Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Quick Break from Reading

When people ask me what I have planned this summer, I often sheepishly but happily respond with: "a summer course at Yale University". As ambiguous as that statement may be for some, it's just become a habit of mine to avoid revealing the whole story all in one statement - a habit, I'm sure, that's originated from my general writing style. I usually never include that the course I was taking was about leadership unless I was asked to elaborate further. This tactic serves as a good indicator for conversations. Don't be too mysterious and abrupt that you seem uninviting and disinterested in what the person before you is asking but do provide just enough that so that they do follow up with more questions. This is how you know they are at least somewhat interested in what you're saying.

But back to the subject at hand, a class that revolves around the development of great leaders continue to fascinate me with sketicism. There is no doubt that the education I will obtain from Yale will be more than I could have ever duplicated from my past experiences and memories in classrooms back here in Pinole and even from my political philosophy class at Cornell last summer. However, it's the idea of teaching leadership that intrigues me the most.

The definition of a good leader is purely subjective. In most cases, one's capability to lead well is determined not immediately by what one can do in the present but by what one has done - observing such aspects as this individual's impact on his/her community and/or how well the people around him/her responds to his/her actions. With a love for English and Art, I welcome subjective topics. There is never a definite, right or wrong answer as long as you can be good at defending your opinions and persuading others to see your point-of-view as an idea worth considering. (My poor analytic friends who'd rather sit in math or science classes would playfully roll their eyes at me if they had to sit through another one of my random bursts of insight on the flexible views on art and/or the intriguing interpretations of an author's purpose).

However, as advantageous as subjective topics can be for some, there is another important aspect to them: learning to accept the opinions of others even if you do not agree with them. Defining a good leader is no exception. Just take a look back in history and the people around you; already you can start to distinguish how one embodies the very characteristics he/she feels is necessary to lead successfully. Plato shunned democracy - the people's ability to govern themselves - and envisioned individuals he called philosopher kings to rule the Utopian world he believed would best serve the Greek city-states of his time. Under divine law, the beginnings of medieval society didn't dare consider the legitimacy of their monarch's authority. And who could forget The Communist Manifesto (1848) - a book of one person's opinion strong enough to withstand the eras that would follow and continue to inspire even people today? There is no one, correct definition of a good leader, but several, infinite definitions, all with a varied amount of people who accept them. Those who observe leaders and derive their particular methods and behaviors can only take that knowledge and mold it with their own reasoning to produce a plausible definition of what being a good leader means to them. Those who become a leader should be open-minded to the varied methods of good leadership and, in addition, utilize such knowledge wisely with one's own sense of leadership when time calls for one's direction and guidance.

These are only a few of the things I've been thinking about in between and during my readings. Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi was the first of many YISP books that I read since I obtained their reading list. It was a good first choice (though I'm sure any book from the list would've been just as good considering how much I've generally enjoyed all my reading so far). For someone like me, it's easy to relate to Ferrazzi who also grew up in a hardworking family that strove to merely live comfortably, not luxuriously. Therefore, reading his rise to success felt like a fairytale - sort of.

It was really a guide to becoming successful in, specifically, the business world - Ferrazzi style. However, if business-minded people was all whom this book was meant for, than I highly doubt the YISP would dare let this book slip into their reading list again. For a motif one will always encounter while reading the books on the YISP reading list is that, no matter the setting or topic, the material each book teaches is very flexible as long as you remain open-minded. I cannot even tell you how often I've stopped abruptly while reading Never Eat Alone and thinking of how eerie it all was that the very things Ferrazzi was stressing were very similar to how the Ivy League Connection runs and operates - tight networking and making, well, connections.

According to Ferrazzi, a successful leader of the 21st century must depend on people now more than ever. Therefore, utilize technology. Consider the needs of all the people around you - be they the new intern or the CEO at the top - and never discriminate. Be fearless in taking risks if your gut tells you its an opportunity to achieve something great and be quick and optimistic to bounce back if your expectations are not met. Make connections and keep up with them because there's nothing more important to a successful leader, and a business leader especially, than networking.

