Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Movers and "Quakers" of Tomorrow: Impression of the ILC Penn Dinner 2012

The truth is I didn’t know what Ivy League schools were until my sophomore year in high school.

College had always been in my plans, but it had also been a vague and distant concept. My parents seldom brought it up as they knew only a little more than I did at the time, but not enough to hold drawn-out discussions about it with me. The most exposure I got about higher education came from when my older cousins started getting into UC schools, but even then the conversations ended when our families disbanded after dinner. It was at this time that UC Berkeley became appealing to me. With older cousins going to UC Davis and UC San Diego, the competitive nature within me reasoned that I should strive to be the first in the entire family to become a Cal Bear. Yet, if you had asked me why I liked that school so much beyond that previous point, I would respond with a very limited – possibly nonexistent – answer because frankly, I never looked into the details of my supposed “dream school”.

This mindset was just enough to motivate me to do my best in high school, but it was also a very na├»ve approach. My inveterate work ethic was like flying auto-pilot without a destination. I lacked a specific, post-high school goal – something to aspire to beyond general ambitions like maintaining “straight A’s”. Had it not been for the Ivy League Connection, I admit that I probably would not have considered applying to many out-of-state schools, especially the University of Pennsylvania.

This past Tuesday – May 1st, 2012 – I had the honor of attending the annual ILC Penn dinner as a guest – an incoming freshman of the Penn c/o 2016. The purpose of these ILC dinners is to not only commemorate the high school students’ admittance to the summer programs of their respective Ivy League schools, but to also give them the rare opportunity to meet the local alumni from that university. With special consideration on the part of Mr. Ramsey and Ms. Kronenberg, fellow classmate, Alex Elms, and I were also invited to take part at the La Folie Restaurant in San Francisco for such an exclusive opportunity.

Ever since December 9th, 2011 – the fateful day I burst out in tears of happiness at the school library computer where I was informed of my admittance to the University of Pennsylvania – I’ve only loved Penn more and more. I reconnected with Dr. June Chu, the ex-Director of the Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH) at Penn (she now works at Dartmouth College). We met at the ILC Penn dinner on the East Coast last summer – just a couple of days before I started the Yale Ivy Scholars program – and Dr. Chu had been so helpful in getting me in touch with several upperclassmen alumni who all took the time to answer my questions in detail. This exchanging of emails gave me a refreshing view of my next four years because they were from the eyes of current students. In addition to personal research I felt that I was gradually becoming more accustomed to not only Penn, but also the whole idea of attending college.
At the Penn dinner, I sat directly across from Beth Topor, the Vice-President of the Penn Alumni Club in Northern California. I was also in the company of El Cerrito junior, Clara Lengacher; her father, Mr. Lengacher; and Middle College High school junior, Alysa Butler. Both Clara and Alysa will be taking part in the Experimental Physics Program at Penn this summer.

I thoroughly enjoyed my corner of acquaintances. Not only did we exchange conversations about our mutual connection of Penn, but also snapshots of everyone outside this very fancy dining. With Clara and Alysa, I was able to recollect my past two years as a participant in the ILC, in addition to learning about their impressive involvement with school and their talents – Clara is a tough mountain biker and Alysa is a passionate trumpeter. Their bright minds and enthusiasm for trying new things reminds me very much of my first dinner with Cornell alumni and fellow classmates back in 2010; I couldn’t be more excited for them about the amazing time they will undergo this summer.

Mrs. Topor and I have contacted one another in the past, but this had been email exchanges in passing and neither of us had yet to meet the other in person. I am very glad that Mr. Ramsey sat me besides her, as Mrs. Topor’s perspective of Penn was most sincere and wise. It was easy to make conversation and share my opinions with her as she was familiar with Northern California, our schools, and the types of students from our school district. From encouraging me to subscribe to The Daily Pennsylvania online newsletter to making the most of freshman year through living in the most social hubbub on campus – the Quad – it was pleasant to rub off the excitement I had for Penn on someone who felt the same way.

Perhaps one of the greatest things Mrs. Topor left me with by the end of the dinner was something nearly all college-bound seniors have on the back of their minds. I expressed it casually between our various conversations, not expecting an answer and not expecting that Mrs. Topor would know. “In all honesty,” I admitted to Mrs. Topor. “I’m not completely sure why Penn chose me; my test scores were not that great…”

“It was your personal statement and your teacher recommendations,” she said.

Upon hearing this, I was elated that my application strategy paid off. I knew my test scores were not as high as I would have liked them to be but I only wanted that to be a subtle anchor in my application. I wanted to show Penn that I was more than test scores, that beyond numbers, I was smart, well-rounded, and a Quaker-at-heart in person. The ILC has allowed me to meet with so many college admissions officers in the past two years alone that I’ve come to connect all of them by a common theme: the personal statement. Unlike the UCs, which do not weight these essays as much, out-of-state private colleges, like Penn, do pay attention to the student behind the words. These schools value the self-portrait you paint for them because they’re looking to accept students they can easily visualize thriving on their campus.

