Monday, May 23, 2011

Preparing for Adventure: Introduction to the Ivy League Connection Class of 2011

As a class of Ivy League Connection scholars, I believe we, as a group showed our brilliance tonight. First impressions are everything I hear, and we made one that will go down in history, as the best Ivy League Connection class to date.

The Yalies, with their extremely challenging course, tonight looked ready to face any obstacle as they were introduced. The Brownies with their sheer man and woman power intimidated the room with their radiant smiles and confident stances. The Vandies, though small in size, but big in heart, stood up ready to face the horizons of an unexplored program as ambassadors of the ILC. The Columbians and Cornellians arose and took their stand practically inspiring everyone on the round table of School Board members that there will be leadership when they have passed on.

That is the message we sent to not only the Board members, but our sponsors and supporters, our chaperones, our administrators, even our parents, we are ready and willing to step out into the world to make change for the better. Within our group, dwell the lawyers, doctors, professors, hotel managers, politicians, moms, dads, and 3 future presidents of the future. I feel this program and group are special—all  we have to do is believe, taking every opportunity that comes our way.
During the intermission after our group picture, I noticed how as a group we all migrated to the mingling adults with jobs varying from coaching to architecture, with a mix of a few Vice Presidents and Board Members, but we moved to chat with them to acquire the secrets that they had obtained about life, which in turn would make our lives more convenient.
Our precocious hunger for knowledge is amazing, and since knowledge is power, that speaks volumes to how far we will go. There are truly no limits for any of us, whether a Yalie, or Cornellian, even a Vandy. So in the words of Matisyahu, (Chasidic reggae artist) let us smash the lies of those saying we can’t, and awake our dreams to make them reality, and as the Ivy League Connection class of 2011 we will truly be successful.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Preparing for Adventure: "ILC in depth and the true Don Gosney"

After weeks of planning for Don’s blogging tutorial, we finally settled on a date, Saturday May 14th at 9:00 AM. I immediately agreed when Ms. Bulls made the proposal, to prevent further frustration for everyone involved especially Don, yet when I reached home and looked at my schedule, I realized that I had overbooked my football practice which was at the exact time of the tutorial. I knew what I had to do, I thought I would definitely miss some football practice, but after the meeting I would be able to go which would make me skip all the stretching and running that I loathe, and get right into the serious business of actually playing the sport. At this fact, I smiled as I went to bed that Friday evening.

I awoke the next morning in the same high spirits, anxious to see what the blogging tutorial would teach me since I already have a pretty good knowledge base in computers. After putting my sweats on, and getting ready for the day, Ms. Bulls picked me up and I was off to the tutorial. Upon our arrival, we saw that Don and the others ( Milani Lyman and Ms. LaDonna Williams) had already arrived.

We promptly began the tutorial at about 9:30AM due to some technical conflicts between our schools technology and Don, yet with a little luck we were able to begin.

He started the session by distributing a thick compilation of papers titled “Mandatory Tutorial Agenda.” The document contained 37 topics from blogging itself to a section titled “this and that,” and some of the topics had subgroups within its contents. Immediately I thought, this is not just a tutorial, but an information session on all that is the Ivy League Connection, and that I probably would not be attending practice that day.

I didn’t mind though, the information session was extremely informative; we even had a crash course in photo shop worthy of being in any community college curriculum.

We went through issues that may arise on our trips back East too. I was excited to hear all the plans and fail safes that were in place for situations like forgetting your toothpaste or a flash drive, or even needing a fan. It made me feel more comfortable with the program seeing that they would treat me as their own when need arose, not just as an adult in the real world even when I make mistakes.

I also learned about the administrators of the program through Don Gosney. One can think of him as a mean critical person, but watching him speak that morning allowed me to see that he is simply passionate about what he does. He and his associates are passionate about the Ivy League Connection and they want to achieve the goal of sending young men and women to great schools fit for them, not only in California but across the United States and if a person isn’t doing what they are supposed to be doing in the program, then that person is simply obstructing the way to the goal. I would like to apologize for anything I’ve done to obstruct the Ivy League Connections path and I will try not to get in the way of people that are trying to help me.

Anyway, the Ivy League Connection blogging tutorial was an eye opening experience and a stepping stone toward a truly invigorating experience back East that I can’t wait to attend.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dinner at Perbacco: Making Connections

A cold yet refreshing breeze overwhelmed me and tousled my hair as I strolled down California Street. Finally, the evening of the Vanderbilt dinner had arrived; it was the last of the Ivy League Connection dinners and was to be held at the lovely Perbacco restaurant in San Francisco.

