hear that I had been...rejected.

I was shocked, and heart broken. I couldn't understand! My interview went so well, my application was accepted, I had the necessary experience, the leadership abilities, and the responsibility! I even sat with my reporter and led her through all my expectations and all her duties, they had congratulated me with this honor, how was I suddenly no longer their editor? They moderator pulled me out and apologized, but I couldn't help but to ask in the midst of my confusion, "May I at least ask why?" He replied "No, I cannot disclose that information, I'm sorry." I returned to my seat sad, confused, and broken. People came up to me mentioning how no one ever really gets rejected form Cabinet Confirmation, and I replied, "I just did." Similarly, people were shocked and confused as well because many of them knew me and my capabilities. Others in charge were equally confused and went to speak to the interviewers (the interviewers themselves were students like myself running the student bureaucracy). However, no one told me why, but they offered me other positions. I rejected thinking to myself that the reason why I applied wasn't because of the title or the "position," it was because of my passion and my care for the paper. I was not interested. So they asked, "Would you like to be a reporter?" I again thought about it, and I said, "Well, what I truly care about is the North Star, and that's the closest way I can contribute to what I care for. I was going to write for it anyway, so why not." I accepted the position and was re-interviewed and accepted, but I left that room hurt and broken. Later, my friend told me that the interviewers just thought my interview sounded, "too perfect" compared to the others, I was shocked! How can I be rejected because I sounded "too perfect?" I was only being 100% honest. Also, they just assumed I had a lot of things going on that I would be unable to handle the position (again without asking me about it). However, If I couldn't handle the position, I wouldn't apply. I knew I was highly capable and they knew that I was highly qualified. I was just stuck in a state of confusion, that's all. Also, on the other hand, other students were only asked one or two questions in the interviews and accepted, and others were just "lectured." The questions were more carefree because they were running out of time, and at a certain point they even thought about not interviewing a group and just accepting them! They even brought a whole departments in as a GROUP so they can get them over with and proceed on their agenda. The time factor also made the other interviews shorter as well; I found all of this completely unfair. The answers were not the same, they did not have previous questions designed, and the they were simply accepted nearly by default because of the time factor? Now, my first assignment as a reporter is to write about Cabinet Confirmation and according to my director, "write positive." That is something I cannot do: to be dishonest. My Saturday was unfair in terms of selection, and terrible in terms of my disappointment. In regards to my journalistic integrity, I cannot accept to do that: to lie.

So today, I woke up still kind of sad about the day before. It was the Brown and Yale mentor dinner hosted by the Ivy League Connection that I had been looking forward to all week! However, I wasn't as happy in the morning as I should have been because I was still looking back at the opportunity I felt like I was stripped away from and the position I had so much passion in; all in an unfair and unjust manner. To be honest, that's all I really thought about when I was getting ready, repeating to myself in my head, "If they really thought I did not deserve it, I would accept their decision and respect it, but they never asked me questions to make such an inference. If the selection process was fair, I would feel better, but why was I the only one to be stripped of what I cared for? I was never even given a chance..." By the time I was eating a little breakfast snack, I decided what has happened is now my past, and I must let it go and think about the future. It was simply time to move on since what happened was now totally out of my hands. So I focused on the amazing opportunity the Ivy League Connection was giving me and I smiled.

The ILC had once again provided me with an opportunity to connect with very important alums within my community and learn about both their experiences and the universities the universities they attended.
This morning, we all met at 10:00 AM at El Cerrito Plaza Bart and gathered around to speak to one another before departure. There, I was absolutely excited to see Adrianne Ramsey from my Columbia Cohort; I had missed her so dearly! We chatted a while before Don separated all of us into groups to carpool to the Olympics Club (that's where we were going to have our event). The Olympics, thanks to Mr.Izzy Ramsey, was going to sponsor our brunch!

My mother, whom was also invited, rode with me in Don's mini-van, along with Adrianne Ramsey, one Brown alum, and one sponsor. During the ride, Adrianne and I caught up and chatted since we hadn't seen each other in a few weeks. We talked about our courses, our plans, and our excitement to meet all the amazing college students later that day.

Since we were busy talking the whole time, it felt like a fairly short ride! Soon enough, we were finally at the beautiful Olympics Club in San Francisco. The scenery was gorgeous as we walked up the steps and inside the majestic building. There we were greeted with the alumnus and began engaging in very interesting conversations right after the "hello!" I had a great time right from the start!

While we mingled, Mr.Ramsey's brother gave each group an independent tour of the restaurant we were going to have brunch in as well as the history and importance of the Olympic Club. (Did you know the Olympics club is the oldest athletic club in the nation with the word "Olympics?" Not to mention, the oldest out of all of them as well.)

