Tuesday, May 26, 2015

One Day Closer...

Today I was delighted to meet my Cornell Cohort at the Extreme Pizza in Hercules. After much planning, we finally met together to bond, As I arrived there at the appropriate time, I saw that most of my cohort was already there. Over joyed from seeing them, I rushed over to give them a hug and greet them. 

When we all finally arrived, we decided to order some food. As we walked up to the cashier to read the menu, Thao and I had a dilemma. Thao and I couldn't read the fine print menu above the cashier. As we terribly strained our eyes to make out the nonsense words ranging from "ragin' rooster" to "wham bham", we found it hilarious when we saw the small menu brochure place neatly against the cash register. When we finally all ordered we sat down and began to discuss our journey that awaits us this summer. 

Mr.Chan-law went over the unset itinerary for the summer. Inventively listening, I began to get more excited about the trip. He told us that we would go to Washington D.C, Pennsylvania, and Atlanta, Georgia to tour a college from each of those locations. After listening, not only was I ecstatic to go to Cornell but I became more invested and interested in going to the different colleges in those various places.

Not only did we discuss our itinerary, we got to know each other better. With out this meet up I wouldn't have known that Stephen and Justice are die-hard baseball fans or that Helen is a soccer player for her school. This meet up gave me the confidence that this coming adventure will be great and that is because I am able to spend it with some of the most amazing people.  

Having a CHEESY Time!

Today was a meet and greet with the Cornell cohort and our chaperone, Alfredo Chan-Law. We all ate at Extreme Pizza in Hercules. To be honest, I live 10 minutes away from the restaurant and decided to take my sweet time strolling to the destination. I walked there, but found myself distracted by Mother Nature. I was thinking that I was going to be the first one there and didn't want to awkwardly there waiting for everyone; however, it was the complete opposite. I was the last person to arrive... I was that person. I found it ironic to be the closest one, in terms of distance, but the latest one. In my defense, the stop light took 2 hours, in reality it was 10 seconds. 

While at Extreme Pizza, Mr. Chan-Law gave us a quick summary of our itinerary for our voyage to the east. I'm looking forward to the campus tours and the knowledge that the trip will teach me. After the informational discussion, we got our food that we ordered earlier. It was funny to see that Helen, Julie, and I all got the same pizza, the Yard Sale. It was stuffed with Italian sausages, salami, olives, cheese, and more onto four fat slices. I was full by the end of my third slice, but had the determination to continue on because it was really good. It was a fun meet and greet and I enjoyed its close proximity. I know that I will be having a blast with the Cornell group; can't wait until the next few weeks!

Extreme Pizza Leading to an Extreme Trip

"I will call you once we finish. See you later!", I exclaimed to my mom as I closed the car door. Quickly I paced into the pizza parlor and laid my eyes on Mr. Chan-Law and Justice. Am I late? No, its only 6:21 PM. As I said my hellos, all of our attention turned towards the Hawks vs. Cavaliers game. 

It was not until Julie walked in, when we became focused and started chit chatting with one another. Even though the game was entertaining, we were there to mingle, not stare at a TV. 

Once Julie walked in, she was followed by Helen, Shanti, and Thao a few minutes later. As we lined up to place our order, we got lucky enough to all step on something sticky on the floor. Eventually, we were able to all get together at one table and chat about our upcoming trip. With Chan-Law guiding us through our upcoming schedule, every now and then we would ask questions or Shanti would share her experiences from last year. 

My Cornell Cohort hard at work, eating pizza.

The pizza arrived and the chattering quieted down and was replaced by chewing. Hands became dirty and napkins were being constantly used. With 7:30 coming near, we all began calling our parents to come pick us up. Surprisingly, my mom was the first to arrive, allowing me to get the chance to shake both Chan-Law's and Justice's hand and give all the ladies "see you later" hugs. Thinking about our trip makes me more and more excited for it to be time to depart from SFO airport. 

Hyping the Trip

Extreme Pizza in Hercules
With the school clock winding down to its final weeks, the reality of going to Cornell University for the summer is starting to sink in more and more, and today's meet and greet was just another milestone that has made me hungrier for my visit.  I arrived at Extreme Pizza in Hercules around 6:10, 20 minutes before the meet-up time.  Being an avid-basketball fan, I wanted to be able to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers match up against the Atlanta Hawks before the meeting started.  One by one, members of my cohort started to arrive and I greeted them with a hello and a handshake or a hug.  The greeting went beyond a basic hello, as I broke the ice and made basic conversation to bond with my fellow cohort members.  Ironically, Thao, who lived the closest to Extreme Pizza, was the last person to show up, which I found amusing.

After everyone arrived, we ordered our food, sat down, and started discussing the plans for our trip.  Mr. Chan-Law laid out the schedule for our trip, which includes visits to Atlanta, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and, of course, New York.  As a group, we discussed how long we would stay at each place, what we would do, and where we would go.  The trip starts off on June 16th with a flight to Atlanta to see Emory, followed by a trip to Washington D.C. to see Georgetown, a trip to Philadelphia to see UPENN, and finally, a trip to Ithaca to attend Cornell.  The entire conversation got me more and more excited for the trip; the more our cohort went into our plans, the more anxious I got.  The meeting wasn't so black and white either.  We'd veer off-topic a little bit and throw in a couple jokes or sly comments here and there, which I believed meshed our group together more than it already was.  All in all, the meeting was incredibly fun and informative and made me a little more excited for this life changing experience.  