Cyrus the Great was a good second choice in that it was a distinct contrast from the contemporary world of business and technology. Cyrus's world was the beginnings of the Persian Empire, the time around 600 B.C. However, as long ago as his legacy may have been, the leadership of Cyrus the Great is truly timeless and worth remembering. While reading of this benevolent and effective leader, I wonder why more of today's leaders are not adopting the methods of Cyrus. Surely, Cyrus the Great was fortunate enough to have grown up with a very influential father that ensured his son's moral goodness, but a gracious background alone does not solely determine one's leadership capabilities in the future. (Several of the female CEOs I met while at a Leadership Summit grew up with divorced parents and, as they looked back on this during their presentations, acknowledged that that very aspect of their lives only gave them more strength and motivation to achieve an even better future for themselves). Many of the clan leaders that encounter Cyrus the Great later on in the book remark at his kindness and wished they had only adopted his methods earlier on in their lives.

Of course, not all the suggestions made by Cyrus the Great could fully benefit President Obama's decision making, simply because they're two different times and two different circumstances. The center of Cyrus's life was his army, the war against the Median Empire, and later, his role as the King of Persia. The center of President Obama's life is that of a typical American and oh, that's right, in addition to his job of leading the American country and people - an overwhelming task that's surely more than what Cyrus the Great had ever encountered throughout his life. Yet, I cannot restate again just how little one can obtain from all this reading if one treated the material that literally. Cyrus the Great's idea of securing the good graces of all those around him is reminiscent to the ideas of Ferrazzi.

Establish a good network with the people around you, disregarding their social status. Never let over-confidence and personal ambition cloud your current objectives at hand. Be benevolent. Reward your people before you reward yourself.

Currently, I am reading The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan, a contemporary account to the famous war that forever changed the world of Ancient Greece and prevented the ideals of Democracy from continuing until it was given a new place to grow and thrive - the young country of the United States of America.

Yes, the reading is stressful and I'd be lying if I said there were no boring parts. However, I am fortunate that generally, what the texts have to offer is both very fascinating and intriguing. There are moments when I wish I was outside having summertime adventures with my friends or spending the little time I can with my two cousins from Hong Kong, who, by the way, are staying over for 2 weeks at my house.

Having them around is great but can also be very distracting. Every day there's some restaurant to eat at or some place to go. Sometimes, it gets hard to have to decline almost every single invite presented to you but I remind myself that the YISP, as short-lived as it will be on the time line of my summer this year, will be the highlight of my summer.

I remind myself that I should not treat these readings as merely requirements for the class but good knowledge in general - what better way to finish your senior year than to do so strongly with a whole summer's worth of knowledge on being a good leader? And what better way to go through college with all this insight as well? You should always treat everything you do as a learning opportunity; don't let anything be a waste of time even if that's what they appear on the surface. My fellow peers continuously ask me how I do well in school. It's not because I'm a genius (I wouldn't even say I was that smart). It's because I continue to work hard, never give up, and most importantly in high school: pay attention. Learning only stops the moment you step out of a classroom if you choose to stop learning when you pass the threshold. Do yourself a favor and continue to be open-minded.

PS: Reading my fellow cohorts' blogs on their experiences at Brown and Columbia does make me more excited than ever to start the YISP program but not enough that I'm ready to go next week. (I'm still quite nervous about what to expect there!)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Show Me The Money!

You have the brightest child in the neighborhood and everyone knows it.  Any university in the country would be lucky to have your child.  Without exception, though, all of the top flight schools cost a fortune to attend.  We’re not talking about new car kind of money.  We’re talking about the kind of money to buy a decent house—the kind where you have to keep paying for it forever and ever.  The kind f money it takes a regular working family decades to prepare for.
What are you going to do?  You make decent money—at least enough to keep the rest of your family living comfortably—but it’s not really enough to keep them living comfortably and leave enough to pay for that college education.  The cost of living here in the Bay Area eats up most of your paycheck—when you get a paycheck—and leaves little to sock away to pay for a decent education for your children.
You and your child could take out loans to pay for that top flight education but what kind of life would that be for your child to graduate owing almost as much as the National Debt?
Your child could get a job but what kind of money could an 18 year old make before acquiring the skills that the college education will help provide?
What’s a parent to do?  How are you supposed to take care of your family and provide them with a quality education—the kind of education that will open the right doors once your child has that sheepskin firmly in her grasp?
What are you supposed to do?  You’re supposed to turn to The Ivy League Connection’s very own Sue Kim—a professional educational consultant specializing in admissions and financial aid counseling since 1991.
Sue has helped many dozens of ILC students and others from the WCCUSD find the perfect fit of a college and then find a means to pay for that education.  She knows what she’s doing and she’s good at it.
On Thursday June 16th Sue hosted 39 ILC and WCCUSD students and parents in a financial aid workshop where she helped point the way for the parents to find ways for other people to pay for the education of their children.
Between grants, scholarships, gifts and other options that may be available to the students and parents in our area, more and more of our students have opportunities to attend better schools than they might otherwise have been considering.
Sue explained that although California has an outstanding 10 campus University of California and a 23 campus state university system, both systems have little money to offer students in the way of financial assistance.  The cost to attend these schools is prohibitively expensive and the costs are steadily rising.
On the other hand, there are numerous private colleges spread throughout the country that have large endowments designed to help the very kinds of students we seem to have an abundance of: smart but needy.
Tonight’s session was only a primer but it laid the foundation so parents and students can start their preparations.  Once their students enter their senior year of high school, the college application process becomes a full time job requiring a tremendous amount of dedication and attention to detail.  There are openings at these schools and there is money to be had but if our students and their parents don’t do the necessary homework and prepare themselves, those opportunities may go elsewhere.  We want everyone around the world to have the option of getting a top education but if there are limited funds and limited openings, then we’d rather that our people be taken care of first.  Call it selfish if you will—and you’d be right—but such is life.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The 35 of Us

