Thursday, May 31, 2012

Columbia, Here I Come!

Today, the Ivy League Connection Program had an orientation at Pinole Middle School.

The orientation began with the introductions of the Ivy League Connection's chaperones, followed by the speeches from both Charles Ramsey and Madeline Kronenberg. They spoke about the importance of making a good impression and how the way we present ourselves can affect a person's personal opinion of not only us, but on our entire school district as well.

As the chosen representatives of West Contra Costa Unified School District we are expected to act as the nature young adults that our communities raised us to be, and I, for one, am ready to exceed to expectations.

After all introductions and formalities were said and done with, it was Don Gosney's turn to speak. Don mainly focused on what sort of items we should pack during our trip. Most of them were pretty standard items, like a camera, bed sheets, and a towel; other things on the list, however, seemed a bit unconventional--like zip-lock and trash bags. However, when Don went into greater detail, everything began to make a lot more sense. In fact, I've cone to really appreciate Don's advice! For instance, you ever thought of using trash bags to keep your wet clothes from getting mildew everywhere? I certainly haven't--and I'd like to thank Don for the tip!

When Don had finished speaking, the cohorts, parents, and chaperones were then grouped together by their respective schools and assigned a classroom, where they would discuss their school's itinerary in detail.

When my fellow cohorts and I seated ourselves in our designated classroom, my chaperone, Mrs. L, passed out packets detailing our travel schedule and what we should expect our dorms to be like. We were even able to talk to a few students who gave us a clearer idea of what to expect. Two were from Vassar, another school that we shall be briefly visiting, and former Columbia ILCer!

I felt that today's orientation was really helpful and that I feel more prepared for my upcoming trip. It's really hard to believe that today was the Ivy League Connection's last major event before heading off. And it's even harder to that on June 18th, which is in less than three weeks, I'll be on my way to Columbia!

One Step Closer!

Tonight was the Ivy League Connection Orientation, the final event before cohorts go off to the East Coast for the summer. I could not be more excited about this. The orientation took place in the Pinole Middle School multi-purpose room. My mother and I showed up about fifteen minutes early to get acquainted and talk with other students and their parents.

Don, my dad, and Madeline really lead the presentation. They each spoke of the importance of the program and following the rules. This year the ILC is really stressing the importance of proper behavior and respecting your chaperone. To me, these rules are not hard to follow because the chaperone is the authority figure and it is important to give your utmost respect to them, as well as being modest and casting good impressions on all those we will meet on the East Coast. However, one would be surprised at home some break these rules. I am glad that everyone in the program seems to understand these guidelines and not break the rules.

Don also spoke to us about loaner items, and I winced when he said he lost 800 dollars worth of loaner items last year. I was happy because I turned in all the loaner items I used from last year and cannot fathom why people would not return them - they are called "loaner" for a reason and it is stressed to us many times that we are supposed to give them back. Once again, respect and responsibility play a key role.

After a brief introduction of all the chaperones, we broke into our cohorts and separated into rooms. Ms. L handed us our Columbia itinerary, which mainly included flight and train information. We were also informed that we will have eight dinners! While I have a true soft spot for expensive food and elegance (who doesn't?!), even I am nervous about this prospect. However, I am sure that my cohort and I will make wonderful and lasting impressions on the questioning admission officers who will be attending our dinners.

Beilul, who participated in the ILC last year by taking the Presidential Powers course at Columbia and will be attending Brown University in the fall, spoke to us about her experiences. While I could not relate to her about the course (I am taking Constitutional Law), I found her testimonial about the activities and campus life to be interesting. Miho Hayashi-Groves and her friend Alex even came to speak to us about Vassar, the school they attend and the school we will be touring during our time at Columbia. They gave us basic facts about the school, which made me interested in Vassar all the more!

The orientation really helped me to get more excited for our trip and really stress the rules and regulations that we will have to follow through. I think we will all have a wonderful trip and June 18th cannot came fast enough!

And the Countdown Begins..

It's so surreal to know only eighteen days lie between me and the Big Apple. This evening, the ILC had the annual orientation meeting on the whole do's and do not's of the program. But the resounding message during the whole evening is that, "this is not a prize, it's more like a job." The ILC does expect its cohorts to not only make what's best of their trip but to be able to bring back and share our experiences with the other thousands of students who were not able to have this opportunity that we have been granted this summer.

After arriving promptly at 6:30, my mother and I seated ourselves to wait for the meeting to begin. Ms. Kronenberg started off with a speech about being a member of the ILC as a privilege. The ILC is willing to give us what is deemed necessary over the summer as well as the actual program itself but this opportunity can also be taken away when we are not displaying the wanted image for the WCCUSD. After a few more words, the chaperons were introduced and then we dispersed into our respective groups.

During our group meetings, my excitement was once again rekindled when being reminded of the Big Apple. We received packets on our departure and arrivals on plane as well as our train traveling dates. We were advised again to open a Citibank account for easy access to money since there's one located on campus at Columbia. Also we received a packet on how Columbia university operates as well as what we needed to bring. Luckily for our group, bed sheets, blankets, and pillow cases are included, so we now have more space in our suitcases! Information on our projected spending and dinners were also said. The Columbia group will be attending eight fancy dinners with Ms. Kronenberg attending three with us.

