Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Glorious Night In The City

On May 9th, the Columbia cohort met at the El Cerrito Plaza Bart Station preparing to embark on a trip to the glorious city by the bay, San Francisco, to dine with alumni and sponsors at La Folie.

On the Bart ride to the city, I enjoyed a conversation with Milani, Beilul, and Will about school, extra curricular activities such as JSA and Forensics, and what we would like to major in. The conversation was nice for me because prior to the dinner, I had never had a conversation with anyone other than Irene and Beilul. I learned that Milani's home away from home is a swimming pool, and Will is the East Bay Regional President for JSA.

When we arrived in San Francisco, we hailed cabs and headed La Foile. I was amazed when I walked into our room at La Foile. The colors, painting style, and the grandeur of the room blew me away because prior to Monday I'd never dined in a fancy restaurant. The food was absolutely delicious. In addition to making my taste buds go crazy in delight, the presentation of the food, such as the salmon lollipop, was beautiful. While the food was amazing, it was the conversation with Mitchell Flax that I enjoyed the most.

I was thrilled when I saw the Mitchell Flax, a Columbia graduate of '09, was sitting next to me. Throughout the dinner our cohort asked questions one after another about Mitchell's college experience, extra curricular, work, and why he choose Columbia. I had always assumed that a student at a institution as fine as Columbia wouldn't have much time for anything other than studying, but I was pleasantly suprised to learn that Mitchell balanced, a double major in Mathematics and Economics, with an A Cappella group, and a job on campus.

Overall, the dinner and conversation has made more excited than ever for my journey in New York City. I cannot wait to embark on an amazing adventure!

In addition, we also discussed the application process for Columbia. Being a member of the alumni association, Mitchell conducted interviews of applicants and gave us hints for the interview such as don't bring a resume and to come with questions to ask.

The Journey Has Just Begun

The ILC journey so far has consisted of the School Board meeting at LaVonya Dejean Middle School and dinner at LaFolie in San Francisco. Both events were opprotunites for us to give our thanks to the many people who made our trip and experience possible and for their continued support.

When we first arrived at the School Board meeting, all of the ILC members gathered together to socialize with and introduce ourselves to others in different programs that we had not met before. I was reunited with some of my friends from middle school that were attending other programs, which I found suprising that all of us were on the same journey once again.

After everyone was accounted for and the audience was seated, we procedded as a group inside where we sat with our respective groups to be presented in front of the School Board. One by one each of the programs went up ad gave their thanks to the school board and the donors who were generous enough to donate to send us on this amazing journey. When my group went up and we stood before the Board, it finally hit me that I was about to embark on a journey of a lifetime and what I had waited my whole life for. After the schools were introduced, students from previous years gave speeches about what the program was able to do for them and their plans for the future. A previous ILC student, Beulah Agbabiaka, shared with us her experiences during the summer program and the great news that she will be attending Columbia in the fall as part of the class of 2015. Her speech and her presence was another major burst of motivation. It was amazing to see how many people supported us in our dreams, not only the School Board and the donors, but the public also.

The dinner at LaFolie in San Francisco was fantastic. The dining experience was something that I had never experienced before and the food was beyond imaginable. I had the pleasure of sitting across from Mitchell Flax, an alumnus from Columbia who was a part of the Columbia Alumni Program in the East Bay. He answered all of our questions regarding the admission process and life at Columbia, plus some opinions regarding movies and teaching.

The program during the dinner started off with a speech from Mrs. Kronenberg. She congratulated us as well as thanked the donors who were there to dine with us and other alumni who were able to joining. Then Beilul and Irene gave speeches about what the ILC meant to them. What they said in their speeches was exactly what each of us felt inside, about overcoming the adversities that were put before us and our excitement towards the journey ahead of us. Following them was Mr. Ramsey, who told us that if we work hard "there will be that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow." It's amazing to know that it started with a dream and now the ILC will be sending the most students it has ever sent(35) to the East Coast.

The final stop before we depart to New York City is the ILC orientation in June. After that, we will have a lot of reading, a lot of packing, but most importantly, a lot of memories.

BART, a Cab Ride and La Folie

How could it get any better than this?

Our Columbia Cohorts, some Columbia alums, our sponsors, our ILC staff and even one of our seasoned ILCers who will be heading East to begin her studies as a Columbia Lion.

The food was, of course, superb, the company grande and the evening a resounding success.

We try to seat our students so they're not all bunched up with the other students and can get some exposure to the sponsors and alums.  Last night, though, we had a very recent alum ~ Mitchell Flax ('09) ~ who could provide valuable insight into Columbia that our other alums (Hale Kronenberg '66 and Sally Swanson '71) might not.

From the conversations on the BART train home and reading the blogs written afterwards I'm betting this was a good decision.  Our Columbia cohorts seemed to have garnered insights that may serve them well when they arrive in a few months.

A Night on the Town

Approaching the tail-end of my Ivy League journey here on the West Coast, I was able to complete the dinner function at La Folie in San Francisco successfully last night, and the experience was very new to the like of which I had ever experienced.

You see, I am not as familiar as preferable when it comes to extraordinary dining experiences. The very moment I realized that I had, not one, but two forks neatly coordinated presented in front of me, I could gauge the elegance of the place. For someone who is not accustomed to the petite by comparison experience of Denny's, La Folie was a step above and beyond.

Opening, student, and closing remarks were both entertaining and inspiring. I was gripped by the auditory grasp. The speech nicely bounced throughout the petite, yet lovely room, from all speakers: Mrs. K, Mr. Ramsey, Beilul, Irene, and even Don with the occasional chime-in. As long as nobody sitting was as confused as the waiter who consistently peaked into the room to assess whether or not we had finished our presentations, I feel as though all were able to gain from our intermission.