Later we were invited into our private room to sit down with our the alums we had just met. Parents sat at one table, alums sat together with us students, and other adults at another table. The tables were also split based on university. One table was strictly Yale, and the other was Brown. Sitting with the Yale alums, I had the opportunity to meet and converse with many different individuals from different backgrounds and interests. One was interested in teaching, the other in computer sciences, and the other in economics for example. We all shared  our names and our interests as well and soon began very interesting conversations regarding academics, life in Yale, and a variation of other specific conversations that we all found equally helpful and engaging. I really enjoyed speaking to them and getting to know them, it was truly my pleasure.

After we were done eating our dish of pastries, scrambled eggs, sausages, and bacon, it was sadly time to say goodbye. During this time, Mr.Ramsey mentioned how on September 30th, he has arranged boxed seats for us and our mentors to attend an A's game in Oakland, creating yet another day for us to connect with one another and learn from each other. I was really excited to hear this because I really enjoyed and was thankful for the connections I had made today. I was glad I could stay in contact with them and found that very helpful in my application process.

By the end of the day, I felt like a weekend that I thought could not get better, turned out to be okay thanks to the fantastic day the ILC provided me with. Not only did I have fun, but I also engaged in a lot of very interesting and serious conversations that I know the knowledge I acquired throughout them will definitely help me in the future. For this, I would like to give a sincere "thank you" to the Ivy League Connection, and to the alums for attending this event and devoting their time to us. I really appreciate it all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From the Mother of Aurea Riboroso

First of all, I would like to thank you all for your time, sacrifice and efforts to make this summer program successful.

I was shocked when my daughter told me that she was going to Columbia University. It was so hard because it was her first time being apart from her family for so long. But, she explained to me that it was a great opportunity for her. I didn’t want to be a hindrance to her dreams.

Finally she got my approval but I was still worried about her. When she left, I constantly checked the ILC website to see her blogs: I was so amazed by all her adventures explained in her blogs. It gave me a peace of mind to know she was doing well.

I’m so proud of her. Her growth in maturity and responsibility is astounding. I am very thankful for all the people part of the Ivy League Connection. This is a tremendous program that molds the students for a brighter future.

I also want to thank Mrs. Cheryl Lilhanand for a great job. I know it was a big responsibility to take care of youths for about a month in such big city. I’m grateful that my daughter was part of the ILC.

Mrs. Carmelita Villa

Thursday, August 2, 2012

From the Mother of Morvarid Mehdizadeh

My daughter came to me one day telling me she wished to attend Columbia University over the summer and asked for my approval to apply to a program that might allow her this opportunity. I was jumbled with different thoughts, not sure exactly what to say in response. This would be the first time my daughter would leave us and go some where far away without us. I had mixed feelings because I was proud of my daughter, her independent and confident attitude, and her willingness to step outside her comfort zone and constantly challenge herself in all ways. However, as a parent I was also scared.

I began learning more about the organization she told me about that day: “The Ivy League Connection.” I realized how important it is to be a part of the organization and the responsible, generous, and caring individuals behind the program. Slowly, I was no longer the scared parent that was thinking about allowing her youngest daughter to leave home for a month, but I was the supporting mother who encouraged her and told her she could do it.

Around December, I watched as she spent hours preparing essays to submit to the Ivy League Connection in hopes of acceptance into the interview phase of the program. I even watched as she screamed in excitement that she had only entered the interview portion of the application. After witnessing her passion and tremendous amount of time and care she put into the program from the start, I knew exactly how much this all meant to her. Finally, all her work paid off and I was proud to witness my daughter’s acceptance into the program of her choice; the Columbia University Presidential Powers course. She was one of the only two individuals chosen for the program and as her eyes sparkled in the room when she heard the news, as a parent I couldn’t be any happier as well.

I do not know how to thank the people that gave these opportunities to the students of our district enough to show how thankful I am to each and every one of them. I am really thankful of the people that provide these opportunities for bright students, like my own daughter, to have such experiences. I’m really happy of the experience my daughter had, to go to New York, to speak to students and alumni, to study at Columbia University, and to enjoy the development of a deeper understanding for different cultures in a different environment. Without this program, my daughter would have never had an opportunity equal to that of what the ILC provided.

My daughter was really happy about this program and every aspect of her experience was like a dream come true for her and it was the same for my family as well. After my daughter returned and told me about the restaurants she visited, the people she spoke to, I felt like I was actually there as she told me with excitement and enthusiasm. I felt just as happy to hear about the stories, her class, and her challenging curriculum as she was there to experience it. It was all a completely new experience for her and the amount of things she learned within a month was astonishing. My daughter grew both intellectually and as a person.

