Saturday, July 23, 2011

Adieu For Now

Below is a supplement blog for 07-23-2011

Before it was days; now it is only minutes – 47 minutes to be exact. By 47 minutes, I am referring to the “official” arrival of tomorrow – where future transforms into present, where these back-to-back college visits and dinners end and the objective of our trip will finally begin. Unfortunately for you – the readers – the policies of the Yale Ivy Scholars Program does not permit its students to write blogs during the entire duration of the program. It will be about two weeks before activities by either Matt, Tom, or myself will resume here. Therefore, I'd like to share my final thoughts with you before I return after two weeks as, undeniably, a changed individual.


Teleport yourself back to a high school classroom. You're a good student – doing the best you can and trying to stay out of trouble. There's this one student in your class that just returned from a summer studying at an Ivy League university and you discover later in the year that she was taking another summer class, but at a different Ivy League school, this upcoming summer. She's on scholarship again. She could have left the spot open for someone else. She could have. Do you think she should have?

Now I am the student in that theoretical classroom and, if I was asked to respond to this scenario – to this student spending another summer on scholarship at Ivy League schools – I may just roll my eyes and say she really should have left that spot for someone new. The Ivy League Connection is all about giving bright and talented students in our depreciated school district – the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) – the opportunity of a lifetime to be exposed to, not just random colleges on the East Coast, but prestigious ivy league institutions that most have probably never even thought about. Therefore, why is this student going again? Why is she taking up the slot for another bright and talented student?

Well, this student has a name and you're reading my words. This thought has been the uncomfortable thorn I let live under the soles of my feet for the longest time. I do not make references to my summer spent at Cornell University to study “Freedom and Justice” very often, even though I can easily share to you my various moments of deja vu and similarities just in these past few days alone. I do not mention them much because I am reminded of that guilty feeling. You could be reading the reflection of another student instead of mines. That student would probably tell you of all the new things he's come to understand now because of these dinners with alumni, or maybe, she would tell you all the interesting details about the new environment she's witnessing on the East Coast. Instead you got someone who's been there before, so her words are old news; she's no longer inspired. She's spoiled.

My name is Dyana So and I know I deserve to do this program and participate in the ILC again. I mau have been there but I'm not old news. I am more inspired than ever and I am most certainly not spoiled. The ILC does not discriminate if a student such as myself – or Andrew Gonzales, Alex Elms, and Beilul Naizghi – wishes to try and apply again. Our slates our cleared; our summer in the past lingers but it does not affect our readmission. We've joined the rat race again and yes, we do have prior knowledge based on experience, but we have also – and always have – had the same equal chance of getting in and not getting in as everyone else. And by knowing all of this, why do I not be more considerate of trying to let someone else potentially take my spot?

First of all, I never knew that that was ever destined to be my spot. The fear of rejection during both the essay and interview process were real. Being able to board another flight to spend a summer again at the East Coast and study at Yale the second time around is still an unbelievable miracle to me. The ILC was open to everyone; it was th worm dangling on a hook, waiting for the student fishes to take a bite at it. I did not step aside for YISP, nor make my attempt at getting in any less weaker, because, truthfully I'm tired of not fending for myself. I'm tired of thinking for those who do not think for themselves. You’re probably wondering who I'm really addressing this spiteful message to and, if there really was someone that would have been that student that rolled their eyes or not, I am ultimately speaking to this demon within me.

I truly felt at the end of Cornell Summer College last year, even more so than I already had, just how much this program meant for me and had done to change my life in no other direction than the better. I still feel this way even though it is my second year; I am grateful that another hefty scholarship was put into me when it honestly could have gone to someone new. Yet, as guilty as I may let myself feel for that unknown student that could-have-been, I've come to tell myself to stop prying those heavy doors of opportunity to these invisible beings. They certainly exist – these bright students from our school district who could also do just as well in this program – but why let the breeze in for someone who refuse to be visible and open the doors themselves? They are heavy but it's not like I didn't strain to get it to open either.

My position as a two-year participant of ILC is reminded when I see one of my current cohort, Matt Lee. Before we boarded the plane, I asked if he was going to apply to any schools on the East Coast. He quickly responded that he was probably only applying to the UC schools and other colleges strictly in California. He admitted that these college tours may just change his mind a bit but he wasn't sure if that would likely happen. But now, four days in and many college visits and dinners later, Matt's attitude has changed. He tells me what it is that he liked and didn't like about certain campuses; he actively asks questions regarding the schools at the dinners. I recently asked him again that same question and now he tells me that he will highly consider applying to East Coast schools or definitely will apply to some. That's the intended effect the ILC is supposed to give the first-year students – that realization that they are just as capable as another student somewhere in the United States attending the best private schools around. They start to consider an option they never really thought about – especially for those who always saw the UCs as their dream schools. They start to fall in love with these “new” schools and desire to, more than ever, work harder to ensure admittance. Knowing Matt since middle school, I was very pleased that the ILC has truly reaped the biggest of epiphanies for not only my friend Matt, but also for its many cohorts including myself.