After our group finished our discussion, the ILC assembled as a whole and said a few departing words. Mr. Ramsey once again congratulated us on making it this far. And now the countdown begins. T minus 18 days and counting!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I'd like to start by saying that I'm sorry this is getting posted so late. I was down in L.A. for the past few days, and I didn't have internet access. Nevertheless, this is my exciting summary of the Columbia dinner at Jardiniere. Well, maybe its not so exciting for the people reading this, but I had a blast; I think that everyone else there did too. I also made sure to take lots of pictures, so you all can be jealous of the great meals we had. Enjoy!

The Columbia cohort as well as our parents and the directors of the ILC all met at the El Cerrito Plaza Bart Station on Thursday. Once everyone was there, we got on the train and rode to San Francisco. On the way there, I got to talk to some Columbia students and graduates, as well as my fellow classmates.

When we got to Jardiniere, I was a little surprised. I expected the place to be a huge grand restaurant, but it was actually quite small. This really didn't matter though, as the atmosphere on the inside completely made up for any lack in size. We were all escorted to a curtained off section with assigned seating. I sat by my father, Aurea Riboroso, Don Gosney, Sue Kahn, who is my principal, and Miguel Castro, a Columbia alumni.

Dinner began with everyone introducing themselves. Ms. Kronenberg spoke to the dinner party and explained who the different groups present were. This was followed by a speeches from Adrianne Ramsey and Morvarid Mehdizedeh, which were each very well presented.

Then, came the food. We were all catered to an excellent four course meal. My personal favorite was the dessert. I got the 'Milky Way,' which was an excellent mix of... well, I don't even know what it was, but it was good. I'd like to mention that the service there was great. I must have had 10 refills for my glass of ginger ale, and I never even had to ask for it.

Overall, it was a great night. I got to enjoy some fine dining, have pleasant conversations and spend a night out in the city. If this is what I can expect during my time in New York, than I should start packing ASAP.
Enjoying the 'Milky Way'

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bon Appétit!

Today, I was able to enjoy a lovely evening of both dinner and conversation with not only my fellow cohorts, but also with my chaperone--Mrs. L--, multiple of Ivy League Connection's generous sponsors, interviews and founders, and some of Columbia's prestigious alumni! The dinner was hosted at  Jardiniere, a French restaurant located in San Francisco.

My evening started at around 5:00 PM, when my mother and I arrived at the Ivy League Connection's meeting place, El Cerrito Plaza BART station. I would like to proudly announce that I was the first ILCer to arrive at the BART Station! Punctuation certainly is everything when it comes to important gatherings such as these. When everyone had arrived at the Station, we began to herd our sharply-dressed party towards BART Train, where we quickly boarded and began our commute to Jardiniere.

The ride to the restaurant was about twenty minutes to half hour, and during that time I started to acquaint myself with some of the alumni accompanying us to the restaurant. Namely, I spoke former ILCer and current Columbia Sophomore student,  Matt Arciniega, along with two of my cohorts, Adrianne Ramsey and Leonard Eisen. We asked Matt questions about Columbia's curriculum, dorms, and lifestyle, as well as his own experiences with the Ivy League Connection and Columbia University. Talking with Matt proved to be really helpful and interesting, I was able to get many of my questions about Columbia and get to know both of my cohorts a little better. The four of us got lost in our conversation and before we knew it, we had arrived at our destination of Civic BART Station. 

When we finally arrived in San Fransisco, the first thing I learned is the it is really, cold and windy there. Especially, when you're wearing a black dress, tights, and no jacket. Luckily, Matt was nice enough to loan me his jacket--which was another thing that I really, really appreciated.

During the five block walk to the restaurant, I started talking to another Columbia alum, who also happened to not only be a current Columbia student like Matt. Not only that, but I found out that she had attended my high school--Middle College High School. Her name was Beulah Agbabilea, and with the her help I was able to find about even more about the Do's and Don'ts of both Columbia and New York itself.

When finally reached Jardiniere, I was amazed. Everything about the place look magnificent--from the decor, to the wonderful servers, to even the fries they served to a table next to ours. The restaurant had managed to take my breath away before I was even seated!

When I was seated at the table, I was able to meet yet another alum, a Columbia post-grad named Mitchell Flax. I was able to enjoy yet another great conversation with him along with my mother and Ms. Kaplan, another Ivy League chaperone--although not my own--as well as one of the interviewers that accepted me into the program in the first place.

The food served to us was also spectacular. It was a four course meal that began with buttered rolls as an appetizer, followed by a salad, the the entree and finally dessert.  As our appetizers and salads were being served to us, Ms. Kronenberg stepped forward had introduced the cohorts, alumni, family members, sponsors, and major Ivy League staff members such as our founders and interviews. Afterwards, our cohort speakers, Adrianne Ramsey and Morvarid Mehdizedeh gave very well-written speeches, and they were then followed by Mr. Ramsey and his closing speech. With the conclusion of the dinner's orations the cohorts and the alumni were grouped together for a group photo. When the photo, or photos rather, were finally taken we were ushered back to our seat where we were able to enjoy our desert and entrees until our departure from Jardiniere. 

