Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Most Valuable Three Weeks of My Life

It’s hard to believe that my journey with Ivy League Connections started over six months ago. I remember sitting with my counselor and trying, without success, to change my schedule. As I was leaving, she handed me an invitation to attend an information session for a program called Ivy League Connections. I knew from classmates that Ivy League Connections was a highly competitive program, so I was thrilled just to receive an invitation to attend an information session. It almost made up for my dreadful schedule.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in the second row of the El Cerrito High theatre when the information session promptly began. I was so used to attending events that started and ended late that it actually surprised that Don started the information session on time. Punctuality is just one of the many things that sets Ivy League Connections apart.

At the beginning of the information session, I remember feeling a little intimidated. As Don described the demanding courses, I couldn’t help but feel like Ivy League Connections might be a little beyond my capability. I remember Don saying that we were all “wicked smart” but that it took more than that to be part of the program. I remember thinking that maybe I was smart, but not wicked smart and definitely not more than that. It wasn’t until previous ILCers came up and talked about their experiences that I decided to apply.

 Each student spoke of their time back East and how much they had grown from being part of the program. I remember one student saying how she felt intimidated at first, but that it only took a few days on the East Coast for her to feel confortable. This when I realized that you don’t just need to be smart to be part of Ivy League Connections. Sure, being smart is part of it, but motivation and willingness to step out of your comfort zone is what is really important.

After I left the information session, I couldn’t wait to apply for a program. I was ready to be part of something completely new. When I talked to my parents later that night, they were supportive of my decision to apply. We looked over that list of courses Don had handed out to us and my parents encouraged me to look into the women and leadership course at Brown. I never considered myself a leader, or someone particularly passionate about women’s rights. If someone had given me a map of the United States and asked me to point out where Brown was, I would have had an equal chance of picking the right spot with my eyes open or closed. Then again, I did want to try something completely new, so this might be the perfect program.

Fast forward a few months and I had applied for the women and leadership program, submitted the essays, and was invited back for an interview. I wasn’t nervous for the interview, but I was anxious to leave a good impression. I remember thinking that even if I wasn’t accepted, I would be satisfied if was able to provide the interviewers with a sense of who I really was. Fortunately, I was able to do that and get accepted into the women and leadership program. I was so excited to become a part of Ivy League Connections, that all work we had ahead of us didn’t bother me. It was the middle of the school year, but I just couldn’t wait until summer.

Fortunately there were several ILC events during the school year that gave me a taste of my summer experience. During the blogging tutorial Don not only taught us everything we needed to know about blogging, but also gave me an idea of the summer climate of the East Coast. I thought he was exaggerating then, but I now know everything he said was true. The school board meeting enabled me to recognize the gigantic group of remarkable people I would represent during my time back East. I left the event knowing that I would have to consider a lot more than just myself when making decisions. The choices I would make would reflect not just myself, but my entire community. I felt honored to represent such an amazing and diverse group of people. The Brown dinner at Boulevard was a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and mingle with students and alumni of Brown University. It was a privilege to meet these remarkable people and I left the dinner feeling even more excited to go to Brown. By the time the orientation came, Ivy League Connections had already provided me with so many valuable experiences that it was hard to imagine that the bulk of my experience was still to come.

The beginning of summer flew by and, before I knew it, the end of June had arrived. I had spent the past few weeks recovering from my wisdom teeth removal, so I couldn’t wait to leave my house and head across the country.  As our departure date came closer, however, I became pretty nervous. I asked myself a lot of pointless “what if…” questions which only made me more anxious. Excitement and anticipation overcame fear, however, and I remember hoping that the hours before we left would turn into seconds. I just couldn’t wait to leave for Brown!

Arriving at El Cerrito High at 2:45 AM was definitely the most anticipated moment of my summer. It was, however, pretty anticlimactic due to the fact that nearly everyone except Don was half-asleep. Still, it was one of the most exciting moments I’ve ever had while half-asleep. It was the first step to our trip across the country.

I remember arriving in Providence to a summer thunderstorm. When the clouds parted, there was a double rainbow. Having completed the trip, I know that that couldn’t mean anything other than good luck.