As a second-year ILC cohort, I look at everything differently and there's no changing that. The first time was the life-changing moment – that one-time chance to be the lucky recipient of such a phenomenal scholarship – and the second time around has been more of a cycle of wisdom and realization. The exciting opportunities to visit colleges – even back in California I never visited a single college campus except Contra Costa College for summer classes – sometimes overshadowed the conference I'd hold within my head to debate whether this college was an actual fit for me or not. Now, as a second-year, the excitement is still there – but controlled. I'm less interested in the idea of being somewhere new and more interested in asking all the questions I can and visioning myself at this particular school only a short, one year later. I value admissions officers who take their time out to meet us more than the first-year. I start to pick up ideas and advice I hear that does not necessarily do me any good but does do a good deal for others. I am thinking about how I can be a better ambassador and bring these experiences to life for people back home. I start to feel this awful strain my stomach whenever I sit before fancy meals and purchase items under the ILC because I no longer believe that such elaborate expenses, as good as they were to experience obviously, could really buy me a good time. The chance to be here, even if it meant eating cup noodles every single day until I came home, would still mean the world to me.

The YISP program means more to me than nearly everyone would assume from how little I let myself talk about it in fear of sounding like a boastful brat. In the end, I am very proud of my achievements and I'm proud that, despite taking up a spot that could have potentially gone to someone else, this spot was rightfully earned by me, just as anyone else could have taken it as well. My stomach felt funny today when I went to the nearby Rite-Aid to purchase some items for the YISP that I didn't pack in my suitcase. They were items I needed but the prices of some of them were much higher than I would dare spend back home. I knew I was on scholarship and that the policy of the ILC was to help me pay for anything I needed as long as it was not anything of personal benefit of leisure, but I cannot escape the sensitivity I have to expensive things. My own upbringing made them foreign to me.

Tomorrow I will be staying at a more longer-lasting residence. I have jitters about this program and the thought of failure continues to be an overly redundant naive reflex of yours truly. I am confident in the confidence others have put into me though I am not so generous to myself. My method has always been to work hard, harder, and harder some more. Maybe that method would do little but it might just do a lot. Either way, I can only storm into Yale tomorrow and give it the best I got because if there w

My Kind of People

If the question, "What do you want to major in/what do you want to do?" behaved like water vapor above my head, I would be experiencing serious precipitation for a several weeks. Listen reader, if you knew what you wanted to do at 17, write a book, because that's a real poser for the rest of us. Now I may not know exactly yet, but at a dinner tonight with Alex Richardson, the Northern California Admissions Rep. for Yale, I surprised myself by coming up with at least passable answer.

First let me say that, so far, I love Yale people. I don't know what their reputation is, but to be as smart as they are, and as open and friendly is astounding to me. I honestly feel that Alex's attitude and demeanor as a conversationalist allowed me to talk about that which I am most passionate about, giving me true insight into how to answer that age old question. As I spoke about my time at El Cerrito and the transformation that occurred in me there, culminating in my time at Mosaic, a non-profit youth education project in Oakland, I was able to come up with an answer. While I have so many interests that I love to explore at my leisure, what I love most is looking at traditional fields from a human perspective. Studying political theory, economic policy, etc. through the eyes of an anthropologist, socialogist, cognitive scientist, or psychologist. This is something that has fascinated me before I even heard the term "cognitive science." In fact as I mentioned the field, a current Yale student also attending the dinner, Maria, lit up in response. It turns out she was very interested in the subject as well, sparking a wonderful and passionate discussion of what we loved about it.

I've talked to many people about their reasons for choosing a college, what I have heard time and again, is that someone connected to the college somehow made them want to go. The way that Alex quickly got me to talk about what was most important to me, and to then engage me in a meaningful way about that topic was remarkable to say the least. If I had to choose a college based on the character of the people then Yale makes a compelling case.

Yalies on Yalies

At the final dinner I had the pleasure of sitting next to both of Yohanna Pepa's dorm mates - Mariya and Samantha. After knowing Yohanna for a few years, I can quickly see why both these rising-sophomores are so great. Mr. Alex Richardson, the California representative for Yale admissions was also present, but because I was seated the most distant from him than Matt and Tom, I spoke mostly with Mariya and Samantha.