Fantastic food and Fantastic Conversation

Last night (I guess you could call it the morning of the next day by now), the 6 students of our cohort, their parents, Mrs. L, a few current and former Columbia University students, and a few of the sponsors and organizers of the Ivy League Connection met up at El Cerrito Plaza BART at 5:30 for a formal dinner in San Francisco. The dinner took place at Jardiniere, a fancy restaurant on Grove Street a good 4 or 5 blocks from the Civic Center BART station. I spent the ride across the Bay mostly talking with Mrs. L, as we discussed our backgrounds and got to know each other a little more.

As soon as the entire group arrived, we all took our strategically-placed assigned seats in a room separated from the rest of the restaurant by a curtain. I was seated with Mitch Flax (Columbia c/o '09, now working in HR for Google) on my left, Dan Federman (c/o '11, now working for Apple designing software) on my right, and my mom and Beulah Agbabiaka (c/o '15, currently majoring in African American studies with a Political Science focus) across from me.

Our meal consisted of four courses; I am unfamiliar with fancy dinners like this one, so I can only name three. We began with an appetizer, and for this course I chose to have the asparagus soup, which had a few other things in there that I did not recognize, but tasted great nonetheless. For the next course (who's name I don't know, whatever comes between an appetizer and the main course) we each had the risotto with cheese, mushrooms and greens. I had no idea what risotto was, and I still have no idea what risotto is, but if I ever see it on a menu again, I'll order it without hesitation. For the main course, I had fish (had a much more elegant name on the menu, although for me, elegant = confusing), which was also top notch. Even for such a nice place, the food more than exceeded my expectations. I had no idea what it was I was ordering or spooning into my mouth half the time, but I can say that I had an absolutely delicious meal.

Yet, all that being said, the food was far from my favorite part of the experience. Seated next two former (although very recent) Columbia students and one current Columbia student, I was able to soak up information about Columbia University that, had I had a pen and paper to take notes with, I might be able to write a book about now. I learned particularly about campus life and about how to handle your classes, and the stress and workload that my come with them. I left the dinner with information on everything from the cheapest place to buy groceries to advice on how to do your laundry (never put nylon on a high setting in the dryer without cleaning out the filter - you could set off the fire alarms). Mitch, Beulah and Dan also each shared stories about times at Columbia, such as Mitch's dad seeing in his mirror that someone reached into his window and stole his ice cream. It also turns out that pulling all-nighters generally is not a good idea, and that your sleep schedule in college is often determined not by what time it is but by the time between now and when your paper is due. I learned of the importance of having access to good food and 24-hour libraries. The three also stressed the importance of having a social life and a place where you can get away from all this stress and do something you love to do; for Beulah this was jazz. As I said, I could write a book on everything I learned tonight; there is simply too much to put into one blog.

In addition to discussing college life, admissions, and Columbia University, I was also able to have a very in depth conversation with Dan regarding politics and other world and societal issues such as the increasing wealth gap, the economy and education. The only people with whom I am usually able to discuss these issues are my parents and one very passionate Mitt Romney supporter from my class (we have some very good informal debates), so meeting someone I had never met before and simply talking about the world for a good half hour was a very intellectually stimulating experience. We talked about some of my goals in changing the country we live in, about the ridiculous belief that the price of gas in the US was entirely the result of Barack Obama trying to hurt the American people, and the even more ridiculous reality that some people actually believe that.

While I can say that the food was phenomenal, nothing could beat the conversations my mom and I were able to have with the three Columbia alumni. It was funny, intellectual, helpful and made for an experience which I simply cannot put into words when describing how much I enjoyed it. Tonight's dinner has by far been the highlight of my trip so far, but we are only beginning! Four weeks from now, we will meet together and board a plane so that I can go see if those bagels and the food carts really live up to the hype.

More Than Just A Dinner in The City

Today my fellow cohort, our parents, our chaperone, our sponsors, our organizers, and a few current and former Columbia University students met at El Cerrito Plaza BART at 5:30 for a formal dinner session in San Francisco's Jardiniere restaurant. It was truly a delightful experience I must say. The dinner itself was splendid, however, it was really the engaging conversations themselves that I was so enthralled by. Each of us students were uniquely separated in a distinct table with a group of very fascinating individuals ranging from our sponsors, to alumni's from the University itself. I had the pleasure in meeting two very interesting individuals from Columbia University, one currently a junior and another an alumni. We discussed a lot about the university itself as well as our personal interests and shared many aspects of ourselves and our experiences with one another. I was deeply mesmerized within those simple conversations because, to be honest, even the simplest topics fascinated me and appeased my thirst for information and knowledge of the outside world in regards to the nation and the educational opportunities available for our access. Their different experiences and encounters was what really grasped my interest as well as their strong, powerful personalities that showed through within simply speaking to one another. In all, I truly appreciated the opportunity to speak to these amazing individuals, and it was truly a pleasure to meet them all. 