Our company for the dinner included four Vanderbilt Alumni (Rachelle Soderston ‘04, John Tilsch ‘04, John Labiak ’08, and Tyler Sanchez ’10), three of our panelists from our interview for the program (Mr. Hermann Blackmon, Mr. Don Ellis, and Judge Henry Ramsey), three of our School Board members (Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Ms. Merriweather), Don, our chaperone Ms. Bulls, and our parents.

As we ascended a flight of rich, wooden stairs to the second floor of the restaurant, a kind lady offered to take our coats and hang them up for us. We were to dine in the “Baralo” room, which was essentially a large elegant wine cellar. Bottles of fanciful wine lined the glass cases along the wall, and the size of the room provided for an intimate yet lively dining experience.

I had the opportunity to sit between Rachelle Soderston and John Tilsch, two of the four Vanderbilt Alumni. They both graduated in ’04 and provided great insight on Vanderbilt and their rich experiences there.
As I spoke with Rachelle about her decision to attend Vanderbilt, I learned that I wasn’t alone when it came to what I really look for and want in college. Rachelle had initially attended two other colleges, including UCLA, before settling on Vanderbilt. It was comforting to hear from her that changing one’s mind is perfectly fine when it comes to deciding on college.

I was also extremely interested in the fact that Vanderbilt had a very diverse atmosphere; it attracts many students from all fifty states. It was very awesome to hear John speak about his experiences at Vanderbilt and the amazing, lifelong friendships he made with people from across the country. It was pleasing to hear about how wonderful and open-minded the students are at Vanderbilt; I learned the people are just as significant as the academics when it comes to choosing a college.
I also discovered from John that Vanderbilt offers a study abroad program. Although he chose to not study abroad due to his commitment to other things, such as his fraternity in which he was very involved, he encourages others to take the opportunity to do so because it offers the ability to learn and engage in a new culture and environment.
In some ways, I feel as though our journey to Vanderbilt will be like its own study abroad program. We’ll be exposed to a whole new culture, which includes Southern accents (Rachelle confirmed this with me), and we’ll be right in the middle of a somewhat major city, as John put it, and grassy fields. The fact that we will be learning so much more aside from our World Religions course makes me even more excited to embark on our journey.
It was, overall, a very fine evening. But of course, I cannot forget to mention the food: I ordered the duck breast, which was plated with wonderfully warm, caramelized cherries and fresh arugula. It was simply delectable. For dessert, we had a satisfying chocolate cake (or brownie) alongside a light, sweet meringue. I could only devour half my cake, not because I was afraid of smiling with chocolate unknowingly smeared across my teeth, but simply because it was just too rich for my taste.
I am so honored to have had the opportunity to dine with the Alumni, along with everyone else at the dinner. In their speeches, Mr. Ramsey and Ms. Kronenberg stressed one of the most important goals of the Ivy League Connection: to make connections. As the ILC has never had students step foot onto Vanderbilt, I hope we did just that.

I want to thank everyone for the wonderful evening. I am very delighted to have met and spoken to such brilliant people, and now, I am even more excited for the time to approach to travel to the great Ivy League of the South.

Preparing for Adventure: The Vanderbilt Dinner "Comeback Kid"

Tonight was the big night—the Vanderbilt dinner—where Julia, Aiyana, and I would be able to sit and mingle with Vanderbilt Alumni and School Board members, while being able to reunite with our panelists who chose us for our position in the Ivy League Connection.

I was ready with my blue suit picked out, my favorite red and blue tie on standby, and the plan to arrive on time to the El Cerrito Plaza BART Station at 6:30 PM. “6:30,”said Ms Bulls, “We are supposed to meet at the BART Station at 5:30.” The race was on, I knew I would not be able to arrive on time, especially seeing that I only had two minutes to be on time and it takes ten minutes to get to the BART station from my home. When I finally arrived I was actually about ten minutes late and two trains had already passed. Ms. Kronenberg and Don took me anyways after I admitted my mistake.

On the BART ride to Perbacco, a restaurant in San Francisco, Don and I had an interesting conversation about the business of heavy industry.

