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.

Once Again We Eat Well

This is what we in the ILC refer to as The Dinner Season.  This year we had six dinners where the ILC brings their 35 ILC students together with alums from the schools they'll be attending, the sponsors who finance the program, the school administrators who help facilitate the application process, the chaperones who represent the District and play the part of the doting surrogate parent to our cohorts while back East and the panelists who helped interview our applicants during the selection process.
We allow our cohorts to dress in their finest and host the events at some of the finest restaurants.  Our goal here is to acclimate our students to a life other than the fast food joints and grunge clothes they may otherwise frequent.

After a two year hiatus, this year we will be sending three of our cohorts to the Physics Academy at the University of Pennsylvania.  Brian Seegers and Julia Martien from El Cerrito High will join Alex Elms from Pinole Valley High as they show the rest of the world that the WCCUSD has the students to compete with the best.
While many of the 24 guests that joined us at La Scala's in San Francisco may have attended for the pomp and ceremony, and some for the speeches, and even more for the camaraderie with people of importance, some of us were there for the food.

With a choice of entrees that included sea bass and filet of beef, options were there for satisfying even the most selective of palettes.  While the filet looked pretty good, I'm still sure that my choice of the sea bass was the right way to go.  Then again, the individual apple pie topped with housemade vanilla gelato almost made me forget what the main courses were.
Aside from our invited alumni partners we also had former ILC alum Cristina Pelayo with us.  Cristina is always a joy but the fact that she has now concluded her freshman year at UPenn gave our new cohorts to talk with someone who could tell them first hand what it's like to come from the WCCUSD and attend Penn.
Of special importance was the attendance and participation of former Philadelphia resident Tony Thurmond.  Tony is a former Richmond City Council member and currently serves on the WCCUSD School Board.  Without the support of Tony and his fellow Board members, the ILC would have a much more difficult time to provide services to the youth of out District.