Aside from this aspect of our dinner tonight, another matter of importance for me was the fact that I was one of the only two people chosen to give a speech on behalf of my program. For this I was tremendously delighted and flattered, I must say. I had typed up and prepared notes for my self prior to my speech, however, I rarely referred to them due to the fact that the sentiments I had towards the Ivy League Connection and Columbia University were already evident in my speech as well as my feelings. Therefore, I was in reality only expressing what I truly thought and planned for the future with complete honestly and I needed no reference for such a discussion but to rather simply remind myself the important topics I would like to brush upon and share with the adults as well as the students in the room. It really means a tremendous deal to me to be part of such an elite group of individuals in our community representing our district and our very own students, so I initiated my speech with what I thought the Ivy League Connection means to me. To me, it means to not only be a leader, but also an ambassador that shares his or her experiences for not only her benefit, but also for the benefit of her community as a whole. So, why am I part of the Ivy League Connection program? Well certainly the answer to this question would be that I'm not just doing it for me, but for my entire community as a whole. Considering the fact that the students of our district are mainly deprived of mainstream resources, limited to the simple options around them such, and lack knowledge of thing outside of their comfortable arena, I find it crucial for me to step ahead and become a leader who spreads the message to students in not only my district but also my community as a whole regarding my experiences and the knowledge I acquire. I think the ability to inspire a vast amount of individuals in my own community and help them on their own unique path towards success is a reward in itself and the Ivy League Connection would grant upon me the necessary experiences and irreplaceable knowledge to do so. In all, before I graduate, I want to contribute to my community in the most ways possible, and the Ivy League Connection has basically became my pathway for this. After sharing such sentiments, I thanks my generous and amazing sponsors for making this possible for me, Don, Mrs.Kronenberg, Mrs.L, Mr.Ramsey, and this amazing organization as a whole for granting me the opportunity to attend Columbia University.  I explained my course, and what is expected of me, as well as a little background about the University itself. And finally, I ended my speech with, "Out of all the individuals and students in this nation, I, along with my cohort, us 6, were chosen as part of the Ivy League Connection to attend this amazing university, to walk the halls that Obama once walked, Roosevelt, and even Alexander Hamilton, and perhaps one day, we too can become Lions. (Columbia mascot) " Overall, I enjoy public speaking so I had a good time conducting my speech and communicating with the ILC guests tonight.


Later, we ordered our food and dined on our delicious dinner options. From each savory dish to another, we all enjoyed the tasty meal, appetizer, and dessert, and I would really like to thank the Ivy League Connection for allowing us to have such a good time tonight. By the end of the night, aside from the honor in meeting many different individuals such as Malcom Carson and Peter Gallotta, we were also given flowers at the end of the dinner. The flowers were beautiful and my mother and I were actually surprised it was for us! Currently, it sits in the center of our dinner table. Thank you Ivy League Connection for your kind generosity, we truly appreciate it.

Bonne Nuit Jardiniere

When one thinks of dinner, one would probably think of a sit down meal at home with the family consisting of a home-cooked meal. But tonight for the Ivy League Connection cohorts, parents, sponsors, chaperons, staff, and alumni, we have had the pleasure of dining at Jardiniere in San Francisco. Located on Grove Street, this French themed restaurant does not seem like much from the outside but amazed me with it's stylishly elegant interior.

Exterior of Jardiniere
Tonight's adventure started at 5:15 PM when I arrived at El Cerrito Plaza BART station. There I met with my fellow cohorts, parents, chaperon, alumni, sponsors, and staff. Once everyone that agreed to meet there arrived, we all boarded the train towards San Francisco. After getting off at Civic Center, we walked a few blocks while meeting a few sponsors and alumni along the way. Once we arrived at the restaurant, we waited a few minutes for a few more alumni to before being seated.

The meal in all was very pleasant and delightful. My menu for the night was divine; I started with mixed field greens with beets and goat cheese tossed in a vinaigrette, then a risotto with mushrooms and greens, followed by roasted hen with potatoes, squash, and mushrooms, and finally topped with a milky way dessert of caramel ice cream and chocolate.

Risotto with cheese, mushrooms, and greens
Roasted hen with squash, mushrooms, and potatoes
"Milky Way" dessert with caramel ice cream, chocolate, and nougat
But the food is only half of the dinner; what really gets the ball rolling is the conversation. During the night we had four speeches; each made by Ms. Kronenberg, Adrianne Ramsey, Morvarid Mehdizadeh, and Mr. Ramsey. Ms. Kronenberg talked about the dinner itself and why we were all there. Then the next two student speeches were about the upcoming time in New York as well as what we plan to give back to our community. And finally Mr. Ramsey closed with how the ILC is a one of a kind program in the nation and how important it is to bring back to our community.

During the dinner, I was seated at table with a fellow cohort Lenny Eisen, his father, Don Gosney,  Miguel, Sue Kahn, Sally Swanson, Kenyatta Monroe-Sinkler, and my father. I mainly conversed with Ms. Sinkler and Ms. Dawson about New York and Columbia University. Ms. Swanson is an alumni from the class of 1971 while Ms. Sinkler is an alumni from 1991. Conversations ranged from majors- Ms. Sinkler majored in literature and went to graduate school for psychology while Ms. Swanson majored in architecture and urban design- to possible visitations of attractions. I spoke of this trip being my second plane ride and my first time outside of California, excluding Nevada. They in turn talked of their lives as mothers such as the joys of raising a four year old son to the sadness of departing with a college bound daughter. Being able to meet and converse with graduates of Columbia university was such a great experience; I was able to learn more about New York itself from their own experiences.