The Ivy League Connection provided an opportunity for students to develop independent skills and confidence. As a whole, this entire experience is very beneficial to our students, and I’m really thankful for such an organization.

The chaperone, Mrs. L also played a tremendous role as a part of the program. She was very patient and caring towards the students. The first time I saw her she seemed like such a lovable and caring person. I liked her a lot and I truly felt like my daughter was in good hands. Knowing Mrs. L was the chaperone, I was no longer worried even though this was the first time my daughter was going to be away from us. Overall, I strongly recommend this organization to future parents and students alike. Once again, there’s really no way for us to thank the caring sponsors, Don Gosney, Mrs. L, Mr. Ramsey, and Mrs. Kronenberg for giving my daughter such an opportunity and experience. My family is very thankful and we are all very proud of the ILC students’ accomplishments.

Thank you,
Maryam Yazdi

From the Parents of Leonard Eisen

A Parent’s Words of Appreciation for the Ivy League Connection

When our son, Lenny, first began speaking about the Ivy League Connection, it was very difficult to believe that the program he described actually existed. We had lived through all the financial difficulties of our school district since Lenny’s older sister, Sierra, started kindergarten in 1995 when we lived in Richmond. We saw essential programs get cut and class sizes increase. When school-funding bond issues were on the ballot, they could and would be defeated even with a super-majority of 65% because of the two thirds majority required to pass. How could such a program as ILC actually exist for West Contra Costa high school students?

My wife, Melissa, and I are strong believers in public school. We believe that social and ethnic diversity is at the top of the list of characteristics that make a school system a quality learning environment. That’s why we both chose to live in the Bay Area. So, as programs in schools were cut, we’d supplement our kids’ education as well as we could.

I don’t think I was convinced that ILC actually existed even after Lenny was accepted and I started reading emails from Don Gosney. I still wondered how such a program as ILC could actually exist for our students?

I now know it’s thanks to the awesome, tireless efforts of Charles Ramsey and Madeline Kronenberg and the sponsors that they have been able to enlist in this terrific program. I also want to express my deepest gratitude to Don Gosney and Cheryl Lilhanand. If it weren’t for Don and Cheryl, I might have had concerns about sending Lenny to New York City, without us, for a month. I grew up and went to college in New York City. I even drove a cab there. I know how easy it is to get into serious trouble in New York. I’m a pretty strict and very observant parent. I felt totally at ease all month because Cheryl was Lenny’s chaperone.

The Ivy League Connection is the most amazing program. Imagine flying to New York on Monday, touring and meeting with admissions officials and alumni at the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, then visiting Sarah Lawrence College on Wednesday, Vassar College on Thursday, Yale on Friday, touring New York City as a group on Saturday, and then moving into the dorms on Sunday at Columbia University for three weeks of classes in Constitutional Law!

And, of course, there were all the cultural, culinary and entertainment extras! And all of this paid in full by the very generous sponsors!!!

Lenny, Melissa and I are forever grateful to the Ivy League Connection and it’s wonderful sponsors, who made this life-changing experience possible. Thank you!!!

Wayne Eisen

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Step Closer

Well, let me begin by telling you that it took me a day or two to start this blog, and another two days to write it. There was far too much to write about, and I had an extremely difficult time trying to figure out how to organize it. While I ended up doing it chronologically, it took me quite a while to figure out that that was the best way (yes, it would probably take most people about 5 seconds). My concern was that writing chronologically might end up leaving my blog with far too much plot summary, but I decided to just take that and run with it. Plot summary, reflection, and what it all means---it's all here. It's very long, so I ask for your patience if you choose to read it, but I had a lot to say and didn't want to leave anything out. Here is my Ivy League Connection experience:

Joining the Ivy League Connection

I never mentioned this to anybody, but my Ivy League Connection experience actually could have started during my sophomore year, over a year ago. I received a note in class that there was a meeting at lunch that I should attend, and I forget why, but I never attended the meeting. Back then I did not check my email quite as often as Don Gosney has trained me to do now, so if any follow-up emails were sent, I didn't receive them. Maybe I missed the meeting because I had friends to talk to, or a teacher to speak with, but I probably just forgot.

At the time, I was still a very good student, getting A's, but I looked at my education through different eyes. I can't for the life of me tell you what on Earth I was thinking, forgetting to attend a meeting that could've gotten me an opportunity that high school students across the nation would dream of, but the purpose of education to me then was not so much to learn as to get good grades. My actions more than year ago remind me of the quote Don Gosney puts at the bottom of all the letters he sends; the quote read (something like): "When opportunity knocks, some answer the door, while others complain about the noise." I didn't really complain about the noise of this amazing opportunity, I'd say that by stuffing the note in my pocket, I just put some headphones on to ignore it.