Of course, this isn’t to say that one should not do well on their tests and rely solely on their personal statement and other essays. By all means, getting the highest score possible should be a priority, but if you happen to share a similar situation with me, where your test scores were just a hair from the median, you need to make up for it through hard work and through focusing on the remaining aspects of your application. I toiled on draft after draft until I was satisfied with my personal statement, and thanks to Mrs. Topor, I am very happy to know that it really did pay off in the end.

I am also eternally grateful to all the teachers that wrote letters of recommendation for me. I had asked them – Mr. Wade, Ms. Lamons, Ms. Carson, and my principal Mrs. Sue Kahn – because I felt they each knew me from a different light. There were many sides to me that I wanted Penn to be aware of and these teachers, I felt, possessed a good introduction to at least one or two of them. I never knew what they wrote as I waived my right to view their letters but I was pleasantly touched to discover that their faith in my capabilities played a major role in my admittance to Penn.

This Penn dinner was a splendid event. I enjoyed meeting all the other alumni and ILC students; our mutual connection with Penn was all we shared at the start of the dinner and thanks to the ILC, all of us were able to return home with something greater. Saying that I am more excited to attend Penn now because of all the alumni I met that night is an understatement. I am very proud to call myself a Quaker – very, very proud to be going to Penn as a first-generation college student.

The ILC is a dynamic force of positive change. It changes the way students from our school district view their future and the way Ivy League schools view students from our district. It exposes parents to the bright opportunities available to their sons and daughters and gives these students the chance to show their parents just how capable they are of going to college thousands of miles away from home.

May my gratitude and those from whom the ILC has made such a positive change to never cease. I thank the program’s founders – Mr. Charles Ramsey and Mrs. Madeline Kronenberg – from the bottom of my heart for the priceless journey I’ve undergone for the past two years. From Ithaca, NY to New Haven, CT, I’ve grown a lot since my first year in high school. I thought all I wanted was to be a Cal Bear simply because my knowledge of the college world consisted only of UC schools.

Now, this Quaker is ready to take all she’s learned in high school and embark on an even grander scheme of things within in the city of Brotherly Love – on the campus of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.

This is far from the end; it’s just a really great introduction to an even greater beginning.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reflections on Ivy League Connection

I am still astounded at the generosity of the Ivy League Connection. They have placed an enormous responsibility upon us students who accept their donation. As I wrote in my very first post, I would be remissed if I took this gift, used it as a springboard, and went of to be enormously successful for myself alone. Yet while the money plays a roll, it is the responsibility I feel to the people I go to school with, and the community I am from itself, that urges me to do something positive for them. Because I went to a "future leaders" program with a bunch of other people who had no idea what it was like to go to an intercity school, who had never even interacted with someone who was totally out of their social or economic class. I am an unabashed liberal, and I met many people who had similar views as I did, but had no empathy for the people they wanted to help. Even in them I saw a disconnect, and while it was better than the "let them eat cake" attitude I saw in many students, that worries me about their capability to represent people like those from WCCUSD.
I do not know what the ultimate goal of Ivy League Connection is; what the purpose of encouraging a select few from our district to go on and be successful. But I know how I feel about it. I will take all the help I can get, to become equipped to promote positive change, and act on the understanding I gained from El Cerrito High. I hope my program mates feel the same way because now I know how few of us there really are who feel as I do, and know what I know. Most of all I hope that the ILC's investment in us is worth it in that regard.

Reflections on Grand Strategy

The more I learn the more I am astounded at how not simple the world is. All the reflection on myself and the world through this program has culminated in the great realization of how little I know, how little most people really know. It's less like a machine as I wrote in an earlier post, and more like an infinite labyrinth that is always shifting. I think that this is the ultimate example of Clausewitz' idea of friction-the problems that arise when theory is put into practice. How society is built today is humans trying to live together, while balancing all the different desires of nations down to individual people, and as I have learned, it is neither perfect nor clear why it is imperfect.
This kind of thinking always leads me to questions that are perhaps too big to answer, and the important question arises of whether it is worth thinking about at all, as opposed to just molding what we already have into something better. In the Grand Strategy program, I would say the latter. What the program came down to was how to view the world as a whole, through many different lenses, come up with plans that could make an effective difference based on that more holistic understanding, and above all, how to succeed. The world's imperfection leaves gaps, holes that must be filled by powerful people to function successfully. At Yale, I met 50, give or take, of those people in 20 years. The hope is that through education, and a moral compass provided by God, society, or whomever, these people will move the world in a positive direction. Unfortunately there is no test that power will not be abused, leaders will always act justly, or that they will make the "right call." But there are ways to approximate who is on a track for success, and again, Grand Strategy found them, and I met them. My hope, and something that I think is very wrong with the world that I can pinpoint, is that future leaders become less focused on victory and success. The paradox of politics and leadership is that you want power to implement policy based on your ideology, but you must continuously sacrifice that ideology to stay in power, and achieve your more important goals. My question is when does one stop? At what point is it better to lose power for the sake of your principles?
My criticism for the world is that winning almost always is a greater incentive than upholding one's principles. Moreover, I felt that the need to win was conditioned into many of my fellow Grand Strategists.
So what does this mean for me? Well if the majority of "future leaders" are not thinking about the intrinsic imperfections in our society, and I my have the potential to be a leader, maybe it is my responsibility to think be an advocate of that mode of thinking. I think that what I will have to answer for myself, is how to reconcile that with being a societal leader, and whether it is even possible to function as both a gear and a critic of the same machine.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Whole New Me

These past 3 weeks have been a blur, but this was one of the most memorable blurs I've ever had. I've experienced so many things these past couple of weeks, and learned about so many different things.