After dinner, we all boarded the train at the BART station. There I was able to further converse with a few more alumni and my fellow cohorts. I spoke with Malcolm Carson, a rising senior at Columbia university and Kenyatta once more. We talked about Columbia dorms and the Core Curriculum as well as sports at the university level and coaches. When transferring trains, I then conversed with my fellow cohorts; Adrianne, Morvarid, Lenny, and Lucas. Then at long last, we arrived back at El Cerrito Plaza and went our separate ways. Now the only obstacle to New York is the orientation meeting and a twenty-four day waiting period.

Fancy and Insightful

Those two words completely describe my time at the Columbia dinner tonight at Jardiniere in San Francisco. I learned so much about Columbia in the span of five hours, and I know I am to learn so much more when I am in New York City. I simply cannot wait!

At 5:15 my father and I headed to the El Cerrito Plaza BART station to meet with not only the Columbia cohort and their parents, but with alums, current students, and interviewers! I was excited to see such a span of Columbia love and to meet some excited new faces.

Leonard Eisen
Aurea Riboroso
Morvarid Mehdizadeh 
 I was especially excited to see Matt Arciniega - Matt was a member of the ILC 2009 group and took Grand Strategies at Yale University. He is a rising junior at Columbia University and confirmed to me that he is a political science major and has completed majority of the Core Curriculum. Matt attended El Cerrito High School and was a senior when I was a freshman; he has been a great mentor to me ever since. On the BART train ride to San Francisco, Matt conversed with Lenny, Tomi, and I, a conversation that ranged from hilarious yet horrifying dorm experiences to interesting philosophy courses.

Matt Arciniega - Columbia University c/o 2014 (His Future Congressman Look)
After a walk through lovely and bustling San Francisco, we arrived at Jardiniere's. The inside was absolutely stunning and the smells emulating from the kitchen were ravenous. Even though it took a while to get accustomed in our private dining hall, it was nice to get to know more people! I got to meet Beulah, who is a rising sophomore at Columbia. She attended the Columbia program two years ago and graduated from Middle College High School last year. Unfortunately, we did not get to talk too much, but I learned that she is studying African-American studies, political science, and has a concentration in dance.

Arriving at the ILC Columbia Dinner
Fit as fiddles and ready to eat and learn! 
Beautiful flowers - most of the ladies took these home!
Elegant table settings
Matt Arciniega - we were lucky to sit across from each other!
Dinner menu! We had excellent choices
After Ms. Kronenberg gave the first speech, it was my turn to give a speech. Was I nervous? Most definitely! But I feel I conducted myself with grace; I received a lot of compliments afterwards. I will post a section of my speech here:
"...This will be my second year participating in the Ivy League Connection program. To me, the ILC emphasizes destiny. I am not a perfect person. I occasionally stutter, I get nervous speaking in front of large crowds, I'm short, my transcript is not flawless - the list could go on and on when it comes to my flaws. But when I'm in the ILC, all those little flaws do not matter because the program sees through all that and recognizes true potential. This program seeks to use the true potential of its participants by throwing them out into the world - giving them new life experiences, meeting wonderful people, learning about topics that aren't generally covered in our school district, and begin to truly understand what it's like to live life as a college student. I went to Brown University as a sophomore and lived life like a college student for two weeks in Providence. Why should I be giving the opportunity to do this again? As a junior, about to live life as a college student again, only this time right in the middle of New York City, I want to listen and observe more. My desire to learn more about the college applicant process is thicker. I still have so much to learn, and I like learning in different ways and in different areas...." 
Giving my speech
Morvarid was the second student speaker, and I was impressed with her testimonial about the importance of obtaining a higher education, spreading the college going culture, and how she was a first generation American-educated student in her family. My dad spoke next, and really expressed how important it is to bring something back to your community and make things happen

After the speeches were finished, it was time to eat! I absolutely loved the dinner selections, and I know Don will be proud of me for taking pictures of each of my meals. The food was to die for, and I was glad that we had a good selection of meals to choose from: 

Zuckerman Farm Asparagus Soup, Prosciutto and Duck Egg Bearnaise
Carnaroli Risotto, Porcini Mushrooms, Fava Greens, and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Hoffman Ranch Hen, Porcini Mushrooms, Heriloom Squash and Potatoes, Natural Jus
Milky Way - Chocolate, malted nougat, caramel ice cream
At my table, I sat with Matt Segal, Matt Arciniega, Ismail Ramsey (my uncle and godfather), my dad, Herman Blackwell, Reggie Terrell, and Wally! It was very interesting, there were debates going around and around about President Truman, World War II, and John Edwards. Matt S. and Uncle Ismail spoke about their days at Harvard and what the college application process was for them. It was an interesting evening.

I was excited to get a chance to speak with Malcolm Carson, who is an El Cerrito High School class of 2009 graduate and a rising senior at Columbia University. Malcolm is a biophysics major and is also pre-med. He was one of the first ILC students and participated in the program for three years, his first two summers at Brown University and his third at Cornell University. He was accepted to a stunning amount of schools, including some UCs, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, Columbia University, and some more private universities. I found Malcolm to be extremely ambitious and enjoyed talking with him. He and Matt A. both gave me good feedback on my tentative personal statement topic, which I was happy about. Matt A. and I had a long discussion about education reform, the college application process, and how much he enjoys Columbia!

