Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Penn is in the Air...

Don always reminds us that we need to blog about three specific events before we head back east. These events are the “Don Gosney Crash Course in Blogging”, the WCCUSD School Board Meeting, and our group dinners. Don refers to these as “Milestone Events”, and let me tell you, they are aptly named. Last night was certainly a milestone in my Ivy League Connection experience. My peers, my supporters, and I enjoyed wonderful food and even greater company last night as Scala’s Bistro and it is quite an understatement to say that it was just a milestone.

We gathered at the El Cerrito Plaza BART station to begin the night. In addition to my mom, Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Don, Brian, Julia, and my cohort’s parents, I was pleasantly surprised to see some other familiar faces that would be joining us for dinner. First was my chaperone from last year, Ms. Sewellyn Kaplan. It had been quite some time since I had the opportunity to speak with her extensively, so seeing her last night was quite a treat. I also did not expect to see Ms. Bulls last night, but thankfully I was able to enjoy her company as well. The most surprising though, was my friend and former policy debate mentor Cristina Pelayo, who will soon be completing her first year at Penn. I could tell just by the turnout at the BART station that last night would be very memorable.

I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to Ms. Bulls on the ride to San Francisco. Despite the roar of the train, we had an excellent conversation about ways that I can make myself appear unique and stand out amongst my peers when applying to college next year. We also expressed our mutual joy for the end of AP testing (woo hoo!), as well as our excitement for our respective Ivy League excursions this summer. I could not have asked for better company for the train ride over.
I was finally able to speak with Cristina on the walk to Scala’s. I was anxious to hear about her experiences at Penn, as well as tell her all about what has been happening on the Pinole Valley Forensics Team. She was able to relay her impressions of Penn, tell me a little bit about the school of engineering, and even give me a few tips concerning where (and where not to) go in the area.
Upon our arrival at Scala’s, we were escorted through a dimly lit, but exquisite dining room into the grand foyer of the connecting hotel, and from there to the wine cellar dining room. Mr. Ramsey strategically seated us at our respective tables and then the evening really began. I was seated with my mom and two Penn alums, Luis Chia and Beth Topor. Luis graduated from Penn in 2007, currently attends graduate school at Stanford, and in his spare time, conducts interviews with prospective Penn students. Beth also graduated from Penn and is an Admissions Officer at Penn, who primarily conducts interviews with prospective students. I could tell from the moment that we sat down that I was going to be able to tap into a wealth of information about Penn that night.

I was certainly able to get two unique perspectives of Penn from my conversations with Luis and Beth. From Luis, I was able to hear about the university from the point of view of a recent graduate. He told me all about how great Penn’s faculty is and how helpful they are with regard to life after college, which in today’s competitive environment would be an invaluable asset. He also told me about his favorite types of classes, research opportunities, things to do in Philadelphia, and even about the types of students that attend Penn. I was able to relate to Luis very well, seeing as both of us have the minds of scientists, and I found his information very helpful as well as exciting.

Beth offered another perspective. She too told me about Penn’s faculty, atmosphere, etc, but she also gave me a look at the inner-workings of the admissions process at Penn. She told me that personal essays and the Penn interview were critical parts to the application because they allowed prospective students to speak a bit more extensively about themselves. Beth said that even though the interview does not hold much initial weight in the overall decision, it mainly acts as a tool used to make-or-break a student if the admissions committee is on the fence about whether that person will fit in at Penn. Both Luis and Beth were very generous to give me so much information and I appreciate the different perspectives of Penn I was able to receive. Where Luis provided a more “boots in the mud” point of view, Beth gave me a look at her view from the inside. I must say, Mr. Ramsey’s seating strategy worked out especially well for me.
The four speeches were probably the most memorable part of the night. Ms. Kronenberg opened for us by introducing everyone in the room and giving a wonderful speech about how the Ivy League Connection has united us all and that we are a family. I hadn’t realized just how diverse the group was until Ms. Kronenberg introduced everyone. In addition to my peers and their parents, there were also a number of Penn alums, district employees, as well as two generous and dedicated sponsors of the ILC, Phil Schlein (the former CEO of MACY’S) and Wally Gordon (a prestigious local architect).

The next speaker was Beth, who spoke about what it means to be a leader. I think the statement that resonated with everyone is “It is not always the one who raises their hand and offers to lead that makes the best leader, but those who lead by their actions.” Her speech spoke volumes and I enjoyed it very much.

My speech followed Beth’s and I was quite nervous. I hadn’t actually given a speech for quite some time and I felt a bit rusty, so I was a little shaky. I got through it though and managed to say what I needed to without stumbling over myself. I did make one mistake however. I stated that I would never be able to repay the ILC for all that they have done for me. I would like to amend that by saying that I feel I will never be able to fully repay the ILC, but I will do my best to give back to the community and the ILC by sharing my experiences and my knowledge with the students here in the WCCUSD.

Mr. Ramsey concluded the speeches by discussing how far the ILC has come, what it is doing for students in the District, the connections it has made with prestigious colleges, and how it has played such an important role in the lives of everyone involved since its formation. Mr. Ramsey capped off the speeches very well and a wonderful evening followed.
It seemed that in the blink of an eye, Mr. Ramsey announced that we would be leaving soon. Time had flown since the conclusion of the speeches and I wished that I could have spoken with Beth and Luis for much longer. I had gotten lost in the captivating conversation and the amazing food so much that I had lost track of time. Sadly though, we had to part ways as this Milestone Event came to a close. As I said before, these events are aptly named. I learned so much about Penn last night and had the opportunity to dine with excellent company. Last night’s dinner reminded me very much of the dinners that we have back east with admissions officers (only on a larger scale) and it made me that much more anxious for my departure in a month and a half.

1 comment:

  1. Alex,

    The way you described things it made me wish I was there--oh wait, I WAS there and you described things just the way I remembered.

    With one of our dinners a week or so ago we observed that while waiting for our troupe to enter the BART station all of our students were gathered together as a group talking away. In another group were the "adults" doing the same thing.

    When we boarded the BART car we saw the same grouping.

    Everything tells us that left to your own devices, as young adults with so much in common with each other and the fear of the unknown about those of us who are not students you would all have gravitated to sit at the same table.

    One of the purposes of these dinners is to pair you up with people you can learn from--people who have skills and experiences that can be of value to you. We want to broaden your vistas and open your minds to the new and exciting world just outside of your comfort zone. This is especially important at these dinners. We go to great lengths to bring in alums that you can talk to. Some of these alums can tell you what the school was like decades ago while others can tell you what it's like today. There's much to be learned from all of them.

    And, of course, we want you to get to know the people who sat as panelists to select you, the sponsors who dig deep to pay for this program and the school administrators who can help pave the transition for you from high school to college.

    And let's not forget the food, Alex. We could just as easily have held these events in a conference room but the social setting of these dinners allows for a better interchange and allows us all to meet on a personal level. Even discussions about the meals in front of us is a way to get to know each other better.