Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thoroughly Entrenched

“Hey, look, its dropped down into the 70s; starting to get cold. And wow, there's a low of 62 tomorrow!”

Almost those exact words ran through my head when I popped open my laptop and glanced at the little weather-widget on the screen for New York City. Whereas a forecast of anything above 70° would have warranted a grumble back home, I barely batted my eyes at a high of an even 90° for Friday. I really am getting used to this place!

Even walking up and down Broadway by the campus (Milani and I made a detour during the midday break to send off packages and swing by a coffee shop on our way back from the post office), I realize I'm more and more comfortable with the bustle here, even if it is relatively subdued here in Morningside Heights. Our trip down to SoHo yesterday was to a very lively area of the city, and I didn't find myself overwhelmed by the honking cars or people rushing by me; in fact, I was rushing by other people!

As the time between visiting the colleges and reaching Columbia is increasing, I find myself mentally holding each school up to one another and comparing their respective strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the neighborhood around Columbia is starting to really feel like home even after a few days, and I'm beginning to really love New York, but as prestigious as their campus appears from walking around, the inside of their dorm buildings (hallways, laundry rooms, suites, bathrooms, and bedrooms all included) are absolutely drab and lifeless and appear to have been built with no thought for anything but the exterior. In steep contrast to that, Vassar College's dorms were nothing special from the outside but boasted spacious and well-decorated parlors and lounges inside for each student to access, but the location of the school itself is not within the bustling city that so appeals to me. Yale's campus is, like Columbia's, very impressive, and the immense resources Yale has ensures that an education there is one-of-a-kind and gives anyone a leg-up on the competition, but the school itself did not give me that feeling of welcome I felt visiting the University of Pennsylvania. When asked why he chose to attend Yale, our tour guide in New Haven answered promptly, “Because I got in,” and there was definitely a (probably completely justified) sentiment from every Yale person we talked with that if a student was lucky enough to be accepted they were very privileged, in the sense that a great favor has been bestowed upon. The UPenn alums and students I spoke with placed a greater emphasis on the “fit” they had seen between themselves as individuals and a University that would support them as individuals, and the general feeling was more of a “Come join us because we want you!” approach instead of a “Come join us if we feel you're good enough” mentality, both of which are entirely valid. Perhaps labeling the schools as similar and equally good places to apply to because of their affiliation through the Ivy League is not the right answer, as I felt that each school we visited had incredibly different things to offer every student; it was not a one-Ivy-fits-all experience. A student in love with Columbia would be unhappy at Yale but might be comfortable at UPenn and vice versa, simply because of the kind of personalities each school attracts.

But I should talk more about class today! The morning class was spent going over the opinions we had read last night. For those who don't know, a Supreme Court opinion is essentially the verdict at the end of Supreme Court cases and is written by one of the justices on the majority side; other justices in the majority side can write a concurring opinion, meaning they agree with the outcome of the trial but not the legal reasoning behind it, and justices in the minority side (the side that looses, essentially) can write a dissenting opinion explaining their own legal reasoning and how they reached the opposite decision from the majority group. Both opinions had to do with clashes and disputes over the power of the Executive Branch and just what is the scope of and limitations on the President's enumerated (aka listed in the Constitution) powers. As I'm reading and dissecting tonight's homework, I'm finding that the cases seem to be dealing with issues between state and federal authority, so perhaps that will be the highlight of tomorrow's lecture.

Our afternoon session today was phenomenal. I was a bit bummed when our second instructor said that the afternoon class was going to be in more of a small lecture format as we learned about how a bill becomes a law (a lengthy and arduous process that School House Rock explains very well but certainly leaves some complicated things out) as well as the set up of the federal courts. But as we started getting more and more into how we, as scholars of law (in training, at least), interpret the Constitution, a rather impromptu debate rose up in class about the validity of the Second Amendment. It was rather a novelty actually, as an Irene vs Irene debate; there's another Irene in class who seems to have views that are completely opposite from mine, which definitely will make for interesting conversation! As I mentioned before, I've changed a bit in my views, and since this class has started I view the Constitution in a very originalist and textualist sense, meaning that the actual words in the document should be the primary (if not only) source of consideration when deciding whether or not an act or law is unconstitutional. I and a few other took the position that the 2nd Amendment, while perhaps not morally right depending on your personally views, does allow people to own guns, whereas Irene and the rest of the group felt that the historic value behind the amendment (keeping the government from preventing revolt and dissent among its citizens) no longer held to same value pertaining to guns and that public safety and the common good should be the highest law. It was quite the discussion, one that I doubt a group of high schoolers could resolve in a few days when its already been debated for years and years with apparently no significant strides for either side.

Before I head off to bed (study group with Eric meets in the morning and I need to be awake for that), I'd just like to express my thanks to the school board for having the vision to create a program like this, that can send six students (and more) 3,000 miles for almost a month to take a class and experience life in a real Ivy school; and also thanks are due to the sponsors of this program, without who's support the school board's vision could have been achieved and turned from an idea to reality. On that note, good night!

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