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.