Before I start I'd like to say that I'm sorry but this one blog cannot accurately describe everything I'm feeling inside. I'll do my best to convey what I can.

I guess the best way to start off my reflection would be to say this, the world is not as small as one might think.

The most important thing, in my opinion, that I've gotten out of this whole experience is not the academics, or the colleges (don't get me wrong I learned a lot in these categories), but it was the people I met and the bonds I made with them that made these 3 weeks exceptionally great. In my 3 weeks away from home my network expanded from the Bay Area, to the entire world. I met kids from Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, etc. All of these people were so great to meet. Through them I was able to get a glimpse at what their lives were like at their home, I was able to hear their stories about their own experiences. Before this program I had no idea that boarding school was such a popular option. In my blog before this one, I talked about the great relationships I've made and how I never want to see them falter. I feel like these relationships are special, in light that they are with a network of people that are destined to do something. Dr.Luong never failed to mention that we were the leaders of our generation, and that everyone around us would be there to help in maintaining our world. These connections will not die. I've never had the pleasure of working with such an amazing group of students before.

Everyone here wanted to be in class, they wanted to learn, and they were all smarter, if not as smart as myself. This was an amazing atmosphere to be in. Usually I am the smartest in my class, I have to do all of the group work, and I do most of the participating. But the situation here was completely dedicated to the task on hand and they all invested 100% of their efforts in it. From the marshal briefs to the daily seminars, everyone put their all in it. We all had to wake up to morning lectures, and sleep during the late hours of the night. I don't think I'll ever be in a class room setting such as this ever again.

Aside from just the relationships I forged, seeing the other college campuses really opened my eyes and my mind. I've always said that the UC system was all there was for me, I never once considered applying for any school out of California. Well I am happy to say that this program did a complete 180 for me. Now I yearn to go back to the east. I want to go to schools like UPENN or Columbia or better yet, Yale. I've fallen in love with the schools back east and I plan on applying to the three that I mentioned above.

A question was posed to myself and my other ILC Yalies regarding the continuation of this program. Well in my humble opinion, I think that this program is the best program that the ILC has right now. Although the world cannot hear our thoughts while we experience everything, that is more than enough of a price to pay for this awesome experience. Before I left I thought about my program compared to everything else. It seemed like everything else was specialized in one way or another. From physics to biotechnology, to religions, etc. My program was totally different. My program focussed on Grand Strategy. Grand Strategy deals with everything, one must account for all things before one makes a decision. Our lectures and seminars dealt with a wide breadth of knowledge. We learned about philosophy, current events, economics, politics, and law. Our knowledge didn't stop at just academic subjects, but life long lessons as well. We got seminars about how relationships work and about the manners of fine dining and networking. We emerged from this program not just smarter in school, but smarter in life as a whole.

This program was probably the hardest thing I've done up to now, yet at the same time it was one of the most enjoyable. Being surrounded by this group of scholars, in a great environment such as Yale produced so many benefits and eye openers for me. I came in as someone who didn't know what they wanted in life, who lacked strong work ethic and was scared of leaving home. I came out as someone who knew where he wanted to and the drive to get there. Most importantly I came to realize that leaving home isn't all that bad and that some day I'm going to have to do it for real. When that day comes, I hope that it is to depart, yet again, to the wonderful campus that is Yale University.

Thank you Mr.Ramsey, Ms.Kronenberg, Don Gosney, Lori Nardon, and all of the ILC sponsors for everything you've given me. You helped me realize what opportunities are really out there for us. You all have a great thing going, don't stop it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers"

Like all the other days I had at Yale, my final day began with a quick shower, leading directly to a morning lecture.

Our lecture's guest speaker was the same as the day before, Mr.Paul Solman. Mr.Solman is the lead man on economics for the T.V station, PBS. I was able to pay full attention for my final morning lecture. I even got called upon to participate in a little "game" that we did in class. I don't remember the intent of the game, but I do remember what actually happened. Basically my suite mate and I were called upon to offer up some money, and then to accept some money. Keep in mind this money was REAL cash. So I got picked to be the offerer, and my friend Jay got picked to be the accepter/denier. I made a fair offer, $30 for me and $30 for Jay. However Jay was a bit greedier than I had anticipated, he declared that he would go for only $40 and no lower. Therefore we had "lost" the game and we both walked away empty handed.

