Now that I'm home, my time in New York seems so unreal, in the best possible way.
Everything was incredible. Everything. Being at Columbia, a top class university, to live, actually live, on the campus. Walking around Manhattan, laughing with new friends I feel like I've known my whole life. Endless train rides with Mrs. L and everyone from back home, watching the scenery flit past through the window. A whirlwind of information those first few days, with serene college visits punctuated by glimmering dinners with college reps. Sitting in class, learning the scary truth behind our Constitution and the justice system. Rigorous debates with classmates in the early afternoon, with clashing philosophies being wielded like verbal swords and shields. It all seems such a distant memory. And yet, it was only a week ago that I left New York, and I feel like I've changed so much since I took off from SFO in June.
My father said over the phone to me one night, while I was sitting in my dorm pretending to clean, that every time he spoke with me I sounded older. Different. And the truth is, I was. Different. But it didn't feel that way to me, not at first. Being at Columbia, in class, on campus, in the city, I didn't notice myself changing. But I was. I can see that now. I was, in an odd way, getting older. Not wiser, exactly; that's not quite the right word. More self-sufficient. More confident. And more self-aware.
All of these things, these changes, I feel are a permanent part of me now. This experience has changed me, made me see things in a new light. I'm not the same person I was. I can take criticism easier than before, knowing that being critiqued is a part of growing. My feathers aren't so quick to ruffle, and I do a better job of smoothing them down now when I need to. I can think things through in a way I couldn't before; I've learned how to spot holes in my arguments and shore them up before they can be used against me.
I've also figured out that I definitely do not want to be a lawyer. Law professor? Sure. Poli-sci major? Definitely. But not a litigator. One day spent arguing a fictional case for a side I whole-heartedly disagreed with was plenty for me, thanks. No way could I do that in real life. I may not have that many core values, but the ones I do have, I stick to. And I'm grateful that I was given the chance to figure this out now, as a high-schooler, instead of spending huge sums on college education to finally realize that I was on the wrong track. It's changed where I'm considering to attend school after high-school; whereas I was eying Yale as a potential leg-up on the competition for their post-grad law school, now I'm more interested in the Political Science PhDs offered at Columbia University, or the philosophy and language under-grad programs at Vassar College.
I learned the most about myself, and the world, through my class. The Constitutional Law course at Columbia is utterly amazing. I know that Eric and myself were testers for the ILC and this specific course; I strongly urge them to send some of next year's batch to this program. Its phenomenal. My entire world view has been altered because of this class. Why? Its mostly the material. Don't get me wrong, the instructors are great; but they're more like guides, people to point out what to look for, or someone who throws in questions for us to debate over. They don't teach so much as expose. Just knowing the things I learned in that class has changed me. Going over the Patriot Act in detail and seeing just how scary it really is; watching the meaning of the Constitution change over time and, through watching that change, figuring out just what it means to me as a person and as a citizen; listening to the arguments people have made to the Supreme Court and why they worked (or didn't). All of this and more. Because of this class, I'm more aware of my world. I'm more alert to the rationalizations this country is so very prone too, and more self-aware when I catch myself making those same rationalizations.
I've also learned things about myself, and a bit about life. I'm happiest when I'm busy. I do well on my own. Don't make best friends the first 48 hours after arrival: they tend to flake out within a few days, and you replace them with better ones within a week. I don't get homesick, at least not in New York. I love Manhattan (so very, very much). I over-edit. Giving 48 hours to a paper doesn't make it better. My sentences tend to be too long. You can't procrastinate on reading until the last minute; it makes you a sleep-deprived wreck at best, or an idiot at worst. Basements freak me out. I'm a fair hand at schmoozing, but being honest is better, even if its not quite the whole truth. I really can't function without coffee (Mrs. L and the rest of the cohort will attest to this).
This whole experience has got my wheels turning for my college essays. Even if I don't directly write about my time at Columbia, it'll definitely get a mention. Those three weeks are important enough that, with an entire 17 years worth of life to pick and choose from, they're heading the list of life-changing events. And I am so incredibly, speechlessly grateful for being able to have experienced that. There really aren't the proper words to convey my thanks. This whole program is incredible. Everyone involved is phenomenal: the school board, the sponsors, all the alums and officers who came and spoke with us, the chaperones, Don; even the older students who are so willing and ready to lend their advice. The students who will be a part of the Ivy League Connection is the coming years are in for a treat, and I'd love to be a part of helping them get connected with this program if the ILC asks me too.
Ending things has always been my weakest trait, and this is going to be no exception. Hitting “post” in a few minutes will be the end. But, perhaps also the beginning, in a way. The beginning of a new “me” here at home, the beginning of a changed life and a new way of seeing things. All thanks to the ILC. It may be cheesy, but there you have it.