In hindsight, though, do the actions of the kid I just told you about sound like the actions of somebody deserving of this opportunity? I'd say I was academically smart enough, but I completely lacked the ambition and maturity necessary. I don't know when exactly things changed for me, but when the opportunity that was the Ivy League Connection knocked at my door again this year, I jumped up to answer as if I had been waiting for that knock for months. In a way, I had been waiting for it.
There were days this junior year when I loved school, when I was able to soak up information about the things I love, such as hearing the stories of World War II survivors and debating the numerous meanings of symbols in George Orwell’s 1984. However, there were just as many days on which I felt that there was somewhere else I could be, something else I could be doing, and a better way to use precious time. When not absorbed by schoolwork, I spent most of my time pursuing a personal interest in baseball and, more importantly, an interest I have in someday changing the world. Yes, I know that sounds extremely cliched; it's probably what 110% of kids will write on some of their college application essays. But I want to leave this world years from now knowing that it is very much changed from the world I entered, and that I played a major role in that. I aspire to someday take up a position of leadership to help carry the world in a more progressive direction. I have yet to determine whether I will advocate for much stronger power to the United Nations, an organization that attempts to achieve the goals of humanity as a whole (rather than an "America first, then we help everyone else" approach), or whether I will advocate for a more balanced distribution of wealth in a nation where some cannot afford health care while others can afford to pay for numerous multi-million dollar homes, but I know that my value in life is not in what I achieve but in what others can achieve through my helping hand. I have yet to determine how I'll do it, of course; I am only 16, but the set of goals I have is very clear to me.

Anyway, I have a general idea of what I want to do in life. Understandably, sitting in class trying to understand how a hyperbola works (*), when I could be reading about the removal of Oakland Occupiers can get frustrating sometimes. I wanted to spend my time differently; I wanted the opportunity to pursue the aforementioned interests and goals to a much larger extent. And then opportunity knocked, and I leaped up to take advantage. I had expected to receive the note for the Ivy League Connection eventually, but the day I received it in Ms. Hebden's class was a very satisfying day.

Anyway, THAT is why I joined the Ivy League Connection. I felt the opportunity provided by the Ivy League Connection would take me a step closer to someday reaching a position of leadership where I can help provide every member of this family of mankind with a stable and healthy life, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams. My Ivy League Connection far and away exceeded this experience.

*I acknowledge the tremendous value of math, I just didn't always feel that it was directly tied with my life goals. This is not to discredit the value of math, though, math plays a tremendous role in our everyday lives

Pre-Columbia University
While the events leading up to my departure were not the meat of the experience, they undoubtedly had a strong effect on me, and for that reason, they are definitely worth mentioning.

A. School Board Meeting
The School Board meeting actually affected me in a completely different way than the organizers of the Ivy League Connection had probably planned. Of course, I was honored to walk up in front of hundreds of members of our school district, as well as the School Board, but it was a different part of the meeting that affected me. On this day, the issue concerning a large portion of the community was the possible termination of adult education. While I had no prior knowledge of the situation before hearing what many speakers said, and while I may have only heard one side of the story, I was very moved by what some of the speakers said in their defense of adult education. The vast majority did not speak English as a first language and simply wanted to be able to help their kids with their homework. They said they felt powerless and useless not being able to help their children with elementary school homework simply because they had not developed English skills yet.

Thankfully, adult education was/is there for them, and it has been able to slowly combat this problem.
In a nation filled with immigrants from all corners of the world, adult education, I feel, is a necessity, plain and simple. Before this school board meeting, I had never given it much thought, but you can now count me as a supporter and an advocate of adult education. Of course, the reason for adult education's dire situation was/is not that it is not important, but that there is no money to pay for it. And that gets into an entirely different issue, why our country and our state don't have enough money to adequately educate our residents. I heard there were some billionaires living in this country, but they would rather buy multiple million-dollar homes and keep their money to themselves than pay higher taxes and help out those in need. If I someday have the power, I will put an end to that to the best of my ability.

B. Alumni Dinners
Once in San Francisco, and four times in New York, we went to dinner with alumni from some of the schools we may someday apply to. At these dinners, I was able to ask more personal and specific questions than I would ask on a tour, and in addition to us learning about the school, the alumni were able to learn about us and what we may be able to bring to these schools. We also discussed the college application process; I heard everything from students who got into Yale on early decision to students who applied to over 20 schools. In addition to all this, I have to say, the dinners were a lot of fun. Everyone we spoke with was very intellectual and many had a great sense of humor; the conversation was always going about what courses Columbia requires you to take (but why those courses are actually fun) to what I was planning on doing in life.