The day went on according to schedule. Morning lecture ended at 11:30 AM and lunch went from 11:30 AM- 1 PM. I ate lunch with my fellow suite mates for the last time in Siliman's dining hall. We shared many laughs in that place, and I will never forget it. Our food was always good, ever-changing meals combined with a complete salad & sandwich bar. Fountain drink machine, and always a variety of deserts to choose from. Yale food lived up to its expectations.

Our lunch was followed by yet another "lecture." I put lecture in parenthesis for a reason. Our truly final "lecture" was given by none other than our very own, Dr. Minh A. Luong, and it wasn't really a lecture at all. Dr.Luong talked to us about what challenges a leader like us may face, he described to us that we went through many difficulties these past weeks and that there may still be questions lingering around, this led into the bulk of the talk. We had a massive Q & A session for everybody who wanted to know about anything at all. It was a great way to cap off our lectures.

After our lecture we all got ready for our big graduation dinner. They boys were getting their nice threads on, and the girls were getting dolled up. At around 4:55 PM we all met in the courtyard. All of the suits and ladies in beautiful dresses, combined with the flashes of a camera combined to give me the impression that I was getting ready to go yet another prom. It was a great feeling though don't get me wrong. I took many pictures with my group mates, with my suite mates, and with friends in general. Everyone looked spectacular.

We filed into a line, and proceeded to the Presidential Hall, where all other Grand Strategists before us have dined their final meal together. We waited in the waiting room for a good while, socializing and whatnot, before we were let into the main room to sit at a table with some friends and chit chat some more. We ate and talked together, and soon it was time for the award ceremony. We all got quiet and listened to Dean Nick Coburn-Palo announce the finalists and winners for each of the categories. My friend Jay ended up being a finalist for the speaking competition, and I even won an award as well. My group won the award for the best written marshal brief, we were a bit surprised when we won but happy nonetheless. We wrapped up our dinner with desert, and proceeded to our final activity of the night.

Our final event was a big end to the whole experience. 5 whole hours, from 10:30 PM-2:30 AM, with our fellow Grand Strategists. We had a plethora of activities to choose from. Board games such as Risk! and Monopoly, movies in the lecture halls, and even just a social room if you wanted to talk. I ended up floating around all the rooms, except the movies, playing a game of Risk with some friends, then going back to the social room to chat it out with my peers. The night was great. I ended up getting back to my dorm around 3 and fell asleep around 3:30 AM.

The next morning I woke up to say farewell to my suite mates, and my peers. I was amazed just how attached I had become to all of my friends. After spending only 15 days with these people, they went from being complete strangers, to some of the nicest, smartest, and funniest friends I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. I'll never forget them, and thanks to Facebook, it looks like I'll always have a way to talk to them all. The YISP Grand Strategies was a great program, and I got to meet so many new people. As I drove away I thought of something to describe what I was feeling inside. This is what I came up with:

Suite mates headin' out one by one,
Every time it feels like I'm gettin shot by a gun.
I ask myself why I feel this way,
I think it's because I live in the bay.
The seas divide us, the USA too,
But we know we'll always be that same old crew!

To all my fellow Grand Strategists out there reading this, you were the best. Thanks for making those 3 weeks some of the best 3 weeks of my life. This isn't good bye, we'll cross paths one day.

Tide Embraced: Reflection of the YISP Experience

Remember the tide?

Prior to boarding the plane and prior to everything I was to experience in the East Coast, I envisioned an incoming tide and myself an amateur surfer. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into entirely. I kept an optimistic and brave front most of the time, even though the fear of not meeting expectations or making a fool of myself were common nightmares I’d let surface now and again. This was how I’ve always carried myself despite the ultimate coward I was capable of being internally. I envisioned myself coming out successfully in the end as much as I imagined myself undergoing all possible routes of failure. In the end, was I going to become plankton in the big ocean, or an obnoxiously large whale in an elementary school drinking fountain?

I was a participant of Yale Ivy Scholars for the summer of 2011. I was among 72 students this year, all studying under the “Grand Strategy” course. Before I started this program, I admit that I had a hard time explaining what this program was really about. Now, I can say with more confidence, just what “Grand Strategy” really is. Being a “Grand Strategist” is a never-ending climb, not to perfection, but a climb for the sake of climbing. You’re constantly learning and curious. You’re always trying to solve the problems before you by using the best method you think is possible. You never stop asking yourself: “If I was in his/her shoes, how would I have handled it?” You are a leader striving for effectiveness and understanding; you shun power and personal rewards.

Simply saying that I learned a lot from these past fifteen days would be an understatement. Rather than bore all of you with lengthy recollections of what I learned during lecture, however, I will share with you some of the most important things I’ve come to realize and now, fully abide by.