When it comes to learning about a potential college that I want to apply to, my approach is not traditional. I do not shower these students with questions about the school unless it was something I personally wanted to know or something that I think others may find interest in. With time, the accounts of current college students share nearly the same outline. They all enjoyed their experience; they wouldn't be so great at answering our questions and telling us about their school otherwise. Therefore, I like to get to know the students more through casual conversation, interjecting any curiosities I did have when I had them. I've always found that once I made my guests more comfortable to speak before pure strangers, they naturally start to expel, with more enthusiasm, their input and much more.

With Mariya, we shared immigrant origins. She was from Bulgaria, whereas I was from Hong Kong. The struggles our parents share to come to America for no greater prize than to secure the academic opportunities for their daughters reminded Mariya how much Yale meant for her and how happy I was to hear that.

I connected especially well with Samantha, whom I shared so many personality traits with. I know this not because I showered her with questions regarding only Yale, but because I also ask about her life and time as a high school student. That information is important to me because it gives me a better idea of what Yale is looking for in a student should I choose to apply. Some of the students tell me they had lower test scores but cannot help gushing how proud they are about their personal statements while others commend their collection of extracurricular. Samantha was the first and only present student that gave me the college student perspective from a female standpoint and I am glad to report to report that due to little dissimilarities between male and female students, college is honestly the place to start over. No college student goes out of their way to talk about high school. Everyone is the top of their class but many people bother to compete to extensively or compare one another anymore.

Towards the end, I spoke briefly with Mr. Richardson. He is a very friendly person who is very easy to talk to. I greatly admire his interest in the ILC, in addition to explaining to us more about the admissions process. I hope to keep in touch with him in the future - and everyone else I've met for that matter - with more questions I may come up with.

The Yale dinner was a great one to end our five nights of fancy dining. Swarthmore was a good that the admissions officer lead most of the conversation and spent much time to answer all of our questions in detail. The Princeton dinner was a chance to establish a new connection with a complete stranger - hearing of his successes as both a Princeton alum and progressing lawyer. The U. Penn dinner was the ultimate melting pot of all sorts of representation that it gave more insight from a variety of sources that we had yet to achieve. The dinner with Columbia was great that the alumni were great in convincing myself to be just like them and apply for Columbia. The Yale dinner was unique in its own that it was a surreal preview of what these next fifteen days will be somewhat like.

I thank the ILC for making these dinners happen; they convinced me more about U. Penn and Columbia, and gave me the opportunity to make a good impression on admissions officers. As Peter Chau commented: "This opportunity is such a luxury; legacy kids couldn't even get to meet admissions officers so intimately like this and they get everything!"

An End To The Feasting

As I got up this morning, my heart sank a little bit. New York City was like an untapped reservoir of excitement and entertainment, and I had barely explored its wonders. To get my self out of this pool of depression I think about what lies ahead of me. I say to myself, "I am leaving this concrete jungle to go to an even better place. Instead of looking for flashy lights and name brand shops, I'm going in pursuit of something much less flashy but infinitely more valuable, something no one can take from me, simply an education.

Train seems to be the way to go over here in the east coast, and the ILC goes with whats popular. We hop aboard our amtrak train for the final time to go to New Haven and more importantly, our home for the remainder of our stay here. Luckily I was able to catch a few Z's on the way here. Dr.Luong told us that we should be well rested before we begin the program, and after these 6 hour sleeps a nap was well needed. When my dreams lifted and my eyelids opened, we had arrived at New Haven. Luckily the weather was cooler today than others and we got to our Hotel comfortably (the AC in the taxi helped too.) As we rode through town towards the Omni hotel, Mr.Ramsey pointed out all of the characters in this town that made us all think twice about safety here. I thought of my dad as we passed a park that reminded me of People's Park in Berkeley. His direct, but wise, words echoed throughout my mind, "don't ever hang out there."

We checked into the Omni, went upstairs to settle down and immediately went back out to do a bit of shopping. We all had a bit of a shopping list handy, so the shopping went smoothly. We got the essentials such as food, personal hygiene items, however one of the necessities that we needed for our stay at Yale wasn't there. Fans. Although Yale does provide us with 1 fan, it was highly recommended by several individuals that we purchase another. Hopefully Lori can purchase one tomorrow. On the way there and back we saw some of New Haven up close and personal. It was definitely much different from New York, smaller and not as busy.

After our little shopping excursion, we went back up to our respective rooms, and just prepared ourselves for tonights dinner with current Yalies, and a Yale admissions officer for NorCal at the lovely Union League Cafe. I got suited up for the last dinner I was going to have with the whole gang, Lori, Mr.Ramsey, Ms.Kronenberg. We walked together down Chapel Street, towars the restaurant. We were greeted by the workers on our way up, and then by the guests of the hour. Two current Yale students, Mariya, and Samantha, and our NorCal admissions officer Alex Richardson.