C. College Visits
Probably my favorite school of them all - Columbia University
Of the schools we visited, the ones that appealed to me most were Columbia, Yale and UPenn. The fact that I like those more than NYU, Sarah Lawrence or Vassar has absolutely nothing to do with their distinction as members of the Ivy League; it has more to do with simple characteristics of those schools. For instance, I'm sure now that I will not apply to Vassar or Sarah Lawrence (as well as other similar schools) because I feel the community on and off campus is too small for me. The way I live life, I love to explore and discover new things every day, and in the sense that Vassar and Sarah Lawrence have student bodies of around 1,000-2,000 kids and are not located in very urban areas, they don't offer me the opportunity to walk around campus and see tons of faces I've never seen before, or walk off campus to explore a new part of the surrounding community in the way that a larger school in a more urban area may offer me that opportunity. Life at small, suburban (or rural) schools may become a bit repetitive, in my opinion.

Additionally, while I have never had trouble making friends, I have had quite a bit of trouble in life finding people who are similar to me. Without discussing my entire philosophy of life (which can be a bit controversial at times), I'll just say that I think a bit differently than most people. At my current high school of 1300 students, I often find myself alone when it comes to issues such as why I feel accumulating great wealth is not a good thing, but a selfish thing. As a result, I'd like to attend a school where there are a greater number of students, and thus, a greater chance of finding more like-minded people.

Also, I have a great interest in participating in my community, and I feel that in more urban areas, there are many more opportunities for me to do the work that I feel will achieve my goal of leaving a world that is better than the one I entered.

Also very important to me are a very diverse and integrated community, as well as a strong international presence. I loved how active NYU was around the world, but what I didn't like about NYU was that its campus was too urban; I felt like I was not on a college campus but on city streets.
Columbia, Penn and Yale all perfectly fit into what I am looking for in a college, though. Each of them are large enough that you'll meet new people wherever you go, but that you'll also probably see someone you know wherever you go. Each of the schools are in urban areas, with many things to see and many opportunities to help out the community. Each of them have very diverse student bodies, made up of students from different ethnic backgrounds, different parts of the world, different personalities and different economic situations. Moreover, the alumni and tour guides we spoke with went on and on about how much they loved their school; the schools seem to be not just amazing places to learn, but amazing places to live in as well.

D. Cohort Trips
In addition to going to dinner and touring schools, our cohort also made many side trips that I learned very much from. Of course, the one I found to be most fun was our sunset cruise down the Hudson and then up the East River, but the ones that impacted me most were our trips to Independence Hall, the home of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United Nations and the 9/11 Memorial.

I won't go into full detail simply because this blog is already way too long, but an example of something I enjoyed learning about was our visit to the United Nations. This was a particularly important visit for me, as the set of goals the UN has are a set of goals I strongly support. Around the world, the UN combats the effects of natural disasters, poverty, starvation, violence, human rights violations, etc. through aid on the streets and in government. I'm not going to pick a career today, but I definitely would not mind someday working for the United Nations. In fact, while many of my friends have jokingly told me I should run for President, I would much prefer to be a part of the United Nations. While all Americans value life as a whole, in this country, an American life tends to be given slightly more importance than others, and that is an idea I just cannot stand for. I feel I'd be able to achieve my goals worldwide with much more ease were I to be part of the United Nations.

Columbia University

A. City of New York
While kids across the West Contra Costa Unified School District all got to attend Ivy League classes, nobody got to experience the city of New York the way our cohort did. And while city life may not be for everyone, I could not have felt more at home. The fast-paced life, the convenience of public transportation (I'm kind of anti-cars, if that makes any sense. It's for environmental reasons.), and the abundance of things to do made me feel right at home. Of course, while in college I wouldn't have a great amount of time to spend in the city, but the convenience of having a Duane Reade a block away, or any location in the city a subway ride or two away is extremely convenient. Additionally, I love the fact that New York City is a blend of so many different cultures (the most linguistically diverse city in the world), and because I'm big on diversity, there is no better place than a city like New York to be a part of it all coming together.

B. Life in College
My bed is on the left.
As far as independence and living on my own goes, I feel ready to live in college. Within a few days of arriving, I had already fallen into a routine which did wonders for me. After my morning class, I would always head back to my room for a nap of about an hour, then leave myself with just enough time for lunch. After my second class, I would always leave my room to do some work outdoors at some shady spot on campus. Then I would return and spend the rest of the night with some of the friends I had made.