Spending Time with People Smarter Than You

You feel a mixture of inspiration, jealousy, and intimidation whenever you hear any one of them admit to their past achievements and accomplishments. I may not know every detail about my fellow peers, but never once have I heard them admit to any of these without being humble or somewhat shy about their successes. One of them was nationally ranked 19th as a policy debater, while another can claim they’ve sat on the British parliament for simulation. Some of them never bothered to share their achievements, but their reservoir of knowledge – displayed throughout lectures or casual conversations – was obvious. Everyone around me was exceptional, one way or the other. I didn’t get the feeling that they paid their way through alone; they all deserved to be there. Many fearlessly participated and spoke their mind during lectures and seminars – you’d rarely see this in my high school. And if they were not as outspoken as the aforementioned group before, they were surely talented in other ways – especially in writing.

The talents among them were endless; in addition to their intellect, there was a handful that could also sing, dance, draw, and/or play sports, just as skillfully. There is really no way to rank these people. You easily feel subordinated. Yet, despite constant exposure to these brilliant beings, I still, remarkably, had room for personal pride. Many of my fellow peers were a lot stronger than I was, in a variety of areas, and I was not the least bit surprised. However, the yearning to be like them subsides when you realize that you’re imperfect and cannot expect yourself to be like everyone who inspires you. Instead, you accept that you’re not nationally ranked 19th for policy debate; you indulge in the exceptional company before you and be thankful for all the unique qualities that make you, you.

The Meaning of Great Education

Everyone that’s been there tells me that college education is wonderful. If in high school you didn’t feel particularly satisfied, than college education would fulfill that void, or so I’ve been told. At YISP, the education that was promised was delivered. All the guest lecturers that graced their presence before us inspired and amazed me to no end. There are some undergraduate students, even graduate students, who’d want to sit in one of our seats for during some of these lectures. Four to five students alone, as Dr. Luong told us, wanted each of our spots based on the total number of applicants this year.

In addition to the extensive topics covered during seminars and lectures, I especially liked that this program avoided a grading system. And yet, even without grades to act as incentives among us, no one took advantage of them to avoid class. It was learning for learning’s sake – not even the best private secondary schools in the country could boast these high percentages of mutual attitude within a classroom. Granted, levels of attention varied from lecture to lecture, but generally, everyone tenaciously stuck with the heavy workload expected from our everyday schedules. In addition to the breadth of renowned teachers we had giving us lectures, it was also an honor to sit with such driven and intelligent group of students. Every day, they’d bring to lectures their own knowledge and ask questions I haven’t even thought about. They fearlessly stand by their opinions, unafraid to meet those who challenge them in the eye. Some may stutter to attempt a rebuttal, but they’d never sit down in hopeless defeat. They’re not always right and their questions may not always be the smartest, but all of them share ruthless courage.

Back at Pinole Valley, I sometimes feel ashamed to hog class time with my questions, especially when none of my fellow classmates seem to show any interest in asking questions of their own. Many students within our lectures never ask questions too, but that doesn’t stop the rest of them from asking questions when they really had one. These lectures always devote an hour in the end for questions and answers; I’m going to miss seeing a forest of raised arms when I start senior year at Pinole Valley.

No Longer The Top (Accepting The Inevitable and Moving On)

When I was much younger – when I boldly thought the world was a lot smaller than everyone thought it wasn’t – I used to believe I could, or would, eventually become the best at [fill in the blank here]. I was so competitive; I hated admitting to defeat. This attitude served me well during my early youth, when my fellow peers were more interested in playtime or naps then fretting over being number one all the time. Only I was crazily obsessed with ambition (to this day, I am baffled by where it all came from).

As I grew older, however – moving from fish bowl to aquarium – I ran into defeat and rejection more frequently alongside occasional moments of triumph. The first time – okay, the first several times – they hit me really hard. Physically, I never harmed myself, but emotionally, I felt sharp stings. I was so uncomfortable with defeat. I scolded myself for not living up to expectations. At every downfall, I felt like “the magic” was rubbing off. What was wrong with me? What was I doing wrong? Eventually, and thankfully before this program, I realized that there really wasn’t anything wrong with me and that I didn’t do anything wrong. It was life.

I cannot expect to be the best at everything; there will always be someone better in some degree. Being at YISP this year, strengthened that lesson. Most of the 71 students around me were just as, if not equally as, ambitious as I was. I could’ve strained myself to an extent to beat all of them (though I highly doubt it), but that would be such a waste of my experience. You risk your potential to get the best from an experience like the YISP by being close-minded and treating all those around you as threats to your spot at the top. Sure, proving yourself to be one of the best among this pool of students would have surely been something to boast about in the end, but weren’t all 72 of us chosen for a reason? There will never be an adequate apparatus to measure success and capability; they will always be weighed and scaled through personal opinions. In my opinion, everyone YISP Grand Strategy was already at “the top”. I did not receive any special awards in the end, just the same certificate of completion that everybody else received. Yet, I’m not bothered at all. Indefinitely it would thrill me to return home to Pinole, CA to wave two certificates in my hand, but I’m perfectly content with the one I got already.

The expectations I try to fulfill are solely my own now. I take those of others into serious consideration, but in the end, I make sure I satisfy my own desires first. “Are you happy?” I’d ask myself. Even if I honestly replied that I was somewhat disappointed, I remind myself that there was always a brighter side to things and that tomorrow was a clean slate. It’s not because I’ve lowered my own expectations of myself or that I was pulling myself away from competition. I continue to set extremely high goals and refuse to give up without a good fight. For me, lingering in the past and beating myself over errors was counterproductive and a distraction from moving forward.