I also met Peter, who is an interviewer for Columbia. He gave me good advice on how to have a good interview and how it was important to take advantage of it if a student is offered it. I also met with Don Elis, who is a publisher and interviewed me for the Columbia program. We talked about writing and the importance behind it, which interested me because I love talking about writing. 

Overall, the dinner for Columbia was absolutely amazing. I cannot wait to go to New York City! I want to know all of what Columbia truly has to offer for me - this dinner heightened my interest in it so much more! I also got to really connect with my cohort; I've noticed how much we agree with one another on topics and how we all get along so well. I feel like this is truly going to be such an amazing experience.

Columbia Group Photo
Matt Arciniega and I

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Leaders and Innovators of the Future

Today, the 40-something Ivy League students from around the West Contra Costa Unified School District attended the district's School Board Meeting. At the meeting, students, organizers and sponsors of the Ivy League Connection were honored for their achievements and, in the case of the students, the bright futures that they come closer to reaching every day.
Supporters of adult education holding up signs in the back of
the crowded room. (Sorry for the blurry photo.)
In addition to being honored, though, I was also able to see what a school board meeting was like. 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 of the speakers defending adult education 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. One comment, though, which particularly impacted me was when one man said he needed to learn English because he did not want to be "a burden to this country." While I do agree with the man that learning English would help him, the fact that he felt he would be a burden if he did not learn English disturbed me a little bit. While he did not openly say it, I feel the comment reflected a feeling of being unwelcome, that he was less wanted here if he did not master English skills. I believe the man should feel quite the opposite; no one should be a burden on anyone because we should all be working together for the common good. Regardless of the language we speak, we are all moving in the same direction together. This is pure speculation, I have no idea if the man simply chose the wrong words or if I am misinterpreting what he said, but no one in this country should feel like they are burden because they are not the same as everyone else. Just my two cents.

After the public speakers, the ILCers were acknowledged. Each chaperon brought up their students and gave a brief speech regarding what the students plan to accomplish and what the Ivy League Connection means to them. We proudly stood holding the Columbia University flag as Ms. Lilhanand read off our names and described what we'd be doing this summer. After each chaperon introduced their cohort, two former ILCers spoke regarding their experience with the Ivy League Connection and where it has taken them (Yale and Harvard, not too shabby). They emphasized what a wonderful opportunity the district and the program's sponsors (who were also honored) had given them. As the speeches progressed, it became more and more clear what a success the Ivy League Connection has been. Highly acclaimed around California, even in the nation, the ILC has given students the opportunity to grow into the leaders and innovators of the future. I can say that from this school board meeting alone, I have learned about the importance of adult education, and in the future, when hopefully I am a leader somewhere, I will fight for adult education. Of course, I realize that the district is obviously not against adult education, the bottom line is just the state is billions of dollars in debt and everyone in nearly every public sector is suffering from a lack of funding. Nevertheless, after today, I feel like I know more and I feel like stronger about my positions and who I am. And as the summer progresses, I anticipate having this feeling more and more.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Does this mean it's official?

Today, the ILC was invited to the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) School Board Meeting. Each cohort was presented before the board, parents and local TV, by our chaperones. We were then each given a certificate in light of our accomplishments as a part of the ILC. Winston Long, an alumni of my high school, and a student at Yale University, gave a speech on the importance of this program. We also finally got to see the sponsors of the our trip.

After the speeches, every ILCer, all of the chaperones and all of our parents who came to the evnt gathered in a huge group photo. We take one of these every year, and each time it gets bigger. I can't wait to see this hanging in my school's front office, just like the one from last year. Thanks again everybody. I can't wait to have dinner with all of my class mates tomorrow.

We're going to learn how to take over the world!

Actually, the four ILC students who are participating in the Yale program are. But, hey, maybe they can teach us a thing or two! Just kidding. Tonight, the term "taking over/ruling the world" came up a lot - this was a key term that symbolized the Ivy League Connection Representation: School Board Meeting. Every single ILC participant has the skills to take charge of not only their education, but society as well. Each program we are participating will teach us exquisite leadership skills.

Seeing all the ILC participants was a treat. I got to meet some new people and reconnect with some friends I hadn't seen in a while. We all piled into the Lavona Dejon Middle School auditorium and went over a quick agenda with Mr. Vincent Rhea (former El Cerrito High School principal), who always leads the presentation.

Kelly Xi (taking DNA-Biotechnology at Brown University) and I    
Emily Cain - ECHS sophomore. She is taking Women and Leadership at Brown University 
Lucas Lochner-Bravo - Taking Constitutional Law at Columbia

Tomi Balogun - Taking Constitutional Law at Columbia

Aurea Riboroso - Taking Presidential Powers at Columbia
Clara Lengacher (left) and Mariko Whitenack (right) - Both ECHS juniors who are taking Experimental Physics at the University of Pennsylvania   

Calvin Kuang (left) and Emily Hayashi-Groves (right) - Both ECHS juniors, Calvin is taking Freedom and Justice at Cornell University and Emily is taking Macroeconomics at Brown University 
Being presented in front of the school board for the second year in a row was an honor. I felt really proud standing with my cohort and holding up a blue Columbia flag. I absolutely cannot wait to go to New York City! The countdown is on, and I simply cannot believe we will be in the Big Apple as soon as we will be. Time is flying by so quickly! It was also nice to hear how excited the other chaperone's are for their trips!