The only tough part of life in college for me was being so far away from home. Physically, I can do my work, make meals whenever necessary, and go out and buy things like shaving cream,  etc. without any problems. Emotionally, though, the connection to my family was greatly missed. And with everything we were doing, it was difficult to call very often, although Mrs. L helped to make sure we were doing fine and that we were staying in touch. I know that 3,000 miles across the country, though, my mom was able to feel closer to me because she would read my blog every morning with her coffee at 10 AM during her break at work.
Life in college will definitely include some all-nighters.

C. The People I Met
One of the most eye-opening aspects of this trip for me was the people I met that were also participating in the Columbia program. I met people from all corners of the world: the Dominican Republic, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, name it. Nearly everyone I met was extremely nice, and I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed being in a setting where everyone I spoke to was intellectual! It really broadens the possibilities for a topic of conversation.
My awesome ConLaw friends
The aspect of meeting these kids that really opened my eyes, though, was that I was able to gain the perspective of kids who did not think the way I did or did not come from the same background that I am from. I gained different perspectives from kids on a number of different levels. There were the less significant differences, like the fact that people thought A's fans didn't actually exist, or the fact that the Bay Area uses some very unique slang which nobody I talked to had ever heard of. There were also the more eye-opening perspectives, though; one which blew my mind was the situation of education for public school kids in wealthy New York and New Jersey. I asked them what the size of their largest class size was, and most kids gave me answers between 20-25, occasionally 30. My largest class last year had 47 kids. "47?! Wow, that sounds more like two classes," I remember somebody telling me.

And while I may not have agreed with him, it was so cool to argue about politics with a libertarian from my class, and it was a change for me to not be able to make sarcastic Mitt Romney comments whenever I wanted. Coming from an area made up almost entirely of democrats and people apathetic to politics, it was amazing to actually speak with people who supported George W. Bush.

By far the most astounding perspective I was able to learn about, though, was the economic perspective. To be rather blunt, just about everyone participating in this program was rich. For me, personally, this did not cause any major problems (one minor problem: I was unable to attend a baseball game because everyone else wanted to go for $100 tickets). I was in an environment where there were very few people as money-conscious as I am, as the vast majority of kids at this High School program came from more affluent backgrounds.

I feel, though, that the fact that the student body was made up almost entirely of students from affluent backgrounds is the epitome of an underlying problem: the United States' ridiculous wealth disparity (worldwide, as well). I'll start by saying that of the hundreds of kids I talked to at this program, not a single one gave off any signs remotely close to suggesting they were representing the lower or middle class. It's not as if I asked everyone what their family income was, but if you pay close attention, you can get an idea. For example, spending $500 dollars on a suit for a three-hour dance with no dress code, or students saying they travel across the country to New York twice a year, or spending $100 on a baseball game where there are $10 tickets available, or constantly paying to eat out when you have free food in the cafeteria, or introducing me as "the thriftiest kid you've ever met." Before anyone gets the wrong idea, though, these kids have done absolutely nothing wrong; they all seem to be perfectly good kids who more than deserved the chance they got to study for a few weeks at one of the world's top universities. I had no problem at all with upper class students being here.

My cause for alarm is the kids who were not there. Unless you were given some miracle opportunity the way I was, the opportunity to study at Columbia for the summer was available only to those who could pay for it. The reason is that money buys opportunity. Students with money can attend private school or can move to wealthier areas and attend a wealthy public school. Lower class students do not have this opportunity. Many lower class students will live in lower-income neighborhoods, and may attend "dropout factories," where fewer than 60% of the freshman class will still be in school by senior year. Success in these dropout factories is unlikely. College? Hopefully. A 3-week Summer program at an Ivy League school? Almost no chance. And as the upper classes can buy more and more opportunities unavailable to the lower classes, the lower classes get left behind.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is a problem, which, if I someday have the tools and/or the power, I will address and attempt to reverse. Instead of Mitt Romney being able to own 5 houses (worth a combined $30 million), I'll hope to raise his taxes so that many of those millions can be used for the well-being of those in need, not for the greed of Mitt Romney.

D. The Class
I don't want to sound over dramatic, but the three weeks I spent in my Constitutional Law class may have been the best three weeks I have ever had. They weren't just educational, they were fun! Above all, the part of the class I enjoyed most was debating; I had not debated in over a year and had completely forgotten how much fun it was. This time around, though, I was making not moral arguments, but legal arguments, something I had never done before. Nevertheless, I did my research, pulled my all-nighters, and when the dust settled in the morning, I was always proud of the work I had done.