The Best Yard Sale Ever

When I arrived at the pizza place, three familiar faces were already seated at a table. Chan-Law came up to greet me with a handshake and I waved at Justice and Stephen behind him. Today we were meeting up with the cohort to discuss plans for the trip. When everyone arrived, we lined up behind the counter and placed our orders. Shanti handed me a fold-able menu. My eyes widened as I skimmed the page. Despite living in Hercules, I've never been to Extreme Pizza so I was taken back by the creative names for pizza. As the others ordered, Helen and I contemplated on whether to order the "Wham, Bam, Thank You Mammoth" or "Screamin' Tomato." We ended up settling for the "Yard Sale" because heaven knows mushrooms are the heart of the pizza.

Justice getting down to business discussing Cooperstown
As we waited for our delicious disks to arrive, Chan-Law ran through the summer plan. We roughly covered the dates and went over the sites we would visit. At each site, everyone had their chance to share their eagerness. Shanti jumped into the conversation at the mention of Georgetown. A satisfied fist pump was earned from Justice at the mention of Cooperstown. Everyone at the table sat up when he mentioned a visit to Niagara falls. Chan-Law proceeded to discuss the housing arrangements and campus life. I would most likely be rooming with someone from outside my Cohort which was exciting news. Although we would be occupied with classes, our cohort would try to meet up twice a week to mingle and catch up. Two weeks ago, I was nervous and excited for the trip. Now I'm full on ready. I have to stop myself from imagining the dorms and scenery in case I let out an excited squeal in the middle of Calculus.

A little after the discussion, everyone had a piping hot plate of tomato covered disk sitting in front of them. While didn't spare another second and dove into our meals. 
The great Yard Sale. Would order again!

Pizza Jokes are on the Rise!

This evening at 6:30 PM I met with the rest of the Cornell cohort (Shanti, Stephen, Julie, Thao, Justice, and our chaperone Alfredo Chan-Law) at Extreme Pizza in Hercules. Our group was watching the Hawks and Cavaliers basketball game before our pizza arrived, and we also went over the tentative plan for this coming summer.

The busy few days before the Cornell programs start will be filled with college tours at Emory University, Georgetown University, and University of Pennsylvania. Chan-Law even said that we might be able to go to Niagara Falls during one of the weekends, and maybe even to Cooperstown. I've never been to Niagara Falls, and that would be a really fun activity to do during our free time. 

Our trip is getting closer and closer, it's only about three weeks away! I can't wait for our adventure to start.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Meeting for Gratitude

Meetings are traditionally an event which drives people to scramble for excuses, maybe feeding the cat for the fifth time, but this was one meeting I couldn't wait to attend.

Aside from the amazing members in my Cohort, I became acquainted with other ILC members during our early blogging lesson in March. At the meeting, I was eager to catch up on their dinner stories and chaperone greetings. Before the meeting began, a sea of ILC students gathered at the side of the room, everyone greeting each other, reminiscing the details of their evening dinner, sharing tips on newly found information and discussing our excitement for the upcoming summer.

Grouping together with the other cohorts also brought a sense of unity in our group of Cornies. Although everyone in our group is enrolled in a high school, we are all Cornell students. At the school board meeting, I met with a few of my classmates, but they weren't really my classmates that evening. They were members in the cohort of Brown or Chicago. It was an unspoken pride in a school we weren't familiar with.
Our conversations came to a close as the groups gathered with their corresponding Chaperones. After a series of technical announcements, the school board recognized the excellence of De Anza High School. The whole staff came forward, expressing their gratitude toward the school board and sharing their experiences on how the school has evolved. Sitting to my left was a mesmerized Stephen, proudly nudging me and whispering, "that's my school."

 Finally, it was our time to shine. I sat at the tip of my chair, both my feet shooting straight down an
Justice reciting his breathtaking speech
my back forming a perpendicular line with the chair. The schools were called forward one by one, our cohort being second. After Alyanna Paulino finished her speech, our group let out a simultaneous breath. We stood up together and unraveled the stunning ruby Cornell flag. Chaperone Chan-Law said a few words expressing our gratitude and running through our summer schedule before stepping aside the podium for Justice. We turned our heads over, ears tuned in and hands worried slick. Finally, he sung the first word and the room echoed with his voice. After the fist sentence, the rest of the speech rolled off his tongue. We all returned to our seats when he finished, each of us giving him the proud shoulder hold or hand shake before retiring to our chairs. Meanwhile, the remaining four schools gave their speeches. Each cohort expressed their gratitude toward the school board for making this opportunity possible and thanking many groups individually for their role in the success of the program. I am so proud of everyone who spoke during the evening, though more than anything, I'm proud of Justice for his magnificent representation of the Cornies.  

Holding up the beautiful flag as Mr. Chan-Law says a few words
Before the night ended, Don Gosney himself shared a few words about the success of the IVY League program and a previous member of the ILC came forward to share her experiences about the way this program influenced her. Michelle introduced herself and provided some background before sharing her personal statement with the room. When the first sentence came, my heart skipped a beat. The atmosphere changed; we were no longer at the school board meeting. Her words drew an image of a struggling high school student who experienced an epiphany at Brown University. She acknowledged the power of any failure, so long as an individual is willing to accept and learn from their mistakes. After her speech, Don closed the lid on our end, the school board shared words of encouragement, and our group migrated over to the gym for the legendary photo which would be hung on every counselor's door and office's wall of fame. 