At the beginning of our meal I was seated next to Alex, and Ms.Kronenberg. I was able to get in an engaging conversation with Alex, we talked about things such as the way things worked on Yale, such as living style, a little bit of an overview of the programs, his experiences as an alum and as a student. However not too long into the dinner Tom started talking to him and I did have a bit of an awkward moment. Fortunately for me I still had Ms.Kronenberg to my left and started to talk with her. However the ever-watchful Mr.Ramsey, saw my predicament and made a switch so that I'd be sitting next to Mariya.

*Just a side note, I have nothing against Ms.Kronenberg or Alex Richardson. Ms.Kronenberg and I were getting on a nice topic (that we were never able to truly finish), byt the point of the dinner was to talk to our guests, and I couldn't effectively do that sitting where I was sitting (Tom was getting into a very long and exciting conversation with Alex that I didn't want to interuppt) which was why I was thankful that I got moved.*

Mariya and I immediately got to talking. I spat out the same spiel I've given all of the other current students I've met. How's campus life? Is it fun going there? Can you tell me how the curriculum works? What are the students like? Etc. Like all of the other current students, her answers did not disappoint. I've said this time and time and time again, for every dinner I've attended with the ILC, these conversations we hold with the students are invaluable resources. It's like we get to put on a special pair of glasses, that give the vision of the students we're talking to. It's as if we get to step into their shoes for a little bit and live their lives as students. Yale sounds like a really good place to go to learn, it's curriculum is different than the other schools we've attended in the aspect of its Distribution System. In order to graduate you have to take classes in 6 different categories, but 2 classes in each one. I really liked this combination of a liberal arts, and structured core curriculum. It definitely made Yale appealing.

Like all dinners before, this one too came to a close. We followed the ILC tradition of ordering deserts, followed by closing comments, and then followed by the group photo session. We left with new connections to the Yale community, and our brains bursting with new insight. As we walked out of the restaurant, a wave of emotion washed over me. I remembered what Mr.Ramsey said earlier that day, as we were walking towards the restaurant. He said "well guys, this is the last dinner. I hope you've enjoyed everything, it was a pleasure doing business with you." However as sad as I got from his words that these dinners were over, I couldn't help but disagree with him. It wasn't the end of business between myself and Mr.Ramsey. It was only the beginning. I am going to be a member of the Ivy League Connection for the rest of my life, although there isn't a formal alumni group of this organization I still think of one existing, and that even when I graduate I'll just join the ranks of people like Matt Arciniega, Yohanna Pepa, Peter Chau, Cristina Pelayo, and many, many more.

I end my night with one closing remark. If there's one thing I've learned from this whole experience talking with all of these people from the top universities, is that they ALL share a strong sense of unity and pride of their school. This unity and pride carries on for the rest of their lives as they join the alumni groups of their respective schools. I always hear about how these alumni groups are fantastic pools for resources and is also a great connection device for everyone in the organization to benefit from. I believe that the ILC is very much like these schools in that aspect. All of the ILC alumni are a resource for the current ILC students. Whether it be to ask past participants how their programs were, to actually giving them tours of the schools they go to, they are always there to benefit myself, and the future ILC cohorts to come. Huge thanks go out to Mr.Ramsey, Ms.Kronenberg, and to our sponsors. Without any of these people, this program wouldn't be possible and we would't have this amazing network of connections to work with. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

The Machine

There are things that everyone knows, and there are things that no one knows. Most importantly, there are things that only a handful of people know, that everyone should know. I'm talking about the system, the inner-workings, the "machine", whatever one wants to call it, of society. From breakfast cereal, to political candidates, to college, there are things most people know, and there are things that only people who are taught about, or are part of the "machine" know. The average person doesn't know how cereal is made, but they know it can be found in a grocery store. I didn't know about the machinations of college admissions until I began talking to people on the inside.

This idea that the majority does not understand how the world works on a fundamental level has become one of incredible interest for me, and devoting my time towards an understanding of the "workings" has become a driving force to learn in my life. Just this morning I untangled from my hotel bedsheets (who needs four layers of sheets anyway?) and lurched down late to breakfast with the gang at the hotel restaurant, walking right into a conversation about school profiles. Now school profiles are a detailed report on your school-- written by the district. These reports can cover everything from diversity and API scores, to how much money the school has to spend on lab equipment. The nature of these reports can literally determine on what scale your application will be processed on. One student could be admitted over a student with a comparable application because of this profile. However, this is a mere example of this idea of behind the scenes inner workings, college admissions just so happens to be a particularly stellar example.

Post 1 of 2 for Saturday the 23rd.