A special treat was hearing speeches from two past Ivy League Connection participants who are at Ivy League schools. The first speaker was Austin Long, who graduated from Pinole Valley High School with the class of 2011 and is a rising sophomore at Yale University. I met Austin last year, when he was a senior, and marveled at his public speaking skills and his ease and kindness with others. He spoke about the importance of the Ivy League Connection and really encouraged every single one of this year's participants to take advantage of the opportunity and really bring something back to the community.

Austin Long - Yale University c/o 2015 
The second speaker was my close friend Terilyn Chen - she is a current senior at Hercules High School and will be attending Harvard University in the fall. Not only was Terilyn accepted to Harvard, but she was also accepted to Brown University and Cornell University - a truly admirable feat. I could not be more proud of her. In her speech, she talked about how through the Hotel Management Course she took at Cornell through ILC last summer she learned to "expect the unexpected" - for example, during her Harvard interview - after the usual talk about extracurriculars and academics - the interview turned into talk about the Spongebob Squarepants interview! But since she was used to "expecting the unexpected", she was not thrown off and remained confident. Obviously her confidence paid off!

Terilyn Chen (Harvard University c/o 2016) and I
After hearing these speeches and receiving ILC certificates, all the parents and ILC participants came together to take this year's group photo. I am so excited for everything that lies ahead of us, not just for the Columbia group, but for all ILCers!

School Board Meeting

Today was a day where all the cohorts from each individual Ivy League Connection program united to represent not only themselves and their schools, but also their community and district in the School Board meeting. During the meeting, many past ILC students and future Ivy League students spoke on behalf of this amazing organization as well as our very own chaperones whom introduced us on live television. After recognizing the founders of this program and the sponsors who make it happen, we too were also recognized with awards for our academic excellence and acceptance into our individual programs. It was my honor today to represent not just myself, but my community and my amazing district that made this all happen. In events such as today, we allow others to realize the capabilities of our district, notice the bright individuals in our very own community, and the local opportunities that allow us to achieve this much.
The more events I have attended through the Ivy League Connection, the more passionate I have become for my community, district, and this program as a whole.
Again, thank you so much Ivy League Connection for making these experiences possible for us, and thank you sponsors for making this real.

School Board Connection!

Today, I had the pleasure of attending West Contra Costa Unified School District's School Board Meeting held within Richmond's LaVonya DeJean Middle School. The Meeting was even televised! Live broadcastings were aired on Pinole's PCTV Channel 26 and 28, Richmond's KCRT Channel 28, and the City of Hercules' Cable Channel 28!

The Meeting began with the Pledge of Allegiance and then moved on to a brief introduction of the Board of Education's members--which was composed of a committee very prestigious and dedicated school officials, including Ivy League Connection's very own School Board President Charles Ramsey and teacher Madeline Kronenberg , as well as a young girl who served as DeAnza High School's Student Board Representative.

During the event, I was not only able to get a first hand look on how the School Board operates, but I was also made aware of some of the problems plaguing the District. The main focus tonight's meeting were the budget cuts threatening the District's Adult Education Department.

Many teachers and students alike spoke out for the protection of their beloved program. In total, there were 17 speakers, each allowed two minutes before the Board to share their opinions. Even those who spoke poor English were even brave enough to cross the language barriers and defend their right for for a proper education. One woman even brought her 6-year-old to up to the microphone to talk about how she wanted her mother to continue going to school so that they could work on their English together.

Seeing all those people allowed me put my own views into perspective. I believe that everyone--no matter race, religion, or age--deserves the right to a better education and that we as a community should work to preserve the Adult Education Department's funding as we do our children's. Luckily, it seems as though the School Board agrees with me, as they seemed to rule in favor to rework the District's budget to allow the continuation if the program.

After the Board Members finished deliberating on a few more issues, it was the Ivy League Connection's time to shine. Each group of cohorts were to stand before the School Board whilst holding their respective school's flag as their chaperone introduced each student individually, as well as the courses they'll be taking and the other colleges that they'll be visiting.

Since we were introduced in alphabetical order by the name of the schools, my Columbia cohorts and I were set to go third, headed by our chaperone Mrs. L. My fellow Constitutional Law students, Leonard Eisen, Lucas Lochner Bravo, Adrianne Ramsey and I held Columbia's flag as Ms. L introduced us as our two other cohorts taking American Presidential Power at Home and Abroad: From George Washington to Barack Obama
Aurea Riboroso and Morvarid Mehdizadeh. The other colleges that we are set to visit include UPENN, Vassar, Yale, Sarah Lawrence, and New York University.

To be honest, I think that the introduction was both exciting and nerve-racking. Not only was a being watched by an entire auditorium of people, I was being shown on live television! I was so nervous that something awful would happen like me tripping while getting up, or making a fool of myself in front of the school board, or Ms. L pronouncing my name wrong! However, when I was waking towards the front of the room, I I began to calm down and I honestly feel proud for being able to take part of such a wonderful program. After our introduction was done each, of us was awarded with a certificate commemorating our acceptance into the Ivy League Connection Program.

After all the introductions were done, two former Ivy League Connection students, whom both of which currently attend Ivy League Schools gave speeches about the experiences with the Ivy League as well as how it helped them prepare for their future.