The highlight for me was the speech I wrote arguing that the death penalty was unconstitutional. This was an issue I felt very passionately about morally, but legally, the US Supreme Court had continuously upheld the death penalty's constitutionality. However, the writings of Justice William Brennan were extremely helpful to me in writing my case. The influence of his writings did not stop there for me, though, I've continued to read much of what Justice Brennan wrote, and I am fascinated by many of his legal arguments.

As I anticipated, I have already been able to apply what I learned to real life. Although I have stirred up quite a bit of controversy with my friends, I have used what I learned in our class to argue that, however ruthless and inhuman Jason Holmes may have acted, he cannot be given the death penalty. I argue not on the basis of my personal beliefs, but with legal arguments that I developed while in class. It is situations like these where I am able to apply my new knowledge of Constitutional law to the lives of Americans in everyday society.

The class has completely transformed the way I now argue for and against certain legislative bills, police actions, etc. I argue now not on the basis of what I feel is right or wrong, but of my interpretation of the Constitution. As I said earlier, I don't want to pick a career today, but one day becoming a Supreme Court justice would be a dream come true.

It is not just the material of the class I have to thank, though; none of it would have ever happened without the phenomenal instruction of our two teachers, Jeffrey and Luke. Whether it was opening our minds to the writings of the Supreme Court or facilitating philosophical discussions about the interpretation of the Constitution, the instruction of this class was top-notch. Furthermore, I fed off of the knowledge of each of my peers, contributing what I could to discussion and debate, and learning from my classmates how they felt about the same issue and why.
The people I spent some of the best weeks of my life with.
 I don't know whether it was on this blog that I was supposed to say whether or not I feel the ILC should continue the class, but my answer is an emphatic and unequivocal YES!

Wrapping Everything Up
Well, that's it. My thoughts on my Ivy League experience. If you made it to the end of this blog, I hope it was enjoyable and thought-provoking. I thank you, and I thank everyone who has read any one of my blogs sometime during the past six months. It's has been a pleasure.

Additionally, I'd like to thank my classmates and my teachers, Jeffrey Lenowitz and Luke MacInnis, for making the class what it was. Everything I wrote about how I now look at society's controversies not only from a moral perspective, but from a legal perspective as well --- You are all the reason for that. The class has changed me as a person.

Mrs. L, I'd like to thank you for caring for us like your children and leading us through this experience, be it at a daily meeting of ours, or through the chaotic first week of events. You guided us, but let us make our own decisions when it came to how we would spend our free time and how we were getting involved in campus activities. Your patience and guidance meant the world to us; this could not have been done without you.

To my cohort: you guys are amazing. I came into this knowing only Adrianne, and I leave with a family of friends that I will always hold onto. I can't even count how many laughs we all shared together, as well as intellectual conversations and debates. At our best and worst moments, I always had each of you by my side, and as the months and years will pass, I hope for the same. You guys are the best.
I'd like to thank Don Gosney (and Evil Don), Mr. Ramsey and Mrs. Kronenberg, and all other Ivy League Connection organizers, without whom this never would have happened. The masterpiece you three have poured hours of effort into has changed the futures of each and every one of us, as well as the hundreds of other students that have been lucky enough to be offered such a rare opportunity. In addition to the three of you, I would also like to thank the Ivy League Connection's donors. The money you so generously donate has allowed myself, my ILC family, and hundreds of other students the opportunity of a lifetime. As I said, our minds and our futures have been changed. Don, Mr. Ramsey, Mrs. Kronenberg, and ILC donors, I cannot put into words how grateful I am for all that you've done for my education and for our school district. I truly appreciate it.
And of course, I'd like to thank my family for all of the emotional support along the way. I missed you all deeply, but your encouragement always kept me going.

And there you have it. In the following months, I know we'll (my cohort) all meet again to discuss how best to utilize our experience to create a more college-bound attitude in the minds of our classmates in the WCCUSD. In the years after that, I know each and every one of you will be very successful in life at whatever it is you choose to do.

As for me, well, we'll see how much the world has changed many years from now. After this experience, I'm a step closer.

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" -Colossians 3:12

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Eyes Wide Open

From Cheryl Lilhanand—the Columbia Cohort Chaperone
With eyes wide open my cohort of six high school students experienced the unique opportunity to visit major colleges back east during one full week of traveling, followed by a three-week course at Columbia. To say the least, this unusual and unique opportunity truly opened their eyes to new horizons of which they never dreamed, let alone thought possible. As a result they have gained confidence in themselves and proved that students from West Contra Costa USD can compete with the best and are prepared to handle the course load from an Ivy League School, or any other top ranked school in this country.