Though down for the count, my seemingly invincible laptop has returned from the dead, repaired by the Mac store off Telegraph, and I have access to the rest of the world with minimal strain again.

Three nights ago I attended the Ivy League Connection orientation meeting. With every member in the program there the brainpower was palpable. I've been struck on several occasions by the enormity that we as mere WCCUSD students have to offer, and I am proud that all 35 of us will be representing the underdogs this summer. Many of the Connection staff, as well as the program alumni, have encouraged us to not be intimidated by the high powered sons and daughters of executives and sheiks that will attend our programs. Looking at all of us and our parents gathered at the El Cerrito HS library. How could I be? I don't mean to sound arrogant, merely that while they may hold a higher rung on the social ladder than us, from a learning standpoint they have just as much to learn from us as us we have from them. I've always felt that it's easier to lead if you have climbed from the bottom, than if you have just moved laterally.
However, enough of my ramblings about the merits of being from Contra Costa. Overall it was a good opportunity to confirm the great work that my program has been doing planning our trip. Dinner reservations have been made, admissions officers contacted, tours scheduled, hotels reserved, and thanks to the organization skills of Dyana So, we have our entire trip mapped, collated, and digitized in a spreadsheet, (Matt, Lori, and I helped too). Honestly, we are lucky to have someone as determined to scrutinize every detail and make sure our trip runs like microwaved butter. God knows I'm nowhere near as fastidious.
I suppose the theme of this blog is thankfulness. I am thankful for the opportunity ILC has afforded us, but more than that I am thankful for ILC bringing the best and the brightest of our District together, and allowing me to be a part of that group. I am confident that the majority of us will succeed in whatever path we take, and all I hope is that in the future we all remember--while sitting on our piles of gold, in a political office, just on a beach somewhere, etc.-- what it was like to be in that room with the 35 of us.

Friday, June 3, 2011

ILC Orientation: The Attached Strings we all Must Uphold and Honor

Hearing Mr. Ramsey proudly declare “Everyone is on time!” was the perfect foreshadowing to what I’m now convinced will be a great year for both the Ivy League Connections and the students participating in it this program this year.

The library of the new and beautiful El Cerrito High School was packed with parents, students, chaperones, and other integral figures of the ILC. The Yalies congregated to the right side – the only group in a circle of chairs because all the tables to the left of us were already surrounded by students and parents that, for the most part, almost touched shoulders.

Amongst those integral figures that I mentioned earlier, I immediately noticed Mr. Ellis standing off to the side at my left. I recall a great series of conversations with him and Ms. Kim and was pleased to see him again at the orientation for I then became very curious to know why he was there. Eventually, sandwiched by alternating speeches of Mr. Ramsey/Ms. Kronenberg and Don, everyone in the room had their attention directed towards Mr. Ellis and his upcoming, budding idea – The Ivy League Connections Press.
This was not news to me because Mr. Ellis expressed great interest and enthusiasm of such a unique program being available to students in our district among our chats at the Yale dinner. “Wouldn’t it be something” I could still recall him say “for a junior or senior student in high school to graduate with a book already published?” I agreed with him back at the dinner and I continue to agree with him when he reiterated those very words to everyone at that orientation that very evening. I see potential in that program and am looking very forward to see its developments unfold in this upcoming year.