To pick up from your mistakes and move forward, ask yourself what it is that you can do to avoid the same error in the future, not screaming impossible questions to yourself, like "Why can't you do anything right, for once?!" I certainly didn’t leave YISP as one of the “top” students (if we’re really considering any form of rank here) and I do not consider myself less of a person. I gave my best effort – arguably, I should’ve been a bit more confident in putting myself out there – and I can’t expect something that I couldn’t deliver. Being able to consider myself an Ivy Scholar is a big deal to me. It makes me proud.

The Importance of Knowing the World Around You

If you do not already read newspapers and/or watch the news as close as you can get to daily routine now, I highly suggest you start. The modern world we live in offers no excuse for anyone to continue going about life without taking the time to check up with current events. The entire faculty at YISP either stresses this and/or engages in this routine as if the day would be incomplete without it.

I used to make up some excuse – like how busy I always was – to make me think this jagged faith to the world around me was okay. It is not. Now, I see this as a poor excuse. If you can’t find time, you make time. Different news articles have different effects on the individual but you’re not being asked to become an expert on the world. You just have to be aware.

I am reminded of Mr. Paul Solmon as I write this. He covers the economics portion of PBS NewsHour and I look up to him highly. For Mr. Solmon, he is concerned that by the increasing number of Americans – especially young adults – who know so little about the economy. It’s extra knowledge that could only help and better your future in the long run. Don’t let the need to catch up with old news stop you from reading current news. Go forth and be knowledgeable. Having an interest in the present means you show an earnest care for the future.


My Marshall Brief group was told that we had the hardest topic among the rest. Later, the whole groups expressed that they heard similar comments. Whether Mr. James “Jeb” Benkowski – our Marshall Brief advisor – was trying to inflate our discouraged and frustrated heads or not, our group were guinea pigs to an “experiment” Marshall Brief topic. Our topic – “International Action for the Korean Peninsula (PRC)” – was the first Marshall Brief the YISP attempted to do under the perspective of another country. In addition to learning as much we could about the DPRK, our group also had to adjust our thinking so that every policy we wanted to implement was something the PRC, not the US, would do.

My Marshall Brief consisted of four girls in total, including myself. Not only were we one of the smaller groups (the average was five or six); we were also the only all-girl group. Among each other, we constantly joke just how horrible this combination was. A grouping of equally driven girls working together – are you looking for trouble? Perhaps. But the four of us worked – pardon my French here – our asses off to be prepared for our presentation in the end. Yes, it took us much longer to choose what it was exactly that we wanted to do with our topic. Yes, we missed some deadlines by minutes. Yes, we’ve pulled all-nighters to stay on top of things. And yes, we sometimes skipped delicious meals at the Silliman Dining Hall.

Some groups had one or two individual that rose to take charge while others had too many taking charge, thereby jeopardizing progress. In our group, any one of us could’ve taken charge, but instead, we all took equal, dual roles as leader and follower. There was no finely drawn line in terms of our individual responsibilities. No one really assigned things; we all determined whether the duty at hand measured equally with the weight the others were pulling. Looking back at it all now, I can see how this method was both a good and a bad thing.

I honestly have yet to figure out what the ideal method of teamwork is among a group of leaders. I can tell you what a leader should do in a team, but when it comes to leaders leading amongst each other, I am still a bit lost. However, I do know that it is possible. I also know that when leaders do work well with one another, some of the best work imaginable results. The astounding Marshall Briefs each group produced only after a couple of days work is proof.

My Marshall Brief group’s teamwork was not perfect but how well we performed during our presentation capped any remaining frustrations we had in a bottle and was tossed out to sea. Our Marshall Brief did not win any awards, but none of us complained. The hard work we all put in, obvious by our tremendous reaction once it was all over, was incredible. Even though we didn’t end up as “the best Marshall Brief”, I’d trade good teamwork and harmony over winning such a title under an imbalanced and constantly bickering regime.

Life-long Friends

There was so much work to do during these fifteen days that simply attempting to squeeze an adequate social life would loosen the fragile, delicate fabric of progress. Yet, despite all the opportunities that this schedule gave for all 72 of us to become lone wolves, nearly everyone rejected that wonderful option.

It seemed as if the more lectures and challenges we were constantly being thrown at by the faculty, the more prone we all were to support and confide with one another. With similar work ethics and sense of independence, many of us, remarkably, found it all the more easily to establish close bonds. These friendships are some of the strongest and most unique bonds I’ve made for such a short period of time. There was a mutual understanding of the struggles and frustrations we felt from the work put before us – like a language we developed among one another.

The girls I shared a suite with always brought a smile to my face, even though I often returned to our dorms with Marshall Brief work that extended across the night and into early morning. Everyone understood the need for quiet time to concentrate; they respected everyone’s need to work instead of joining the circle of latest gossip. By the time this program came to an end, I surprised myself with misty eyes. I feel very blessed that I had the chance to call these incredible people my friends.

