I felt my life changing the moment I boarded the flight to New York City, a place where I would begin my Ivy League Connection experience. Stepping off the plane with my wonderful cohort and chaperone, I remember feeling excited and nervous about the weeks to come. The program was split into two distinct parts: the first week would consist of of college visits and dinners with alumni and students, and then the next three weeks would include becoming a student of Columbia University and gaining independence in the city of Manhattan.
The first week of visits really helped me shape my personal list of requirements that I seek in a college. The information sessions, campus visits and meetings with admissions counselors helped me to solidify what kind of college I wanted to apply to in the coming year.For the purposes of this paragraph I am including the NYU visit amongst the other first week visits, even though we visited NYU after classes had already started. Visiting NYU, where there is no campus and the buildings are mixed in with regular NYC buildings, I realized I really need a campus. I love having somewhere I can call home, a sort of base of operations to branch out of. After visiting the wonderful Sarah Lawrence and Vassar campuses, I decided I like having a little structure when it comes to picking classes. Even though Sarah Lawrence and Vassar are wonderful and beautiful schools, I feel like I would get lost very quickly in the freedom to make your schedule out of a catalogue of hundreds of classes. Another aspect I decided was a priority for me was that I enjoy being relatively close to an urban center. I want to have a campus to call home base and then also having somewhere I can easily get to and to have a host of experiences to participate in. Somewhere full of opportunities and a place to be independent. I really liked that Columbia and UPENN were both in an urban setting but that their contained campuses made them feel separate from the chaos and hectic nature of both NYC and Philadelphia. These are only a few examples of valuable things I learned about colleges I am interested in, and I know for sure I will be applying to at least one of the places we visited.
The dinners were experiences of their own. Dressing up, eating five star food, being treated like adults, we all felt like we were living in some kind of television show. But the real value of the dinners came from the people we met and talked with. We really got a feel for the kind of person each individual college or university creates. I remember distinctly the passion and excitement that the Yale alumni and students shared with us about Yale and (in the alumni’s case) their life after Yale. It is people like them, who really have a profound interest in learning from others, learning from themselves, and applying what they have learned to the greater good of everyone that makes me even more interested in a school. After meeting with both alumni and students from Yale, I was able to visualize myself learning there, and Yale is definitely at the top of my list now!!! Learning from the alumni was not all we learned from the dinners. We also talked to them about all sorts of topics including: college, politics, even how to get cheap tickets on Broadway! We learned how to be polite and respectful to them, and in turn we were treated like independent individuals and adults. I cannot wait for college where I will be an adult all the time...When classes started on the second week of the program I was very nervous. Almost all of the other kids there came from extremely wealthy backgrounds and I was worried it would be hard to fit in. I was very wrong. Even though I never really connected with anyone on my floor, I made great friends with many of the kids in my classes, and with people I met from just going on guided outings in and around to New York. I met people from Sweden, Dubai, Pakistan, Lebanon, England, Panama, Puerto Rico, Brazil, China, France, Switzerland, Russia, Korea, just to name a few. Columbia reported that their High School Summer Program program was 40% international, and to share experiences with teens from not only different states, but from different countries was invaluable.
The course I took, Constitutional Law, was amazing to say the least. Our instructor, Luke MacInnis was so engaging and helped facilitate our discussions without resorting to lectures to give us information. Everyone in the class looked up to his positivity and his wit, and he even gave us permission at the end of the course to friend him on Facebook. Every day of the course we had to read different abridged versions of famous Supreme Court cases. Each day had a theme: one day was affirmative action, one day was capital punishment, and another day was rights of the accused. Every time Luke would remind us of the facts of the cases, and then would open the class up to discussion. I heard all different points of view, something I am not used to coming from the very blue and very liberal Bay Area. For example there were some kids who believed the death penalty should be used to curb overcrowding in prisons, and others who thought that suspected terrorists or the official term “enemy combatants” were something less than human. Even though in certain controversial topics I still was unable to choose a distinct side, I know being able to listen to and understand other sides arguments is a valuable skill I will always need.
Another thing I realized that made this class different than a high school class was that I WANTED to do all of the assignments and classroom activities. At Columbia, when Luke assigned us our very open ended paper, I was truly inspired to research and write on the topic. I think the combination of an engaging instructor, an equally engaging class, and a subject that was important to me, all combined to form an intellectual and educational experience I am not likely to forget. In fact I am now even more excited to be college bound, and also worried that my senior year will not live up to what I experienced, educationally, at Columbia. I have had some wonderful and engaging teachers at ECHS but due to the extremely large class sizes, coupled with a number of students who do not take their education very seriously, the courses are sometimes unable to scratch the surface of the subjects we study. It was such a gift to have been able to see that there are many students out there who want to learn and who are excited about intellectual issues and I cannot wait to meet with and work with them when I attend college.
Being in the City of New York during the three weeks of classes was another unique experience. During the three weeks I became much better friends with Margaret and Emily, and often times the three of us would embark, with permission from our chaperone, on adventures in and around the city. Because my sense of direction developed faster than Margaret and Emily’s did, I was often the leader of the expeditions. On one particularly eventful day, the three of us went to Times Square, saw a Broadway show, went to China Town and Little Italy, then went to Greenwich Village, and finally returned before curfew. Other days, I visited the High Line, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, consumed the largest deli sandwich I have every seen, ran into Anne Hathaway filming a movie at Grand Central Station, saw amazing art at the Metropolitan, Guggenheim and Modern Art museums, and walked through Central Park. Every time we ventured into and around New York we all felt like independent adults who could make their own decisions. One particularly notable moment was when Margaret, Claire, Elena, and myself found a wonderful Italian restaurant just up the street from Columbia. Maybe it was the feel of the restaurant or that the waiter treated us like adults, but this place in particular made me feel like I was capable of living on my own. Each adventure had its own memories, each one special and ones that I will remember them all for the rest of my life.It amazes me that my experience with the Ivy League Connection began almost an entire year ago. I remember missing AP Literature to go to an information session hosted by Don Gosney in our school auditorium. The long and very informative meeting was the beginning of my journey with the ILC, but the real experience and knowledge I gained came almost exclusively when I arrived in New York.
I feel very honored and privileged to have been a part of the 2013 Ivy League Connection and I want to thank everyone who made this experience possible for students like me. Looking back on my time in NYC, I realize how much more mature, independent, confident, and willing to learn new things I have become. I feel prepared to be successful in my senior year of high school and I look forward to applying to and attending college. I truly loved this program and I look forward to promoting it to the students at El Cerrito High!