We were then treated by a few more speeches from the School Board as continued they further praise the Ivy League Connection and all of its bright, capable students. After the last speech honoring the ILC concluded, the School Board Meeting was adjourned. However, the night was still not over for us ILCers.

Chaperones, students, and parents began to position themselves for this year's panoramic photo of the Ivy League Connection. After about 25 blinding camera flashes, the Meeting was finally over after 3 hours of sitting, standing, and smiling.

ILC Cohorts: the Next Rulers of the World

Tonight the cohorts of the Ivy League Connection attended the WCCUSD school board meeting to be recognized for being accepted to such a great program. Various speeches were made, ranging from chaperons escorting us to previous ILC alumni who attend and plan to attend Ivy League universities. After the speeches, sponsors and the building blocks of the ILC- Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don Gosney- were also recognized for their work into making and supporting such a admirable program. Pictures of the cohorts, parents, sponsors, and organizers were then taken.

It was such a honor to represent not only myself but my school, my district, and my program. The ILC really is a privilege to be a part of; I have the opportunity to experience a college level school and course while enjoying the different surroundings of the East Coast. Tonight's milestone event has not only opened my eyes but the eyes of viewers on the educational value the WCCUSD possesses. The ILC is not only an academic program; it's a life experience that will open one's mind to the world around one's self, creating a future leader of the world.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tomi's Top 15 Picks

Here's a quick list of some of the places I'd love to visit during my trip to New York.

#15: Brooklyn Botanic Garden A lovely floral facility filled with over a dozen uniquely themed gardens. Personally, I think that a lewisite walk through a flower garden is a great way to relax, and with so many gardens to visit, I think that the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a great place to go. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden even has a café and gift shop.

#14: The Empire State Building As one of New York's more notable sites, this skyscraper is New York's 3rd tallest building towering at 102 flights, or about 1,050 feet. With it's 1,872 steps the Empire State Building is absolutely breathtaking in every sense of the word!

#13: The Guggenheim Museum An art museum that focuses on contemporal impressionist art. Even it's own exterior is considered a wondrous piece of example of architecture and art, with it's interesting outer appearance being designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

#12 Wave Hill Another botanical garden that, unlike Brooklyn Botanic, hosts many tours and projects that seek to promote the artistic value of gardens and botany. Their programs range from music festivals to meets with professional artists.

#11 The Museum of Modern Art Another great place to visit would be The Museum of Modern Art As it's name suggests, this museum showcases only contemporary artwork. The Museum is home to many famous works such as Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night.

#10: The Statue of Liberty And how can someone even think about not visiting the Statue of Liberty? The world-famous monument is one of New York's iconic tourist attractions and I certainly don't want to miss out on my one and only chance to see either.

#9: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Yet another New York City must see! The Museum is said to house one of the largest collections of art in the world, so I'm sure that both my fellow cohorts and myself will be able stay entertained.

#8 The Museum of Arts and Design The Museum of Arts and Design, also known as MAD, specializes in featuring modern art that is handmade. I think the musuem's handcrafted creations will be able to provide a unique artistic experience.

#7: Staten Island Ferry A 30 minute ferry ride that runs along New York Bay, passing by many other attractions such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I've never been on a boat before--let alone a ferry! As one of my main goals during this trip is to experience new things, I hope to take a ride on the ferry some time this summer. Best of all, the ferry ride is completely free!

 #6: The Cooper-Hewitt Museum, National Design Museum This museum focuses on both contemporary and traditional design works--and is notable for being the only museum in the United States to house both modern and historical artworks. I think that a museum that could accomplish such a breakthrough definitely deserves a visit, don't you? 

#5: The American Museum of Natural History Yet another New York museum that I'd love to visit. With exhibits including the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Gems and Minerals, halls such dedicated to showcasing countless skeletal specimens and even a planetarium!

#4: Rockefeller Center Inside the building includes the Radio Music Center, rooftop garden called the GE Building, and an art center. The Rockefeller Center seems to combine all of the previous attractions' highlights into one place! It even has a nightclub and restaurant called the Rainbow Room! Though I'm way too young to be even thinking about entering the Rainbow Room, I hope to revisit the Center when I finally am.

#3: Central Park Central Park doubles as both a recreational park and a national landmark with popular sites including Central Park Zoo and Cleopatra's Needle. As for activities, visitors have many options to choose from including various sports such as rock climbing, strawberry picking, carriage and carousel rides, and many art performances that are open to the public for free. I think that a day at Central Park would be a fantastic experience, and a tad but overwhelming with all the things to see and do.

#2: Coney Island Coney Island is a wonderfully exciting place that is filled with countless tourist attractions including multiple theme parks, roller coasters, a Ferris Wheel, an aquarium, a beach, and even parades--including the Coney Island Mermaid Parade that is to be held this June. With so much to do, it seems like one can spend their entire summer vacation on the island!

#1: Times Square Times Square! The crossroad intersection is famous for it's jam-packed streets, illuminated by the many brightly colored neon signs that nearly completely cover every building. I've always wanted to visit the Square and see the beautiful, busy streets for myself, so I hope that my trip to New York will make this dream become a reality! 

Websites that I used to gather information about these sites include their official webpages--which are linked in the list itself--as well as New York Pass, NYC Go, and NYC Tourist.