At Perbacco, the food was amazing we had salad with parmesan cheese as the first course, the main course was an amazing duck breast, and finally one of the best desserts I ever had, simply a hot fudge brownie and a melted, burned, marshmallow, which I believe is called meringue.
There wasn’t a massive amount of people at the dinner, but quality beats quantity any day. I was reunited with panelists Mr. Herman Blackmon, Mr. Don Ellis, and the great Judge Henry Ramsey, along with Board member Ms. Elaine Merriweather, yet I spent most of my time chatting with the extraordinary group of Vanderbilt Alumni (Rachelle Soderston class of '04, John Tilsch class of '04, John Labiak class of '08 Tyler Sanchez class of '10) and Don Gosney about various subjects, from the relationship between students and teachers at Vanderbilt, to immigration in this country.
Overall the dinner, in spite of my technical difficulties, was a wonderful experience, I learned the lesson of time management; triple checking arrangements to make sure the information is communicated effectively; I met many influential young adults who are active in our world today; and work motivated by their experiences at Vanderbilt.

Thank you to all including, Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Don, and our guests from Vanderbilt, who were able to make this event not only possible, but a success.

P.S. glad to hear Don and Mr. Ellis made it back okay.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Delicious and Entertaining Dinner in the City



Last night was the final dinner for this year’s Ivy League Connection group. It was finally Vanderbilt’s turn. As Julia Chang so nicely put it, “they saved the best for last.”

After meeting at BART, and reiterating the importance of punctuality, we embarked on our trip to San Francisco. It was interesting how we were all dressed up and fancy on BART. We got a lot of curious glances, but I just smiled.

Our group consisted of Ms. Yolanda Bulls, Don Gosney, Mr. Charles Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Mr. Don Ellis, Mr. Henry Ramsey, Mr. Herman Blackmon, and Ms. Linda Cohen, as well as we three Vandies and our parents. We reached Perbacco, where we met up with Vanderbilt alumni and School Board Trustee Ms. Elaine Meriweather.


I have never eaten at a fancy restaurant such as Perbacco. The most experience I’ve had with fancy feasts would be from watching shows on the Food Network. I brought a camera, not to take pictures of those who would attend the dinner, but to take pictures of the food. I knew that Don would be taking plenty of photos of the attendees anyway, so I didn’t feel too silly using my camera in order to preserve memories of food. My goodness, that food was delish. I was a bit wary of trying duck for the first time, and because I am a pollo-pescatarian, I could not eat the ribs. So, instead, I chose the vegetarian option which was a delectable dish called gnocchi, which is a sort of potato dumpling. Dessert was heavenly, or some members at the table called it “sinful”. It was an incredibly tasty, warm chocolate brownie/cake with meringue. I have decided to post the menu up on the blog so that I can finally stop describing the wonderful food to you readers, and focus on the actual importance of the event.
My image about how this whole event was going to play out was pretty incorrect. I thought I was going to be placed next to one or two adults at an extremely small table. I feared not being able to connect with my neighbor/s at the table, and worried about awkward silence. But boy, was I wrong. I sat next to two young and exciting alumni and my mother. I felt no awkwardness. We connected, and I learned so much from them.
I am really appreciative of those alumni. Out of the four that were at the restaurant with us, I had the opportunity to speak in depth to two of them. I discovered their experiences at the school, and how they made the best out of their college life. They informed me about their main decisions to choose Vanderbilt; since both of them were from the Midwest (Wisconsin and Illinois), I was interested in learning why they chose this school, and decided to go out of state.


Tyler Sanchez, a recent graduate, shared stories of his travels and work experiences while at college. I let him know that I wanted a school that offered a study abroad program, and he happily informed me that Vanderbilt has a great study abroad program. He talked about his experiences in London and how he could easily and affordably travel around Europe after classes. He talked about working in India and helping with sustainability and agriculture projects. With all this traveling, I was so shocked to learn that all of this did not affect his schedule at Vanderbilt or push back his planned graduation year. Tyler also pointed out how incredibly affordable Vanderbilt could be, thanks to scholarships. Both Tyler, and my neighbor John Tilsch, shared information on college life, and what they participated in while attending school. Though both John and Tyler had different experiences at Vanderbilt, both loved the school, and had a great time. I loved hearing about their varying experiences.
Because this is the first time the ILC is taking students to Vanderbilt, John and Tyler knew very little about the program. After doing my best to explain to them what the program is, what its intentions are, and how we got accepted into the program, I could tell that these two alumni were very interested in the ILC. They were impressed by all of us ILC members, and I hope that we all inspired them to continuously be involved in the Ivy League Connection.