At every event thus far, I've taken something back home to thing about. Today I took back gratitude. Never in my life have I felt so thankful. The night I came home from the interview, every cell in my body was squealing from excitement, but I realized the position I would be taking this summer is made possible by countless people. As a student who received this blessing, I swear to myself that I will make a difference, share every drop of information about the east coast to every soul, improve on myself and inspire those around me, and do what it takes to give back in actions what the school board, parents, chaperones, and sponsors have provided in funds.  
The photo to close the night off.

Giving a Special Thanks

Today was the day that the whole Ivy League Connection program attended the WCCUSD School Board meeting. Although I was quiet familiar to the surrounding and how the meeting was going to proceed, it always amazes me to see all the cohorts, chaperones, parents, and it's generous supporters all in one room. 

Earlier on, before the board meeting started, all the cohorts were able to mingle and socialize with one another. I was quiet happy due to the fact that this is the first event that I would meet all the cohorts representing themselves all under one roof. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to talk to another who is just as understanding and excited about the opportunity at hand. Seeing old alumni and old friends reminded me of how much fun I will have and all the knowledge I will gain. Meeting new members gave me a sense of confidence in my journey and familiarity to them and myself. 

During the meeting, we would moved up the agenda, therefore being able to present ourselves earlier. Although I was unfortunate to not give the speech, I knew that the School Board Representatives understood our gratitude towards them. Seeing some of the students speak behalf of the program, widened my eyes to the undeniable truth of what this program really does. To put it into short words: it changes student's lives for the better. This program shows students that when it comes to academics the more impossible things to achieve becomes possible. 

Having a chance to witness all the students gratitude, made me realize how important it is to show my gratitude toward those who supported the program as well as the students on their academic journey. I'd like to thank all the sponsors for giving the generous investments into my fellow ILCers future, as well as mine, and  the supporters of the program, which includes all the parents and teachers always encouraging us since day one. Without the School Board and its fine and dedicated members this program wouldn't be able to change our lives, therefore I'd like to show my appreciation toward them by doing what is asked of me when I embark on my journey, which is to learn, to experience, and to give back. 

When I left the premises of the School Board meeting, I couldn't help to feel a sense of accomplishment and determination. I solemnly thought to myself "I will NOT fail, I will succeed. I will make this program and my school proud!" 

A Place for Recognition, Appreciation, and Reflection

Just a few hours ago, the ILCers, including myself, attended the school board meeting at DeJean Middle School. At 5:30 PM I arrived early to the multipurpose room to find my cohort waiting patiently for the rest of the ILCers. For the time being, I  socialized with the the majority of ILCers who will be attending UPenn, Brown, Vanderbilt, Columbia, or Chicago. We energetically discussed about our excitement for their life-changing experience. It was amazing to be able to reconnect with many of my ILC friends that I met during the blog tutorial as well as from the past year. I enjoyed going from person to person asking their name, school, and program that they will be attending this summer. To be honest, I was mainly excited to see the W&L cohort; since I am a past W&L student. I expressed the fun times they will have with the one and only, Dean Almandrez. Once it was getting close to the start of the event, we quickly took our seats with our cohort and waited for the meeting to begin. 

Justice delos Santos
Once the meeting started, it was a good 30 minutes (I think) before Dr. Harder started introducing the Ivy League Connection. First it was Columbia, next Cornell, then Brown, after UPenn, then Vanderbilt, and lastly Chicago. Justice delos Santos was the speaker of Cornell, speaking in behalf of all of us. Throughout his speech, he had impeccable flow, necessary emphasis, and a beautiful tone. His words spoke for all of us, the thanks to the teachers, students, sponsors, families, and "the amazing school board members." I definitely took pride in where I belonged when standing in front of the school board members. I was delighted with Justice's speech, and fell into a world where I took his words into my heart, body, and soul. So, I want to personally want to thank Justice for his major success. 

After the many speeches from the six Ivy League Colleges, we had a guest speaker, a fellow W&L student. When she spoke, I fell into another dimension, losing my track on time, and flowing with her words. I loved, with emphasis on loved, her speech. With the preparation of personal statements in my AP Language and Composition class, I hadn't thought of how to express the beauty of the Ivy League Connection; but she showed me the way. Her speech to the school board made me remember the quote Dean Almandrez once said to us.

"A misinformed people is a subjugated people."- Gloria Anzaldua

Once hearing that quote from the W&L course, I had to reflect on what society is and why I have not realized the truth behind it. Like a mask covering up the hidden treasures, I was the one who did not search for it until I was given the key. So, I would like to thank you as well, because I appreciate the remembrance of my impactful moments at Brown. 

I would like to conclude with what I reflected on today. First the recognition we received from our community. It is always good to refresh how our accomplishments will effect our district. We, the ILCers, are the reflections of the the WCCUSD and we will show with pride the accomplishments we made. Secondly, appreciation. I am grateful for this opportunity, as well as the sponsors' generosity to fund this awesome organization. I can't express with words the many thanks and tears that are within my bottled up body. And lastly reflection. This school board meeting provided a place for me to reflect on my past experience, and how I will make a change to the people and community around me. I will bring back, because what's the fun of the experience it I don't share it with my peers. 

Finally, two last words....thank you. 
Our Fabulous Group Photo

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Remembering the Gentlemen & Recognizing the Brilliant

"Now, Justice delos Santos will say a few words for us."

. . .