- - - - -

To revisit the concept of the aforementioned tide, I’ve come to realize that I wasn’t an amateur surfer at all. If I had to provide a more accurate analogy, it be much more appropriate to say that I am like a baby turtle, freshly hatched from my egg. Unlike the surfer and more like the turtle, I am not alone on the sand. There are a bunch of other baby turtles, just like myself, struggling to reach the tide.

Through the eyes of man, the distance is only several paces – such an effortless task. For these baby turtles it’s a journey of life and death. Looking back at the entirety of summer vacation, YISP looks like several paces but it really was a long, challenging journey. Just like these baby turtles, making their way across the sand, the Yale Ivy Scholars of Grand Strategy braved through these fifteen days. Some moved faster than others; some dodged several seagull attacks. In the end, though, we all made it safely into the tide.

The tide was good all along. When you see yourself as a surfer – so caught up in yourself and what it is that you want to accomplish – you’re so anxious to worry about the outcome and not the actual process to reach that outcome. As an amateur surfer, I worried about whether the tide would bring success or failure; I didn’t even consider whether I’d even reach the tide or not. I was so caught up with the conclusion, I forgot about the climb I had yet to even start.

The tide was good all along. As one of the 72 baby turtles slowly sifting through the sand, it was completing the journey on time and as safely as possible that ranked as our number one priority. Baby turtles do not spend their first moments out of their shells, casually daydreaming what the ocean was like. For them, it was work first, reward later. Just like these hardworking baby turtles, that was how everyone at Ivy Scholars viewed these fifteen days. We couldn’t wait to experience that happiness that all our accumulated hard work would eventually come to highlight, but before we could have happiness over our accomplishments, we needed the hard work.

All of us made it to the tide in the end. The strength of the current could no longer keep us together, as it yanked each of us to individually different directions. Although the final destination of these hardworking baby turtles remains a mystery, all of them are bound for something big within that endless ocean. Their struggle across the sand does not guarantee their success, but their incredible ability to defy their slim chances for survival have turned all of them into toughened turtles, ready to face whatever obstacles comes their way. With hope, some of these turtles may cross currents one day, but then again, they may not. These turtles will never forget their journey across the sand, greeting a tide that was good, exceptionally good, all along.

Part II of a Series of Reflections on the YISP
by Dyana W. T. So


Immediate Emotions and Reliving a Bittersweet Day
This post-YISP feeling is hard to describe. It's almost as if someone suddenly stripped me of all my emotions – those I've strove so hard to keep aligned and separate – and placed them in a merciless blender. This feeling looks like a heavily mixed, but equally distributed, pulp of happiness and sadness. It smells like a delivered pizza at 11PM, when all you've eaten before then were words of encouragement used by your fellow peers - working through dinner on your Marshall Briefs. This feeling feels like the piercing Bay Area chill that surprises non-California natives, who are more used to warm and humid summer nights. The taste of this feeling is unfathomable – a bittersweet delicacy overall. The fine lines between bliss and melancholy are blurred. I cannot tell one from the other anymore, and it’s only been a couple of days since I've left Yale Ivy Scholars.

Eventually, it hits you.

Some felt it the minute they stepped foot into the airport, while others felt it after their parents peeled away from a welcome-home embrace. I know this because, when all of us turn on our Facebook accounts back home, we immediately head straight to the group we made to stay in touch. By now, most of us have settled back to our daily lives, be it Singapore, Texas, or Canada. The Facebook group makes the distance between all of us less immense than it really is, and the thought of never seeing each other again, unthinkable.

This paradoxical feeling came to me even before I struggled down two flights of stairs with my luggage to sign out under the Silliman College main archway. It first visited the moment I woke up from my minima, but fulfilling sleep, on our suite's common room couch. I can still remember that moment very clearly.

It was about 9AM when I woke up - the latest time since my fifteen days at Yale. Our second-floor suite – the I building at Silliman – already felt different since Claudia Shin left the night before, just after graduation dinner. I was the first to wake up again, but I was less enthusiastic about greeting this new day. I knew the inevitable departure lay ahead, and for once, I took my sweet time to get ready, letting the natural flow of life take me to where I needed to be. One by one, the remaining five residents of this suite would eventually grab all they've brought with them, check out, and head home. I started to miss them even as two familiar, sleepy faces – those of Jean Wang and Isabel Scher – groggily walked past me to brush their teeth. Through an outsider’s eyes, nothing was too out of the ordinary, but we all knew that, internally, things would never be the same again. For old times’ sake, the three of us decided to head off to Blue State Coffee together for breakfast. The two Katherines – one from England and the other from California – were still deep in sleep.

