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

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