Let's go back, about say, one month.  It was a normal Saturday evening.  I was relaxing following an exhausting track meet in which I set a new personal record in the mile with a time of 4:45.  My girlfriend even paid me a visit.  It was a great day and I felt the need to relax and get life off my mind.  
Lo and behold I received an email notification from the man, the myth, the legend Don Gosney regarding who was going to speak at the school board meeting on behalf of my cohort.  I didn't respond quickly, as not only was my body gone, but my mind was a little shot as well.  I fell asleep on the couch and woke up with my head a little more mentally refreshed.  I opened up my Gmail app and read my emails.  Fellow cohort member Julie Lum volunteered to speak at the dinner, which left who was going to speak at the school board meeting and represent the Cornell cohort.  It took me a few moment, but I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to announce my presence in the Ivy League Connection.  I responded that I would be willing to speak on behalf of my cohort and drifted back on off to dreamland.  

Fast-forward one month later.  Wednesday, May 20th.  The big night.  The opportunity to speak in front of the school board and make my cohort proud.  I had just finalized my speech about two hours prior to arriving at Livonia DeJean Middle school.  Upon arriving, I met up with my fellow cohort member Stephen and we chatted it up a little bit.  We saw our fellow cohort member Shanti and we all walked into the beautiful multi-purpose room together, where we saw Julie and Thao.  Helen showed up a couple minutes and we had our whole cohort together 20 minutes to 6.  I was nervous as heck when I walked into the gym and saw the school board's semicircle formation on the stage, with the menacing black chairs.  It was something about black that made me fear this speech and dropped my heart.  I solidly examined the stage and told myself "There's nothing to be afraid of.  Go out there and represent." It brought me ease. 

Prior to the meeting, I mingled with some students from other various cohorts, too many to specify because everyone was so incredibly friendly and made me feel welcome.  During the course of conversation, I noticed an eerie trend when I looked around.  I couldn't confirm it until I counted.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  Seven.  Only seven boys?  Total?  There's no way this is right.  One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  Seven.  To my shock, there were only seven total boys enrolled in the Ivy League Connection, which absolutely rocked me.  I knew that there was a discrepancy between the number of girls and the number of boys but my goodness!

As the school board meeting started and I settled into my seat, I began to get my mind right, remembering presentation tips from Mock Trial and mentally preparing myself for what's ahead.  The meeting began nice and smoothly.  Members of the school board started going through various topics and two student representatives from Samuel Gompers High School were present, (congratulations Gompers!) which, in my opinion, was a great sight to behold.  After they went through a couple items, an announcement was made that the Ivy League presentations were going to be moved up from the fourth item on the agenda to the second.  When I heard this my stomach sank.  I was content to let people plead their cases before the school board and ease into the transition, but they moved the presentations up right ahead to the front of the agenda.  "Stay calm, stay cool, stay focused," I thought to myself.  "It's no big deal.  You know what you need to do."

We were scheduled to be the second cohort to present on the list, with Columbia going first.  My good friend Alyanna was going to be reading a speech, so when her name was called, I cheered for her.  When she started reading her speech, I came to realize that many of the phrases she used were almost directly out of my own speech, which I found incredibly funny considering that we didn't consult each other about the speech until the night of once!

After Columbia sat down and Cornell was called up, I got incredibly nervous because I knew that all my pre-meeting preparations were about to go into effect.  All the practice and repetition was about to be put into work.  We were introduced one-by-one by our chaperone Mr. Chan-Law.  When he said my name, I felt a sense of pride because it hit me at a ton of bricks that I was one of the luckiest kids on earth to have the opportunity to go to such a prestigious university.  After Mr. Chan Law said a few words, he concluded by saying, "Now, Justice delos Santos will say a few words for us."  

"Remember, Justice," I thought to myself. "Pace yourself, five points of presentation, breathe, and smile."

Those may have been the fastest two minutes of my life.  When I started speaking, the words started flowing out of me.  I'd glance at my paper from time to time, but I wasn't glued to it as I tried as hard as I could to make eye contact with every member of the school board.  I was no longer nervous and with each word spoken my confidence grew more and more.  At the end of my speech, I felt ecstasy because I knew I made my cohort proud, the program proud, and of course, my parents proud.  Everyone in my cohort was telling me that I killed it and I truly felt that I had properly represented the 2015 Ivy League Connection Cornell cohort.  

Following amazing speeches by the remaining schools, we all shuffled into the gym where we organized ourselves, got mobbed by the Ivy League Connection parent paparazzi, and took some incredibly beautiful group pictures, about 30 in all.  I was able to introduce myself to more people and congratulate those who made their speeches.  It was a fantastic way to end an unforgettable night.  Before disembarking for the evening, I made sure to collect all of the boys and take a group picture.   Boys were apparently a rare species in the Ivy League Connection these days so all of us meeting in the same place warranted a picture.  Before our kind gets bombarded from the Ivy League Connection by the likes of the female race, I remembered only one phrase: "Remember the gentlemen." 

Together Under the Same Roof

For the first time this year, all participating members of the 2015 Ivy League Connection program were together in the same room. This included not only the students, but chaperones, sponsors, parents, and Don. Tonight, everyone was brought together to be recognized and applauded for being able to make it to where they are now. 

It was that day again. As the end of school bell rang, I was the first one to race across the school grounds to meet my mom. The next couple hours consisted of a dental appointment, a quick shower, and small after school lunch. Before I knew it, I was in the back seat of the car on my way to Lovonya DeJean Middle School. 