From the beginning, our pace was extremely hectic. Our week started with an early morning flight to the Big Apple. For some this was their first trip out of the State, for one it was her first plane ride. As we crossed the Queensborough Bridge to enter Manhattan the students were so excited and became wide awake as they caught their first glimpse of the high rises of New York City, which seemed to reach for the sky.

During our first week we went on a whirlwind tour of four top schools. On our first morning we rose early to catch the subway to Penn Station where we boarded our first Amtrak to Pennsylvania. Upon arrival in Philadelphia we met up with the Cornell cohort and together toured Independence Hall. To walk the grounds where our country was founded and hear historical stories was truly amazing. Visiting this area of Philadelphia fit in nicely with my student’s classes, which they would soon attend at Columbia.

As with my previous trips, my cohort was very impressed with UPenn and all the support systems built into their programs. Not only is the campus gorgeous, every alumnus and student we spoke to raved about his experiences there. Also, as in the past, more than one of my six students plan to apply to UPenn. In fact, the ILC has students attending this university now.

Our next day took us upstate to a new college for the ILC campus tour: Sarah Lawrence. Here the students were greeted on a much smaller campus located about a half an hour train ride from NYC. What a difference in size. During the tour we sat in a typical lecture hall—with no more than 30 seats. Oh, the advantages of what small colleges can offer with small class sizes as well as constant individual academic support and counseling. Here again, two of my students felt very comfortable in this setting and plan to apply.

Thursday we headed up the Hudson on Amtrak again. Upon arrival we headed straight to Hyde Park, summer home and Presidential library of FDR. After watching an excellent video on his challenging life and touring his house and gardens, we learned to really appreciate his dedication to the American public knowing the constant battle he had with polio. Then we were on to Vassar. Trying to ignore the near 100ยบ heat, we attended an information session, which was followed by a campus tour. Since there is no graduate program, professors are able to focus their attention on their students. Later, after talking to some alumni over dinner, we were told that Vassar is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S., such pride. On a side note, one of the ILC students I brought here last year will attend Vassar as a freshman in the fall!

Friday we were off to Connecticut to visit Yale. Their information session was the most dynamic of all the schools we visited. We were so fortunate to have lunch with Yohanna Pepa, a former ILCer who attends Yale. She brought some current students as well and afterwards they gave us a personalized private tour. Here again, a couple of my students added Yale to their application list.

In between our site visits we met with current students and/or alumni from UPenn, Vassar, Yale, and Columbia over lunch or dinner. In each case the conversations at the table were priceless. My cohort felt so comfortable asking endless questions about the curriculum, class size, support offered, housing, clubs, overseas programs, etc. I strongly feel the dinners and luncheons were probably just as powerful and informative as were all of the site visits.

After a week of traveling my students finally moved into the dorms at Columbia. Over the next three weeks they experienced student life; such as the stresses of completing assignments on time, massive reading assignments, doing laundry and eating in the cafeteria.

Four students took Constitutional Law and two took Presidential Powers, from Washington to Obama. The Con Law students read many court cases and debated a number of issues. They even had to write a six-page court briefing. Whereas the two in Powers had to complete a major research paper, 20 pages long. Students in both classes had an extensive amount of reading and class participation was an important part of both courses. All six students said they absolutely loved their class. They all repeated that the ILC should continue to offer these two classes to students in the future.

Our district can be proud of all six. They worked hard and took their classes very seriously. Each one loved their class and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge each one presented.   In our daily briefings I could see them gain confidence in a variety of areas from their debating skills to doing extensive research. In short, they blossomed and took their challenges head on ...and succeeded!

The best part about being a chaperone to six high school students for four weeks is seeing them open up; academically, socially, and culturally. My students gained confidence by reaching outward and upward, they met their challenges and took pride in their accomplishments whether it be in a class debate or quiz or paper, their smiles grew bigger. Their conversations changed. Their thinking jumped to a different and higher level.

None of this would be possible without the incredible vision and dedication of the ILC founders: Charles Ramsey and Madeline Kronenberg. Another very important person to the success of the program is Don Gosney. And of course none of this would be possible without the generosity of the sponsors. On behalf of my cohort I want to thank the sponsors for giving my students the opportunity of a lifetime. I know how much this trip meant to each one. In our daily debriefs they often expressed their amazement and gratitude to the ILC program and the sponsors. After meeting and talking to other students in their classes they soon realized our group was the ONLY one supported by someone other than the individual family. My hat goes off to each of are truly making changes in our student’s lives, in more ways than you can imagine.

What more can we ask for? Well, we now hope this cohort, as well as the other cohorts, will share their incredible experiences with other students in our district so they too can reach for the stars with eyes wide open.