The week we spent touring colleges and attending dinners and brunches was an amazing opportunity for me to meet extraordinary people and tour some of the best schools in the world. This week really got me thinking about what I want in a college. Before then, I hadn’t really thought about where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. I now feel much more confidant that I’ll pick a school that is truly right for me. The people I meet at the dinners and brunches are people I’ll never forget. I was so grateful to hear honest and insightful answers to my questions. I know I’ll keep in contact with many of these remarkable individuals.

The opportunity to attend these dinners and brunches is something only accessible to those who are part of Ivy League Connections. The chance to have a real conversation with students, alumni, and admissions officers of Ivy League schools is incredibly valuable. In just one conversation with a student, I was able to gain a sense of what their school is really like. Having the chance to introduce myself to admissions officers was such a privilege. Everyone I talked to taught me something important. I received advice that I’ll carry with me not only in college, but also throughout my entire life.

Once it was time to move into the dorms at Brown, I felt like I had already learned so much that I could go home and write a novel about my experiences. Every moment of the past week was spent learning something new, and I couldn’t wait to share experiences with my peers in West Contra Costa.

I remember checking into Brown Sunday morning and being shocked by the amount of people. I wanted to meet everyone. When I moved into my dorm, my roommate was already inside. I was super excited to learn that not only was she from Jamaica, but that she went to boarding school in England. She already seemed like such a cool person and I had hardly met her. Later that day, and throughout my entire experience at Brown, I met so many people that I’ll never forget. One of the main things I learned is that no matter their backgrounds or beliefs, every teenager is really quite similar. I made friends with people around the United States and the world.  

The women and leadership course alone was absolutely amazing. The incredible people in the class, along with our amazing instructor Kisa made it unbelievable. Prior to the course my interest in women’s rights was minimal and I didn’t consider myself a leader. This all changed. A turning point relating to my interest in women’s rights was definitely the movie MissRepresentation. This movie was about the negative impact the media has for the standing of women in society. It made me realize how the media has affected me on a subconscious level. The outlook for women is grim and everyone must stand up for women’s rights if anything is going to improve. The leadership compass activity definitely made me change my perception of leadership. This activity enabled me to see that there isn’t just one type of leader. For the first time, I felt like I fit into the spectrum of leadership. Over the deration of the course, my confidence as a leader grew. I now consider myself a leader.

In my opinion, one of the most valuable parts of the course was the chance to develop an action plan. This plan is essentially a pledge that you will go back into your community and make some sort of positive change. For my action plan I chose to address the topic of unhealthy eating in America. The goal of my action plan is to educate students about the importance of healthy eating by starting and maintaining a community garden at my school and donating the harvest to a local homeless shelter. I had always been interested in diet and nutrition so I knew that I wanted to do something related to that. At our last dinner, I met a Wellesley alumnus named Joan who spoke to me about how she started her own community garden. That is when I became inspired to start a community garden at El Cerrito High. I hope to start a club at the beginning of the school year and provide students with the opportunity to work off their community service hours in the garden. Hopefully with this incentive, lots of students will participate in creating a healthy garden.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous to present my action plan to a group of strangers. This might be due to the fact that my roommate was in the room to support me. After the presentation, which went fairly well, I was asked a few tough questions. I now know that I’ll need to think my action plan through a lot more before I try to implement it. But that’s what the rest of summer is for!

Leaving Brown forced me to come to terms with the fact that I probably wouldn’t have the chance to see many of the people I met ever again. This caused me to shed more than a few tears, but my friend from The Bay texted me a valuable quote that day: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Throughout the day of our departure, I remembered those words and smiled and cried because “it happened.”

My trip to the East Coast was definitely the most valuable three weeks of my life. Each day I learned countless lessons and met amazing people. The best part is, though, that it doesn’t end here. I will share what I’ve learned with those unable to experience it for themselves. I will implement my action plan and hopefully give back to my community in a positive way. Thank you Ivy League Connections for providing me not only the best three weeks of my life, but also with the tools necessary to go out and make my community a better place. 

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