Justice, was coincidentally the first person I ran into as I was walking towards the cafeteria. Right away both of us caught up with each other, even though we saw each other two days ago, and entered the school board meeting one behind the other. There we ran into Julie, Shanti, Thao, and Helen, who arrived a few minutes later. After greeting each other, our cohort was eager to introduce ourselves to the rest of the ILCers. Immediately we met people going to Columbia, Brown, and a few other prestigious universities. 

As the school board meeting commenced, Todd Groves led everyone through the national anthem and began going down the list of to-dos. At last, the school board reached the topic of congratulating the ILC program. One cohort at a time, the chaperone spoke and introduced each member attending the program, followed by one student speaker. Each speech consisted of endless thank yous to sponsors and volunteers, and brought up ideas of how current ILCers will give back to our community once the program ends. 

Once all the cohorts introduced themselves, everyone fled to the gymnasium for a group photo. With photographer Don on duty, every student, parent, and chaperone was placed in precise locations. Together the entire group smiled through 25 straight and continuous photographs taken. As everyone disbanded and said their good byes, the ILC boys got fancy and requested Don to take a separate photo of just guys. After taking pictures, names and numbers were quickly exchanged between the 7 of us. This led a great ending to a great night.

From left to right, Jae-An, Brandon, Justice, Arnold, Rudy, Stephen, and Mark.

[Ivy League] School Board Meeting

On Wednesday, May 20th, 2015, the School Board Meeting took place at Lovonya Dejean Middle School. The Ivy League Connection students, sponsors, chaperones, and parents all arrived to talk about the program and thank the Board members for  their valuable support.

I arrived and met up with my cohort before the meeting began. I mingled with other Ivy League Connection students and talked with Mahi Taban who is going to Brown University this summer. Before the meeting started, all the cohorts sat down together in their groups.

Once the meeting began and early business was covered, the cohorts were called up one by one to introduce themselves and one member was selected to give a small speech to the School Board. All the speakers were wonderful and eloquent and did a marvelous job.

After Ivy League introductions were completed, all the students, parents, and chaperones met in the gym for the infamous group photo. With minimal suffering and plenty of giggles, Don was able to shoot two dozen photographs of everyone to close off the events of the night.

ILC students, chaperones, and parents

Thank you for to all the supporters of the Ivy League Connection!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Taste of What's to Come

Coming off of a tiring weekend that included prom, track playoffs, and the routine couple hours of homework, I wasn't as excited as I wanted to be when I realized that the dinner was fast approaching. When I originally found out the date, I was incredibly enthusiastic about the opportunity to meet with the fine men and women that had been responsible for giving me the opportunity to go to Cornell for the summer.  By Sunday evening, all I wanted to do was try to recover from a train-wreck of fatigue, a bothersome cold, and aching knees that made it difficult to climb a couple of stairs.

Nevertheless, as the Monday school day came to an end, I tried to regain the excitement that I once knew I had at the beginning of the program.  After heading home, getting ready for the night in my finest suit, and even persuading my dad to let me borrow his nice watch, I began to feel ready for whatever the night had to offer me.  My dad, a man who has been working in San Francisco for about the past 40 years, informed my mom and I that there would be traffic on the way to the El Cerrito Plaza Bart station and said we should leave early.  In reality, we arrived about 45 minutes early to the station, time that I believed I could've spent knocking out a school assignment or two.  Regardless, my mom and I made conversation until then and walked out 15 minutes prior to the actual time.  We were greeted by Don, my cohort and their parents, my chaperone, Mr. Chan Law, and supporters of the program.  I greeted everyone with a traditional handshake and greeting, which made the transition to meeting new people a bit easier and eased my worries.  I never realized it until that very moment, but four out of the six members of my cohort are from Hercules, which, personally, made the introductions a little easier.  

The Cornell Cohort (Left to Right, Back to Front):
Stephen Fong, Don Gosney, Justice Delos Santos, Thao Le
Hoang, Shanti Shrestha, Julie Lum, Helen Gilbert-Snyder
After a quick ride to the City, we arrived at the Embarcadero Bart station about twenty-minutes early, time we used to take thousands of pictures with thirty different cameras while we all looked in different directions (you would think we all the technology today we could take one and be done!)  Following the papparazzi frenzy, my cohort and I began to get to know one another a little more and talk about what we could expect.  Shanti and Thao, being the returning ILC members, talked to us about what we could expect from the trip.  They spoke about the environment that we can expect out on the East Coast, such as the weather, the people, and especially the food.  It sounded glorious and I couldn't wait.

When we all arrived in the restaurant, we saw that there were already more than a couple of guests that arrived for the dinner.  Before retiring to our seats for the dinner, I had the opportunity to make myself familiar with the guests that were going to be attending the dinner.  Mr. Chan Law, Stephen, and I had the opportunity to speak with Cornell alum Jesus Verduzco ('99).  Jesus was incredibly friendly and greeted each of us with a smile.  We all engaged in conversation as he talked about his experiences at his hometown in Texas, Cornell, and Berkeley.  Him describing Cornell made me even more excited for the trip as he verbally painted a picture of the campus and what I could expect.  The conversation wasn't one sided either, as Jesus asked me a couple questions about my expectations for the campus.  His friendliness made the transition into the night a lot easier while allowing me to become comfortable with what the night had to offer.

