Arriving back to the Bay Area, the place I have called home for the sixteen years of my life, it seems as though the invisible gates that have been holding me back have been pushed open, with the vast whole world shining beyond them.
I returned home with knowledge—more than I could have ever expected to come back with. During my time in the Southeast, I had many “firsts”—my first time having grits, to my first time standing and beholding the beauty in a Hindu temple. The exposure to a completely new culture and setting has altered my mindset and opened it, ready to accept and embrace new ideas.
I walked into the program with almost no knowledge of college—I just knew I wanted to succeed and do my best, as I have always tried to do. Of course, I honestly never even considered schools across the country because they have always seemed too far out of reach. However, possibility has now become possible.
There has been an incredible growth in me as well. I will admit that I walked into the program with doubt in myself—how could I not when I was the only sophomore from my school participating in the ILC, having to live up to the ideals of the juniors who were taking AP classes and had already survived through the SATs and ACTs?
I think that is one of the things that inhibited me in the beginning, but as I continued into the program and worked hard to prove myself to others as well as myself, I found myself.
I developed something invaluable and completely necessary for success in life: confidence. I am confident in myself and my abilities to go beyond the expectations of others as well as myself. I am confident that I can and will compete alongside some of the brightest students across the world and nation and do well.
Through it all—the dinners, the campus visits, the program itself—I have learned an invaluable amount of information about college.
The opportunity to meet admissions officers on such an intimate level during dinners and breakfast was truly an honor and a priority.
I learned so much about Vanderbilt from Rachelle Soderston and John Tilsch during our dinner at Perbacco’s—one of the first milestones of our incredible journey—and Mr. John Nesbitt at Fido’s for breakfast. I learned what campus life is like from a student’s perspective and the rich experiences each has had at the prestigious university, from studying abroad to developing life-long friendships. I also gained insight to the admissions process for Vanderbilt, and understand what I must do to make myself an able applicant to a highly selective school.
I know now that the college application process started on the first day I stepped foot into Pinole Valley High School as a freshman and will not end until the day I walk across the stage to accept my diploma. There is much work ahead, but I am ready for it—more ready than I have ever been.
From the lovely dinner at ECCO with Ms. Merideth Ray to the supper at Bacchanalia’s, I learned about the beauty of Emory College and the bountiful opportunities that the students are opened to at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The visit to Emory College was bursting with a fresh outlook on attending a smaller, closely-knit institution. With a strong emphasis on academic rigor, it being a liberal arts college encourages students to expose themselves to a broad panorama of academic concepts, which can be done through Emory’s exceptional study abroad programs that range from countries in Latin America to the Middle East.
The Georgia Institute of Technology—the #7 public university in the nation—is a research-based institution where students can gain hands-on experience in an array of different fields, from Aerospace Engineering to Biochemistry. Students can even begin work in researching in their freshman year if desired. Tech also offers co-op and internship opportunities, and it is the largest voluntary program in the country!
Although it is not likely that I will attend college in Georgia, the visits and informational sessions were invaluable. I learned so much about what I should be looking for in a college and have developed a better sense of my dream university. My perspective in my search for college has also been widened through these—I understand now that there truly is an overflowing abundance of options out there, and there are no limitations.
I learned how important it really is to visit a college. Just a simple visit—a stroll through the campus, a conversation with a student, an informational session with an admissions counselor. That one visit can make it or break it, because you honestly cannot know the college without experiencing it.
My World Religions class was no doubt one of the many highlights of my time at Vanderbilt. I had the privilege of being part of a classroom environment unlike any other I have experienced. With only eleven students sitting in the desks around me, I was able to engage myself in class, asking questions whenever something was unclear, and voicing my opinions and thoughts during the many class discussions held. The small class size definitely made a difference in my learning experience, and it is something I am no doubt going to take into account when considering a college.
Also, I have returned with a deep appreciation and respect for culture and religion, both of which are closely intertwined. I learned about the histories and practices of the five diverse major faiths of the world, and even had the honor of visiting their holy places. Coming from a family that practices little religion, I was exposed to completely new concepts every single day which sometimes had me asking more questions than they answered. Some could even say I came back enlightened, in a strange way.
I have had the amazing opportunity to study and thrive alongside some of the brightest students from across the country, and it has truly made me more determined to work even harder than I am now to reach my full potential. I come from a public high school in California where one has to work hard to succeed in the environment, and yet I am proud of my roots, proud of my community, and proud of all those who commit their time and effort into their education because it holds the key to our futures.
My time at Vanderbilt was nothing short of extraordinary. I truly had one of the best times of my life there, learning an immeasurable amount of new things and making some of the most beautiful friendships with amazing, hardworking students like myself.
It made me honestly think about what kind of college I wanted to spend years of my life at, if I wanted to be walking down the same pebbly path between the towering trees two years from now.
College is not a long way ahead as I had previously and constantly thought to myself. The experiences I have had have me yearning for college, and I am more excited than ever to embark on my journey towards my future education with an enlightened and educated mind.
Of course, simply because our journey to the Southeast is over does not mean our work here at home is. Besides encouraging our peers to expand their horizon and look beyond their current limits when applying to college, I along with my Vanderbilt cohort will to begin working with the younger generation of students at our school to prepare them early on for college. We are currently putting together a Mock Admissions Session—the workshop we took part in at Vanderbilt—to allow the students to see exactly what the admissions officers see and consider when they apply for college in a few years. The students will be able to decide who the most qualifying candidate is from a group of four rather exceptional students, each with different shining qualities. They will accept one, wait-list two, and reject one. I learned a large amount of information through this workshop, and hopefully these students will as well and be prepared for their senior year. As I stated before, the application process begins right when they walk through the door on the first day of school.
This entire experience—everything from the stretch limousine to the pool party—has been incredible. I want to extend my gratitude to Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, and Don for the Ivy League Connection. It has been an honor being an ambassador of my school and community in the Southeast.
I also want to thank the sponsors of the Ivy League Connection for making all of our experiences possible. It has truly been a three weeks that I will not forget any time soon.
In addition, many heartfelt thanks to the Vanderbilt cohort: Ms. Bulls for being a loving and caring chaperone who always took the best care of us; Aiyana Hedeen-Garrett and Kye Duren for being the greatest companions and fellow-pioneers that anyone could ever ask for.
It has been a pleasure, and I certainly cannot bring this to an end without a Southern valediction:
I’ll see y’all later—it’s been real!