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.

The Yalies Meet The Doctor

Yesterday morning Matt, Dyana, and I sat down for brunch at the Claremont with Dr. Luong and one of his guest lecturers and close friends--Jessie, a local social worker in Martinez (As well as the ILC staff). As soon as we were placed around him at our table, Dr. Luong launched into speech at once. His casualness was very comforting, and while it was hard to break his flow, he organized his speaking in ways that needed minimal prompting from us. He was blunt at times, and calculating at others, but always a compelling speaker.

I was struck by his honesty and practicality as he described his program as well as when he extolled advice on college and life in general. He spoke openly about the importance of relationships and emotional maturity in our lives, and I found it interesting how often he steered the conversation towards these ideas. He Illustrated this in his obvious bond with Jessie, a friend of his for over 20 years. Moreover, his refreshing take on the necessity of happiness in one's education was a comforting view, especially coming from a high ranking professor at a top university.

Like his program, Dr. Luong places an emphasis on the holistic view of success. That, other than prodigies on the order of Stephen Hawking, without social skills and a strong overall character it is hard to get far in life. He impressed upon us the importance of having a broad perspective, and the danger of assumptions as a leader. He described himself as a middle-aged nondescript Asian man with glasses wearing a Costco shirt and posed the question of how anyone could know that he was a Yale professor, more than that a skilled marksman and an ex-downhill skier, driving his point home neatly.

While piling my plate on a return trip to the buffet, I was also affected by a wonderful conversation with Jessie about the role of empathy in leadership, as well as a certain moral consciousness that a leader should develop.Thoroughly impressed by Dr. Luong's taste in staff I asked him about his faculty, and as he described his staff members and guest lecturers, many with very different approaches, ideas, backgrounds I became more and more enthralled with the program.

It is hard to encapsulate a brunch so full of ideas and conversation. However as I walked away I was most impressed by the emphasis he placed on perspective in leadership, and empathy for those who one is leading. I felt as if I had been honored with the inside scoop on college, leadership, and life, from someone who makes considering many perspectives a primary concern. I now hope more than ever to be accepted into the program and experience the vision Dr. Luong assembled for us during our short meal.

An Eventful Sunday With Dr. Luong

At 8:45 AM my alarm clock clicked on and soon I, too, clicked on.

I made my way to the bathroom, got ready, and awaited the arrival of Don Gosney. As he approached I thought to myself, "okay Matt, we're about to go over to the Claremont and meet the man who will make your summer dreams a reality."

We drove along Pinole Valley Road and up San Pablo Avenue to pick up a fellow ILC Yale cohort: Dyana So. From her house we made our trip across the freeway to Berkeley and finally to the Claremont.
My first impression of the Claremont Hotel and Resort was that it was a lot different on the inside from outside. From the outside it was like an old book, worn and old looking. However, on the inside that's where all the magic took place. It was my first time in an extravagant hotel such as the Claremont and each piece of furniture, each of the shiny items in the windows took my breath away.

Then we came to the place where we would be dining. I didn't expect that we would be given a gourmet buffet but nonetheless I wasn't disappointed either.

I followed Don to a breakfast line where a chef was preparing omelets and there I saw an Asian man along with what I assume to be a Caucasian lady. I soon found out that they were none other than Dr.Luong and his assistant and life long friend Jesse. We started to chat immediately with Dyana and I talking to Dr.Luong, Tom hadn't arrived yet. After about 10 or so minutes of this the rest of the gang arrived: Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Ms. Kahn, Tom, Ms. Bulls, and Ms. Cohen.

We all went down to the table and we all sat down with Dr.Luong, Tom, Dyana, and I sitting in the middle so that we could enjoy conversations with one another. We talked for a bit, asking Dr.Luong about the program itself, some things about Yale, and we even learned a bit about himself.

We went up to get our food and continued to do more of the same. It was great hearing Dr. Luong talk to us about the program that we all so dearly wanted to get admitted into. He told us more specifics about the program, such as who spoke there, what we should expect, etc.

Soon Tom had to leave to attend a play, so it was just Dyana and I. We sort of switched the topic from Yale to more recreational activities, just friendly talk about sports, debate, and what we enjoy doing.

At about 1 o'clock Ms. Bulls had to leave and the rest of the gang, except for Don, Dyana, Dr. Luong, and I, soon followed. Then 3 more guests arrived Yohanna Pepa, and her parents. We exchanged salutations with them and Dr. Luong and Yohanna started to chit chat. Mrs.Pepa told Dyana and I about Yohanna's experience at Yale and what we should expect. After more conversations with everyone it was our turn to leave. We all exited the hotel as a group and said our goodbyes to one another as we turned towards our cars.

On the rainy car ride home, I thought to myself that this was a milestone in my life. I got to sit down with the director of the Grand Strategy program at Yale and exchange several conversations with him face to face. To answer Mr.Ramsey's question this brunch was extremely valuable to me. Now Dr.Luong knows who Tom, Dyana, and I are, we all know him. We got a chance to establish a good relationship that hopefully will last just as Yohanna's did. Now I firmly believe that all three of the ILC Yale candidates will get into this program, which was the point of the brunch, and the point of why we are all here.