(From Left to Right): Alex Vollmer, Kelly Delos Santos
 Justice Delos Santos, Jesus Verduzco 
After a solid introduction, everyone took their seats in preparation for the meal.  I was seated alongside my mother, Kelly Delos Santos, Cornell alum Alex Vollmer ('62), West Contra Costa Unified School District School Board Member Madeline Kronenberg, and, to my surprise, Jesus as well!  Shortly after everyone sat down, Ms. Kronenberg gave us a wonderful welcoming speech, followed by two marvelous speeches by fellow cohort member Julie Lum and Cornell alum Doug Mitarotonda ('02).  At my table, I had a wonderful conversation with all those seated around me.  I felt like the elephant in the room because I was the only kid, but everyone was so incredibly friendly that it allowed me to feel welcome during the conversation.  Our topics ranged from culture and language to sports to what I could expect when I apply for college.  During the course of the conversation, we talked about the idea of helping students understand their potential to do great things and how we could activate that potential.  Ms. Kronenberg suggest that I, being fairly close to the athletics department at my school, reach out to other hard-working student-athletes and help them succeed in the classroom as well as they do at school.  The idea started developing in my head throughout the evening and it gave me a great topic of discussion for the intellectuals I was bout to meet at Cornell.  The conversation wasn't just fun, but it was incredibly inspiring and it motivated me not only for the summer course, but for my future as a student, both in my last year of high school and upcoming college.

I can't write about a dinner blog without writing about the food, can I? While the food was by no means the only highlight of my night, I can say with certainty that the three-course meal I was presented was the best that I've had in a long time and possibly my entire life.  I was first presented with a caesar salad, but this was no ordinary salad.  This salad didn't use the short, two-inch leaves that can be found in a high school cafeteria.  The leaves were more than 10 inches in length and required both a fork and knife for me to dig in.  It was absolutely glorious from start to finish, so incredible that it made me want to become a vegetarian.  That thought was pushed aside when I was presented the spareribs.  At the Bart station, Don had mentioned that the spareribs fell off the bone from the minute they were touched and I thought this was an exaggeration; it was not.  I took one little jab at my sparerib and the whole thing fell apart!  With that being said, do I need to mention how good it was?  To top it all off, I was presented with a delicious sorbet topped with fruit and an almond flower cookie.  I didn't think I'd have enough room for the desert, but after one bite I was in heaven.

This night was simply amazing.  Not only did I get the chance to meet a lot of wonderful people and engage in conversation, the night got me very excited for my trip in every shape and form.  Going into the night, I didn't know what to expect, but walking out, I had a sense of optimism for what was to come.  This dinner was a great taste of what is to come.
The Cornell Cohort, Alums, and future student, Kevin Mendoza

A Dinner Battle with the Butterflies

I arrived at the bart station, my ribcage nearly bursting from my heart's nervous pumping. When the night was over, I could hardly keep still from excitement.

As a first year ILC member, the butterflies were running rampant in my stomach on the day of the Cornell Dinner. Throughout the day, my mind was filled with worry over the evening dinner. At the bart station, Don worked his magic, passing out clipper cards and informing us about the night. For a comforting period, the butterflies took a nap. Everyone in our group arrived early, giving us time to socialize and take photos in the area. After sharing fleeting jokes and consulting tips, the time came to head on toward the diner.
Snapped a picture of the parents and Kevin. Looking sharp!

Upon arriving, we were greeted by friendly alums, sponsors, and school board members. I glanced at the program, spotting my name and feeling the butterflies in my stomach begin to rouse. I had the speech ready in my head, but the hammering in my chest said otherwise. After introducing the guests, the spotlight switch over to me.

I could hardly complete a sentence without gasps of air interrupting every other word, and there was an century long pause in the center of my speech, but I continued. Before long, I reached the end. People clapped. I could breathe again. I returned to my table, receiving reassuring greetings from the group at my table.

The rest of the night was an unforgettable dream, an experience Shanti and I agreed could only be described as spiritual and legendary. The two of us sat at a table with my mother, chaperone Chan-Law, and the amazing and unforgettable alums, Doug and Rachel. What I expected to be a long dinner filled with the bland "how was your day" phrased in twenty different ways turned out to be an intriguing discussion exploring the supportive professors, tightly knit campus community, gorgeous rural scenery, spontaneous weather changes and just about everything in between at Cornell. There was no room for awkward silence; every moment was filled with a question, a response or even simultaneous laughter. The dinner was brought to life by the amazing people we sat with.
Doug (left), Shanti (middle) and I (left)
Dessert is served!
 Of course, describing a dinner without touching on the meal is blasphemy. Shortly after our arrival, waiters scurried in and out of the room, offering drinks and appetizers to start the meal. I ordered a salmon dish as the main course, but the dinner offered a scrumptious beef option as well. Finally, the meal closed off a glorious sorbet, decorated with delicate fruit and a flora almond cookie.

As the last bits of dessert was scraped off the plate, Don gathered everyone together for a group photo. I could hardly contain my excitement when the Cornell banner unraveled.
The Cornell Crew gathered together!
I had a lot of time to think about the dinner on the bart ride back. I sat beside Helen,  the both of us spontaneously expressing our excitement about the upcoming month and retiring back to the late evening just as quickly. I took back so much from tonight. Before the dinner, I was already excited for the upcoming trip, but after listening to the countless sites to visit and shops to search, my eagerness shot through the roof. Aside from my new perspective, I've gotten rid of all the butterflies. Talking to Doug, Rachel and all the other wonderful alums made me realize that I've got what it takes, and there is absolutely nothing to fear.

I'll be sure that at future events, I'll be taking the microphone away from the butterflies.

The Best Dinner Yet...