At Blue State Coffee, the three of us ran into more familiar faces. Despite the duration of time all of us knew one another individually, we sat together as if we've been friends since way back when. This was the usual feeling one immediately felt with their closest mates at Ivy Scholars, but after fifteen days of mutual hard work, nobody had much reason to be shy anymore. Still, I exchanged small talk among them. I was a bit lost for words, hungry, and desiring more to absorb the moment before me than interrupt it with my own words, in fear of spoiling it all. This scene – a select few of Ivy Scholars huddled over coffee, tea, and pancakes at Blue State Coffee – was too fragile of a picture.
Isabel Scher [left] and Mr. Drew Ruben [right] - the YISP Dean of Students and Founder of Blue State Coffee - wait for their breakfast orders. 
The table next to us - more YISP students, moments from returning home. 
Jean Wang. 
Sunny Huang [left] and Jeffrey Hu [right] enjoying Blue State coffee and pastries.

The look on everyone's face, I realized, seemed unnatural. I was more used to seeing fast-moving jaws and alert eyes, with the typical topics among them ranging from their Marshall Briefs to already-established inside jokes. At Blue State Coffee that morning though, the amount of hard work and the lack of sleep from several nights before, finally caught up with all of them. Yet, despite this being our final morning together as Ivy Scholars, everyone had some form of a slight smile on their lips. If not as a visible curve from cheek to cheek, it was through their solemn words, deeply coated by a tone of bliss.

There were 72 of us in total. I did not get to meet everyone at the same level of familiarity in the end. A more accomplished, dare I say, "Grand Strategist", would have certainly been able to do this alongside all the work that was expected of us, but I clearly still have more to learn. The fifteen days I spent at Yale felt like a dream. It was such a small fraction of our individual summers, and yet, it took center stage for most of us. I can’t speak for my 71 other brilliant and unbelievably inspiring peers, but these past fifteen days have been the greatest summer experience to boot.

After about an hour’s worth of sipping mochas and munching banana pancakes, the good-byes began – first, only one said it, then, it seemed like everyone was leaving all at once. Isabel Scher was the first from our suite. Her older brother came by to pick her up. After several hugs, a photo, and more good-byes, we all exchanged one final smile with one another as we watched Isabel get into her brother’s car. Our suite family now dwindled from six to four.

Once Isabel left, the rest of us – minus British Katherine – were almost set to leave. By then, no one wanted to return to our depressing dorms. We grabbed all our belongings and placed them along the walls of the archway. In addition to waiting for our departure times and rides, we waited for those fellow scholars that were due to leave before us. Those who were scheduled to leave the Yale campus much later – some due tomorrow – also gathered at the archway with us. Nobody will admit it, but internally, we knew we’d never see some of these people every again. It’s a sad but honest reality. One that I couldn’t really keep inside completely as my eyes became misty.
- - - - -
Currently, I am sitting in the Peet’s Coffee in Pinole. (This coffee addiction has unfortunately taken over – thank you, Blue State Coffee!) Returning to the Bay Area, I feel so alive (and that’s not only the caffeine talking). I can’t really put it into words that would adequately satisfy how I’m feeling at the present moment. I feel like I’m still hovering above ground. I’m excited to face challenges; I’m looking forward to the pile of AP assignments ahead (they’re due in a little less than two weeks). I know this sounds crazy and I doubt I can keep this momentum, at this high level of drive for long, up but honestly, life has never felt this good.

I’m looking forward to my senior year – looking forward to making change now and not only after I graduate from high school. These past fifteen days as a Yale Ivy Scholar was like an internal surgical procedure. On the outside, I look the same, but on the inside, I feel like a completely different person – a better person. I’m still an imperfect, stubborn, and overly ambitious student, but I’m looking at life now, less like a rat race, and more like a brilliant chase with welcoming detours. I do fear that this high will eventually fade, but something inside me tells me it will only erode from me slightly.

If one more week of YISP was offered to us but also required another Marshall Brief to be completed in the end, I’d accept it in a heartbeat. A very good friend – Yvonne Hsiao – and I share this special inside joke we call, “Operation: Employment”. We remind each other of this throughout our stressed Marshall Brief meetings and sometimes to have a good laugh. Pretty much, we jokingly set the possibility of returning to YISP to be instructors as our ultimate reason to always work hard and never give up. Granted, this was not our main reason to do our very best, but sharing this silly goal of all goals between the two of us just elevated the love we had towards, and I quote Yvonne for this: “the best academic decision I’ve made in my life”.
[From left to right] Dyana So, Isabel Scher, Katherine Yu, Jean Wang. These girls were like sisters; we shared the same suite together. [Missing from this photograph] Claudia Shin and Katherine Spooner. 
[From left to right] Jean Wang, Dyana So, Dean Coburn-Palo, Jeffrey Hu. 
[From left to right] Matt Lee, Dyana So, Jeffrey Hu, Ahmed Hameed, Sunny Huang, and D.K. Guo. 

Yohanna Pepa: you are such an inspiration. You have no idea how much prouder I feel being a Spartan knowing all that you've already achieved. It was great seeing you as one of the YISP student instructor. 
Appropriately, the last photo I took at Yale. This here is Matt Lee.

Part I of a Series of Reflections on the YISP
by Dyana W. T. So