Monday, March 7, 2011

The Brunch of Bigger and Better Things to Come

March 5th, 2011 marked the first day of our long academic adventure, with the "Grand Strategy" summer course at Yale being the center of it all. There are three of us - Tom Miller from El Cerrito High School, Matthew Lee from Pinole Valley High School, and myself, Dyana So, also from Pinole Valley High School.

The morning of March 5th was circled on all of our calenders, reminding us of a very important event at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, CA. Dr. Minh Luong, Associate Director of the Brady-Johnson Center in Grand Strategy and Assistant Director of International Security Studies at Yale University, happened to be back in the Bay Area around this time for business and agreed to set some time aside in his busy schedule to meet with the three of us. This meeting was simply a casual get-together.
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Walking into the Claremont alone was enough to put me in awe. I couldn't stop looking up at how high the ceilings were and admiring the beautiful paintings on the finely etched walls. The green color of my dress was pale compared to the green I'm sure many of the hotel guests had in their pockets.

I wasn't used to casually walking through places like this. Only the hotels I remember strolling through with my family in Las Vegas two years ago could compare with the striking elegance that the Claremont had to offer. With my back straight and only my eyes doing all the erratic observing, I tried my best to blend in with the other guests there. This was probably a failure, considering the involuntary takeover my face had by my ridiculously large grin.

Don directed Matt and I to this large dining room at the end of Claremont's lobby where a fabulous display of buffet-styled delicacies completely caught me off guard. I recalled that Don had labeled this event a "light" brunch in his emails but there was no way I'd take "light" as an option with all that food being offered. I am absolutely positive that I could go on and on about how the food tasted, but I'm afraid doing so would require another blog post some other time.

I spotted Dr. Luong right away because I recognized his face from an ILC Yale blog from two years ago. He looked just as how I thought he might--slightly aged from the photo I just mentioned but his smile was identical. With him was a woman named Jessie, a very kind social worker and long-time pal of Dr. Luong. I will be seeing both of them again if I am to head off to Yale this summer with Tom and Matt. And speaking of Tom, he would arrive shortly along with Ms. Madeline Kronenberg (WCCUSD School Board President), Mr. Charles Ramsey (WCCUSD Board Member), Ms. Linda Cohen (one of the interviewers specifically for the Yale program within the ILC and the Principal of Coronado Elementary), Ms. Sue Kahn (Principal of Pinole Valley High School), and Ms. Yolanda Bulls (Assistant Principal of Pinole Valley High School).

The three of us exchanged handshakes and brief greetings with the adults but they quickly left us to speak with our main guest: Dr. Luong.

Dr. Luong is quite the interesting and admirable character. I could tell from the first conversation Matt and I shared with him just before Tom arrived that he was very easy to get along with. The first thing we talked about was the buffet - the "grand strategy" of getting your money's worth there. From knowing what was not in season to learning about Dr. Luong's personal preferences of food, I found the whole "lesson" quite humorous and informative. We hadn't even sat down to our table yet and already I was having fun. The little butterflies I had coming in had completely left the building through one of the many large windows beside the long dining tables.

Dr. Luong's approach at this event was different from what I had imagined. I assumed some hard-hitting questions about current events to questions regarding who we were, but instead, we chatted like good friends. We all got to know each other, not from personal descriptions of ourselves but simply through what we said and how we said them. Being articulate and eloquent did linger in the back of my mind but I'm glad I stuck more closely with being myself.

For me, the atmosphere was quite comfortable. There was no pressure to be extremely knowledgeable, nor was their an anxiety to ask intelligent questions. Dr. Luong spoke for most of the time, telling us mostly about his personal life and experiences as a professor and academic leader. Listening to him speak was already quite the treat and it was clear to me that his extensive participation in Forensics in the past was key to his engaging and articulate speaking style. I was able to slip in a couple of questions of my own every once in awhile and am pleased to say I was able to get some valuable insight and advice from this admirable professor.

There is a lot to look up to about Dr. Luong and that's probably why I now consider him both a role model and inspiration. He didn't start off on the privileged side of the social ladder; his success was achieved through his hard work as he rose from the bottom to the top. He started off as an undergrad alum from UC Berkeley, making him knowledgeable about the Bay Area and contributing to his special recognition of the ILC - the scholarship program of the WCCUSD. His life might not have taken a direct path, but I think it is because of that that makes him so real and inspirational. The future worries me from time to time, as the fears of indecision and not being successful finds its way into my thoughts. But thanks to the advice I've received throughout my years in high school, and now those of Dr. Luong's, I've never been more excited to make my mark on the world very, very soon.

This event was possibly the best post-summer college event I've experienced with the ILC. It was a stress-free and delicious get-together - a marriage of two of my favorite things: good food and engaging storytelling. Dr. Luong has convinced me that, should I get to Yale this summer, the Grand Strategy program will be a difficult but extremely worthwhile experience.

This special opportunity the ILC Yalies had the honor to partake in was beyond valuable. Getting to know Dr. Luong better and also having him meet us so casually was an opportunity to become more inspired and motivated. It was an opportunity to fall in love with leadership and tackling challenges. It was an importunity to begin a new chapter in my life entitled: "Bigger and Better Things Part 1".

I'm thankful that we were lucky enough to have Dr. Luong here in the Bay Area; the time we spent with him was of more value to me than I would've imagined. It truly opened my eyes to a more global perspective. I am now more convinced than ever to pursue fine leadership in my future. That is how I plan to contribute to the world - to lead, to listen, and to be that inspirational role model like the many that have made their presence known throughout my life.

I hope I made a good impression at the brunch in Claremont, but frankly, I'm a bit too starstruck to feel self-conscious with my "performance". Thank you ILC, once again, for providing me with the opportunities I would never even dream of partaking in. I am forever grateful to this program for how much it has truly changed my life around for the better.

Now, the adventure has begun. The pages that lie ahead may be blank but they are not short of promise. I cannot say at this point in time just how our summer at Yale will be like; the opening chapter is still a bit foggy. However, I have a feeling that there is going to be happy ending.

1 comment:

  1. Dyana,

    Even though I was at the same function and sitting right beside you I feel as though I missed so much of the event. The way you described everything makes me feel as if I was just occupying a chair and scarfing down the magnificent food (and it truly was magnificent).

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this event. I have every confidence that Dr. Luong's selection team will see your potential the same as we did and you'll be packing your bags soon to prepare for the wonderful New Haven summer weather. With your intelligence, drive and personality, there's no doubt of your success in the Grand Strategy course.