Being another tiring Monday, I wasn't to keen on the idea of having a dinner for the Ivy League that evening. As every second ticked on the clock, I found myself more and more anxious and nervous during class just thinking about the dinner. I began to question myself "Am I even ready to present myself at the dinner?" only to come to the realization that these questions all bundled up in my head could only be answered until the dinner began.

As soon as school ended, I hurried on home to prepare for the dinner. With a quick change of clothes and a fix up of my hair, I was ready to endure what the night had to offer. Since I was driving myself, I found it a bit unsettling because I had no intent in being lost, let alone late for that instance. With quick glances at the list of directions, I was able to arrive to the El Cerrito Plaza BART Station safely and on time, in which may I add left Don with a great deal of relief and a big shining smile on his face. When I approached the huddled group of Ivy League Connection members and its supporters, I immediately began to introduce myself, trying to familiarize myself with them to make the night less awkward and more friendly. After a few greetings, I was more confident in myself to be able to get through the dinner.  

When we arrived to San Francisco, I could see how excited  and nervous the other students in the cohort were. Seeing them made me realize the bond we all had together. I felt relieved to understand that I wasn't alone feeling anxious. Soon enough with my cohort, full of amazing student, I learned we could make this dinner a great one. At that moment my nervousness left my soul being replaced by a sense of confidence and self-perseverance .

When walking into the restaurant, One Market, we saw that a few of the guests of sponsors and alumni had already arrived. Soon enough most of our guests were present for the dinner. Before we sat down for dinner we had a brief interval of time to socialize. As I made my way through the crowd, I was able to make small talk with some of the guests. I found this brief moment of time to be extraordinarily useful to the extent of making connections and learning about the alumni's experiences being in college.  Samantha Berg ('09) was one of the alumni, who I had spoken with shared her experiences at Cornell as well as her academic path she took to become a commercial product designer. One important aspect that she made me realize was that education is a path where one travels along in search of one’s true passion. There is never just one path but infinitely many depending on what he/she admires. She explained that one can be whatever they desire to be, its the matter of just knowing where to start.

After some time of socializing, we all slowly transitioned to settle down and begin the dinner. At the very beginning Madeline Kronenberg gave an introductory speech and introduced everyone. From there we went to Julie Lum's( Cornell cohort member) well delivered speech. At last we had one of the alumni, Doug Mitarotonda ('02), give a small speech. As he gave his speech, the most legendary thing happened. As he was talking about the many diverse and interesting courses that Cornell offered, he slipped out the fact that he actually took a language course learning Nepali. At that moment my heart sank and I started to question my hearing. But as he went on he talked about how he went to Kathmandu, Nepal and stayed there for some time. I wasn't sure if anyone noticed me, but I was pretty amazed and couldn't even handle sitting still in my seat. I began to scream, in my head of course, "I'm Nepali" and "I can speak that language!" As he finished off his speech all I could think of was "Wow Don gets a 11 out of 10 on seating arrangements!"As soon as Doug and I both understood that we spoke Nepali, he walked to his seat and started a striking conversation in Nepali. Although we didn't speak too much in Nepali, I was amazed at the students at Cornell are so optimistic and unique with their course decisions.

From left to right: Rachel, Julie, Shanti (me) and Doug 
During the dinner I sat next to my cohort member, Julie Lum, her mother, Mr. Chan-Law, and two amazing alumni. I can’t stress how amazing the alumni are. One being Doug Mitarotonda and the other being Rachel Reichenbach. Not only did they attend the same school, they were also married and had an amazing love story to go along with their time during Cornell. They are the epitome of success, happiness, and the American Dream. Using terms from the modern teenage dictionary, Doug and Rachel would be described as "literal life goals of anything and everything". Through their experiences at Cornell and their success, I was able to see Cornell not only as an university but an opportunity to challenge oneself to overcome and surpass any limits that may impede accomplishing success. During the dinner, I immediately saw Cornell for what it really represented, academic integrity, pride, and success.

I had an amazing night because of the dinner and thought it was definitely the highlight of my week and probably rest of the week!
The Cornell Cohort Members, Alumni, and Kevin Mendoza

Celebrating My Birthday At One Market

May 18th, 2015, will be a day I will never forget. Starting the day off with constant Happy Birthday wishes from fellow classmates, friends, and family, to ending the night off with a fancy dinner at One Market. Even though I returned home at 10:36 PM, every second spent with my cohort, sponsors, and alumni, was well worth it.
The outside sign of One Market 

*Ring* The end of day school bell rang at exactly 3:38 PM. My mom's reminder of having to rush to the car was still fresh in my head. Upon our arrival to our house, I quickly took a shower and changed into my suit and tie. After saying good bye to my sister and dad, my mom and I raced out of the house and into the car.

I awoke from my short nap in the car to the noises of the BART trains racing up and down the tracks. Peering out the car window, I noticed Don and fellow ILCers, Julie Lum with her mom Shannon and Thao Le Hoang with her dad Henry. Once everyone arrived, Don handed out Clipper cards, and we proceeded to the loading deck. The BART ride to the beautiful city of San Francisco was quick due to the constant introductions being made. On the train ride, I met a fellow ILCer Justice delos Santos and an ILC Cornell alumni, Kevin Mendoza. 

Stepping through the doors of One Market made me realize how special and lucky I was. With the fancy ambiance and professional wait staff, I knew that the ILC was the program for me. While waiting to be seated, I met an alumni from Cornell named Jesus Verduzco and my chaperone for the trip, Alfredo Chan-Law. Both Jesus and Chan-Law shared many stories and drew my attention more and more the longer they conversed. 