Obviously, the Ivy League Connections is about connecting. We all came together and shared our memories, our experiences, our history, and our future. We’re all connected together one way or another, and if no connections are shared, new ones are created. This program grants us with countless opportunities. We get to meet new people and learn new information.

This evening was a night to remember. I had a fantastic time at the Vanderbilt dinner. I am extremely glad that this night was made possible. A blanket of thanks goes out to those who attended the dinner. Your time contribution is greatly appreciated. I hope we can all keep in touch and stay connected through the ILC.

The Ivy League of the South

Some would say we’ve lost our focus.  How could The Ivy League Connection send our students to a school that isn’t a part of the Ivy League?  Vanderbilt is a full 750 miles from Columbia University, even further away from Harvard and Cornell and is significantly closer to Dallas than it is to Brown.  They even talk funny there.

BUT…Vanderbilt is claimed by some to be The Ivy League of the South so we’re compelled to send three of Pinole’s finest to Nashville to find out for themselves.  Aiyana Hedeen-Garrett, Kye Duren and Julia Chang will trek east along with chaperone Yolanda Bulls where our three Spartans will study World Religions.
Tonight, though, the ILC team gathered at Perbacco in San Francisco where we were joined by four recent Vanderbilt Alums.  Rachelle Soderstrom (’04), John Tilsch (’04), John Labiak (’08) and Tyler Sanchez (‘10) shared with our group their experiences and insights about attending Vanderbilt.

Strangely, all four of our alums hail from areas other than the South.  Something about Vanderbilt called out to them and changed their lives forever.
Several of us noticed that our three Vanderbilt cohorts seemed to hang on every word coming from the mouths of our alums.  They were soaking in every bit of knowledge they could.

As much as the conversation enthralled me, I didn’t lose my focus so when the food was brought out I gave it the full respect it deserved.  Some had the plate of ribs and they looked awfully nice but I’m betting that those of us who had the duck got the better end of the deal.  Just my opinion, mind you, but it’s based on having eaten almost every day for better than a half century.  Experience should count for something, shouldn’t it? 

No matter how the argument goes with regards to the entrĂ©e, there simply could not be any controversy when it came to the hot chocolate cake thingy they put in front of us for dessert.  If the lights had been a little dimmer and there was any way to distract those sitting close to me, I would have swapped my empty plate for their full one and I’d still be there scarfing down a few more of those delectable goodies.

Good food aside, though, one of the benefits of this evening’s event is that we met some new friends that we can call on to work with our youth and provide them guidance about yet another fine university for them to consider.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blogging: Until the Last One Standing

The second half of the ILC gathered for a blogging tutorial session led by Don Gosney Saturday morning at the Hercules Public Library.

I made sure to wake up and leave the house in a timely manner in order to assist Don with setting up the conference room for the tutorial. As I sat in the car next to my mother, cruising along to the library, I admit I was a bit nervous-- although this was going to be one of the more relaxed events, in contrast to the upcoming dinners and School Board Meeting, I was anxious to meet the other members of the ILC from the other high schools for the first time. Despite my excitement, I reminded myself to stay composed-- this certainly was not going to be the last time I would be meeting new and important people during my participation in this program-- I must learn to become more comfortable with it.

And so, after relaxing my nerves (which, unfortunately, will undoubtedly tense again and again as more events approach), we arrived at our destined meeting place. 


I recognized Don standing with a young man in front of the library. A timid person by nature, I hesitated approaching Don and the stranger, but finally I worked up the nerve to walk up to the two to greet Don and introduce myself to Tom Miller, whom I learned will be travelling to Yale this summer for the Grand Strategies course.

We spoke about our respective programs for a bit as we awaited the opening of the library. When it finally did, the three of us made our way inside to the conference room reserved for our session. As we arranged and turned tables and chairs around to face the front of the room, more students, along with their chaperones, began piling in. Soon, we were all ready to set to work with our laptops on and our eyes fixed on Don.

As a first time blogger, I learned a lot about how to write exceptional blogs from Don; information and tips about taking and uploading pictures were covered, suggestions for blog content were offered, and so much more useful material that will aid me in this process of reflective writing.

