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.