After a quick go around of formal introductions, Julie Lum gave a fantastic speech to the entire group. Julie covered the topics of being lucky and thankful for the opportunity to be apart of this prestigious program, topics I completely agree with. I would like to personally thank the sponsors, Steve Kwok, Charles Ramsey, and Erica Perry, for their contribution to this program.

Once seated, I was able to meet three more fabulous people, another Cornell alumni, Dave Zahora, and school board members Todd Groves and his associate Jennifer Dao. Throughout the night, I was able to share an immense amount of information with them and gain useful knowledge from them. By the end of the night, all of us were talking like old friends. 

The saddest part of tonight was walking out the doors and back to the BART station. After saying our good byes, with alumni and sponsors, the ILCers and parents, headed back to the El Cerrito Plaza station. Bidding our adieus with one another marked the end of this wonderful night. Even though tonight is over, I can not wait to spend more time with my cohort and hopefully run into Dave, Todd, Jennifer, Jesus, and many more alumni and sponsors again. 
Cornell alumni standing behind seated ILCers who are attending Cornell's summer course this year

One Last Time at One Market

This evening, I had the opportunity to learn from the amazing alums, sponsors, and board members. In addition to the list, I was able to meet our chaperone, Alfredo Chan-Law. He's a math teacher at Hercules Middle School; moreover, I knew who he was prior to our dinner. I was able to talk to my cohort about the stressful and tiring past weeks of AP testing. It was a great time for gathering and socializing with the people who made the Ivy League Connection a reality. 

While at the El Cerrito Plaza BART station, I found myself and my father to be the first persons to arrive. I was anxious to be the first person to arrive because I was relying on Don Gosney to be the man to look for. Like finding Waldo, I needed to search for Don to be certain that the location was correct. But being the first ones to arrive made my stomach hatch more butterflies out of cocoons. Luckily I saw Don come out later and life was coming to a stable state again. As time passed, more and more people came and soon we all were on our way to One Market in San Francisco. It has been a while since I last took BART, so my balance was definitely off when we were riding to our destination. We soon entered One Market to find ourselves meeting new faces. The few people that I talked to prior to the dinner were Erica Perry, Todd Groves, Don Kuehne, and Samantha Berg. I was able to learn more about college life and the delicious food available on campus. In addition, I was able to learn about their personal college experiences. 

I sat with Jason Levy, Don Kuehne, Erica Perry, and Charles Ramsey for this Ivy League Connection Dinner. During our dinner, we touched on different subjects such as Cornell's campus, their experiences and funny moments. One of the many stories that stuck out was Jason's funny story about his Winter experience. I enjoyed the details and description Jason used when discussing his experience. For example when talking about the spectacular Spring, he mentioned the flowers to be red, orange, and yellow; the sign of vitality for the blooming, or already bloomed flowers. I definitely had a fun time discussing my goals and learning from the alums and sponsors at my table. I mentioned the urge to bring back to my community, especially the knowledge and experience I gain when I arrive at Cornell. It was an honor for Charles Ramsey to remember me from the past year, from Brown's dinner and the Woman & Leadership course. On the topic of women, we discussed the many different sites to see while touring, such as Seneca Falls or the women's museum. I truly gained enough knowledge, and probably pounds, from this nice night. 

I must say that I am proud of Julie Lum, my fellow ILCer going to Cornell for Hotel Management for speaking at tonight's dinner. I am glad that she became a leader and took the opportunity to reflect on what she hoped to gain while going to Cornell. Plus, she concluded with thanking everyone who made this all possible. The ILC administrators, board members, sponsors, alums, parents, and chaperone who support us and make this life-changing opportunity possible. As a rising senior, I realize that this is my last chance with the Ivy League Connection. This will be my last time being an actual part of the Ivy League Connection, and I am proud to be one of the 305 students who received scholarships to go to these prestigious schools on the east coast. This will be my last time, and to finish my last time while celebrating Ivy League Connection's tenth anniversary, I must say that I was to not step over my comfort zone while I am at Cornell, but to expand it. 
A Pose to End the Night 

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Night To Remember

A memorable San Francisco night began at approximately 5:15 PM at the El Cerrito Plaza BART Station. Once there, I met with my fellow Cornell cohort members and was introduced to the cohort's chaperone, Alfredo Chan-Law. After a brief meeting, our group left the station bound for San Francisco.
One Market Restaurant, San Francisco, CA

Our destination was One Market Restaurant, and once we all arrived safe and sound we met with Ivy League Connection administrators, Cornell Alums, Sponsors, and Board Members. I had the pleasure of speaking to Samantha Berg, who graduated from Cornell in 2009. I spoke with her for much of the night, and she was an endless fountain of knowledge, varying from places to eat at Cornell University, to how to find a college that is right for you. After speaking with Samantha I am very excited to be attending Cornell, and I am also looking forward to my very own college search in just a few years!

During our fabulous dinner, I had the privilege of talking to Steve Kwok. His architectural business works with schools, and I was really happy to learn that he values the suggestions of students for school designs and improvements. His dedication to the environments that students learn in generates the next generation of brilliant minds, and it all comes back to the care of the schools themselves.
My first Ivy League Connection Dinner was a wonderful experience. There are no words to describe the fun, the knowledge, and the dedication that was present tonight amongst everyone. May every student have the opportunity to talk with those who care about their future, and open doors that would otherwise be nonexistent to them.
My Dad, me and Samantha Berg