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