I truly am looking forward to documenting my experience as part of the ILC with this blog. We will be blogging regularly from now until the end of our trip. Hopefully, I will be able to apply the skills I learned at the tutorial well so that I may offer greater insight into my thoughts, feelings, and things I will encounter throughout my journey to Vanderbilt and back.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Opening My Eyes; LaVonya DeJean School Board Meeting

After a busy week/weekend filled with studying, AP testing, SATs, 90 pages of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and celebrating Mother’s Day, I am glad to say that the end of this jam-packed Junior year is near. 

Despite this hectic time, I was excited to attend the ILC School Board Meeting at LaVonya DeJean. I had only been to a school board meeting once before, when I was much younger, regarding school-closures. But this time, I wasn’t going to the meeting to sit in the audience; this time, I was the one on the agenda.

We were being presented to the School Board. All current ILC members from every school and program were there. Our chaperones were showing us to the School Board to recognize all of our hard work, dedication, and perseverance, and describe the schools we will be visiting and the program we will be participating in.

What I enjoyed most about the meeting was hearing ILC alumni speak about their experiences and studies during the program. We got to hear their take on the workload, the environment, the program, and what school they are attending this upcoming year. Though they probably don’t know it, their speeches had a grand effect on me. Their speeches made me want to leave for Vanderbilt that very moment. Their speeches pushed me farther and farther away from my nervousness about leaving California, to attend a college thousands of miles away. And from their speeches, I realized that all of these students in the ILC applied to an Ivy League College, and it seems like most, if not all, will actually be going to school at one. And it wasn’t until that moment that it actually hit me; I could be a student at an Ivy League School. Who would of ever thought that I would have this big of a chance of getting into such prestigious and highly selective schools?
After presenting the new ILC participants, the sponsors of the program were awarded certificates of appreciation. It was nice to see the faces of those who are helping us reach our greatest potential.

Once again, I would like to thank all of those who help make the ILC possible. Each one of these events I attend opens my eyes more and more to the great possibilities in store for me. I can’t wait for the Vanderbilt dinner next week!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just a Teaser

The 2011 Ivy League Connection cohorts, their chaperones and parents gather for a group photo after being presented to the West Contra Costa Unified School District on May 4th.

Stay tuned for more photos.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

School Board Meeting: An Introduction

This evening, I, along with my fellow ILC cohorts, attended the WCCUSD School Board meeting at LoVonya Dejean Middle School in Richmond to be formally presented to the Board.

The visit to Richmond was a reminiscent one - I had lived in the city and attended school there at Grant Elementary until the third grade. I truly enjoyed the education I received there; at Grant, I had the opportunity to explore and engage in such a diverse area of subjects besides the usual English-Language Arts and Mathematics, such as music, singing, dancing, and performing arts. Only when I transferred to Elizabeth Stewart School in Pinole did I realize how fortunate I was to grow up at a school that so strongly supported student creativity.

When the meeting commenced, each individual group stood before the School Board as their chaperone introduced them and expressed their thanks and hopes for the trip. It was such an honor to watch as each bright, young individual rose up and stood before the Board, and as I did so, I truly was beholding the leaders of our future.
In addition to this year's ILC students being introduced to the School Board, a few students from last year's group who applied and were accepted to Ivy League schools were also presented at the meeting; the backbone of their great achievement, of course, being the ILC. Listening to the speeches from these students, such as Austin Long and Guadalupe Morales, was truly inspiring for me. The impossible dream of going to college at an Ivy League University suddenly seemed just an arm's reach away. I watched with awe as they spoke of their experiences and their inspiration to attend such prestigious schools, and I found myself thinking that one day, that would be me standing there before the School Board, telling them of my decision to attend an Ivy League college for the next four years of my life.

It never occurred to me that perhaps I could, with a bit of work and perspiration, study at such eminent colleges, but here was living proof right in front of me - proof that with the drive to succeed and determination, you really can reach your goals, and possibly even more than you ever believed possible.

On my way home after the meeting, I thought long and hard about the possibilities. They were endless.

The world, I realized, is so much bigger than Pinole, so much bigger than the Bay Area, so much bigger than California. Of course I always knew that there are so many more opportunities out there, such as Ivy League schools, but until tonight, I had never considered them at all, let alone that they are feasible. Any college or university that was out-of-state was always a no-go, but now, I think perhaps it has the possibility of simply becoming a "go".