At break-out sessions, the Yalies discussed in more detail the general plans for the summer. Unlike emails, all the parents and students were able to physically interact with Lori, which proved to be a meeting long over-due. Our application forms for the YISP were due tomorrow and Lori was to take care of all the mailing for us. But, before we handed our packets of forms and papers to her, we all diligently looked over everything and bounced our confusions and questions off one another until everyone was on the same page with the completed forms. Although filling out all the forms did go a bit over our session and had also rolled into the final group meeting back at the library, I was very pleased that all three of us had all our forms filled and in Lori’s hands upon our departure from the El Cerrito High School library.
The orientation was informative and helpful. I thank Ms. Kronenberg for reminding all of us that this program was a gift but also a very expensive one with strings attached and responsibilities for each recipient of such a gift to uphold. I thank Mr. Ramsey for emphasizing the importance of following directions and reaching out to past ILC alumni that have been to our program(s) before for more information. Lastly, I also thank Don for making a very clear and concise repeat of essentially, the letter he sent to all us ILCers regarding borrowing certain items we may need at the East, and being so generous with his offers.

The long list of YISP reading still awaits me. Every day, I read as much as my schedule will allow so as to prevent any string of consecutive summer days to fall victim to nonstop reading. The last week of my junior year in high school is almost here and almost over; finals will eventually come to pass and I will happily enjoy its one-year absence once more. I am pleased that once school takes a break from being the center of attention in a matter of one more week, I’ll finally have the chance to spend a majority of June reading voraciously.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Leadership 101

I was under the impression that my leadership courses would be coming on July 24th, but it seems that I was due for an earlier lesson than I had expected.

Now this course wasn't formal or anything, it wasn't taught in a classroom by a man who had majored in philosophy or leadership and all that jazz. Instead it was merely a serious in depth conversation between my mom, my dad, and myself.
Our whole conversation precipitated from events that unfolded during our Ivy League Connection Orientation tonight. At our orientation certain traits were revealed by various members of the ILC, including both students and administrators. At our orientation tonight, key information was to be delivered to each and every one of the ILC cohorts and their respective parents. This information included things such as travel plans, what to pack, when we're leaving, and basically what we, as the students, must give back to the program itself. Now during the whole course of this exchange of information certain attitudes and actions jumped out to both me and my family, and these are the things that caused my crash course introduction to leadership.

When my family got home and we were all fed, we sat back down at our dinner table and started to discuss what had happened that night. My father immediately started asking me questions, sort of like an interrogation, about what things had popped out to me that night, what I thought about them, etc. I told him that certain actions and attitudes were the most prominent things that I had noticed and a big grin started to form itself upon his face. I could tell that I had hit upon something that he wanted to have a deep analytical discussion with me.

We started to discuss the actions and attitudes, why they were there in the first place, and whether or not they were right. In order to answer why they were there we talked about what kind of stresses go into such a tremendous organization such as the ILC. Before this conversation I had never really taken a good look at all of the logistics that needed to be taken care of. Sure I was in charge of making reservations at Columbia for campus tours and for dinner dates, but that was only one city, for one program. There are several other programs that needed to be attended to, several other dinner dates and campus tours. I had gained a lot of appreciation for all of the hard work, time, and resources that our administrators put into each of us.

After discussing the logistics of it all, my family and I moved onto the key issue of our talk that night. Leadership is a very complex thing, it takes a precise formula to create an effective leader. This formula includes how to inspire your subjects and how to properly maintain control over them, basically how to be a "just leader." The actions and attitudes that brought about the family wide debate, started to be analyzed by us. We took them apart and thought about whether or not a great leader acts like this. My father then paralleled this situation into his own universe. My father was after all a SWAT team leader and he had to face the daunting task of leading individuals into combat. My dad told me all sorts of things that a leader had to think of, basically the formula mentioned earlier, and how that at the core each and every leader now matter what they be the leader of had to adhere to his fundamental formula. We concluded that the actions and attitudes brought up in the night of Orientation had just reasons for them, but also had some flaws.

Yes I had gained the knowledge that was supposed to be given to me on Orientation, what to pack, what to expect, when to leave, but the most important things I gained that night were as a result of my family debate. I had learned to appreciate evermore the efforts that our ILC administrators put into the ILC students. Most importantly however leadership is a complex subject and requires an individual of the highest capabilities in order to master the craft. The attitudes and actions that had surged at Orientation were the direct causation of the debate and consequently, my lessons gained from them.