The food was incredible, unlike anything I had eaten in the past. I believe I was able to digest at least 3 different food sources than previously known. The fact that the menu was able to accomplish that feat, despite my tastebuds various objections, was impressive on its own. When I approached the food which I had tasted in the past, the delicacy reached a whole new fronteir. It was just delicious!

Most exciting about the night itself was the Columbia alumnus and Skyline High School teacher, Mitchell Flax. He was a huge insight. It was invaluable to question a primary source, so to speak. I felt as though our cohort asked some significant questions, and we recieved quite detailed responses. From fraternities, to extracirriculars, to academics, to the surrounding environment, I'm pretty sure our cohort could appropriately write Mitchell's college biography if necessary.

The largest realization on my behalf followed after I discovered Mitchell's current job, teaching 9th grade math. And, I was almost dumbfounded--but, not in a bad way. It just took an extra moment for me to process that information and form my own opinion addressing it. I had heard from many peers and aquaintances alike that Columbia's atmosphere--including its students--produced an offputting, superior vibe, as if the universal mentality centered around power, money, or both. And, before Mitchell, I was definitely conflicted with that university stereotype.

Columbia has been my "dream" undergraduate school for the past three years! But, meeting Mitchell and learning the ins and outs of how he got to where he is today allowed me to realize that maybe that stereotype was as most other social stereotypes are: flawed. While my ultimate aspirations lie within medical school and postgraduate studies, I do hope to find the time to become a teacher before attempting to become a doctor. Mitchell helped me figure out that it is perfectly acceptable to deviate from the linear patterns of society: a Columbia alumni does not have to be wildly successful, at least not within the immediate years of graduation.

All in all, Monday night was one of extraordinary venture, at least in comparison to much of what I have revolved my own personal history around. And, I am very gracious for such a generous night and the guarentee of better memories to be made as I continue my Ivy League journey.

Two ILC Birds, One Blogging Stone

You know, I was always really impressed by the idea that you could take out two birds with one stone. It'd be tricky, logistically speaking. But here's the blogging version.

So last Wednesday, May 4th, was the school board meeting that all the ILC members attended, and tonight, May 9th, was the fancy dinner at La Folie restaurant in San Francisco that included the Columbia cohort, board members, sponsors, chaperones, alums of Columbia, parents of the students, and anyone generally connected with the Ivy League Connection who could be there this evening. All of the students in the program are supposed to blog after each major event, such as the two mentioned above. I really did mean to write about the school board meeting before this, really; its just that with AP tests, SATs, and regular schoolwork on top, I've had so little time, opting for a few more minutes of snatched sleep instead of doing what I should have and writing about the school board meeting. So when tonight finally rolled around and the dinner came and went and I still hadn't mustered up a few minutes to write, I figured I'd kill two metaphorical birds with one stone and write about both at once.

The school board meeting was really interesting. I got off to a bit of a rocky start; due to a silly wrong turn, my dad and I showed up only five minutes early instead of fifteen like we'd wanted, and the other ILC members were already there and filing into the building. It was the first time I'd worn a proper dress in quite a while, so I felt a tad self-conscious at first, but I blended in nicely with the other well-dressed students sitting around me. While we waited the few minutes for things to get started, I watched the two TV cameras and their operators set up, frankly a bit mesmerized by their efficiency and, in an odd way, pleased when a slight blond woman of about my height had no trouble manipulating a camera set-up that was a good foot over her head and I'm sure a great many pounds heavier. Its nice to see people similar to my small height able to do things that require strength. When the meeting started up, I was surprised to see Suzanna Tran, a senior at my high school, sitting at the table with the other board members, and even more surprised when she spoke in front of them, giving them an update of the goings-on of El Cerrito High. It was great hearing Suzanna talk about the good things the high school has achieved, things I tend to forget while busy with my own life but that are also nice to be reminded of every once in a while. I like Suzanna, and it was fun hearing her speak. After her report, the meeting really got rolling; motions were seconded, amendments proposed, and policy approved with lightning-quick speed. It was a bit frightening, in a way, the sheer efficiency with which the whole meeting was operated: not a moment wasted, everything in its proper timing and order. Then came the ILC's moment to shine. The chaperones were called up one by one, and each said a few words about the schools they were going to and the programs the students were taking there, before they called up each student by name. For me, it was the first time I'd heard about the other programs other ILCers were attending, and it was great hearing a little about the different schools people would be traveling to over the summer. When Mrs. L came up to the podium, she talked about the sheer excitement of New York City and the rigor of the courses we would be taking at Columbia, and then came our turn to be recognized as members of the ILC headed off to an Ivy school for courses in the summer. It wasn't just the chaperones who spoke: a few ILC-alums, all seniors headed off to Ivy League schools for their freshman year of college due in part to the Ivy League Connection, took turns at the podium, one of them another El Cerrito High student, Irene Rojas-Caroll, a really wonderful person with incredible vision and the head of our Gay-Straight Alliance. After we had all been presented to the school board and the speeches were finished, the students, our parents, and the chaperones hustled over and did as Don told us while we all stood and smiled for a group photo that I believe is up on the blog site right now under “Just a Teaser.”

Tonight's event was another breed entirely. It was just the Columbia group this time, not the other students in the entire Ivy League Connection. We all had to take BART into the city (standing for Bay Area Rapid Transit, its the quickest way to get around in the Bay Area), so at about 5:20 my mother dropped me off at the El Cerrito Plaza station, planning to meet me at the La Folie restaurant for our reservation of 6:30. Don was already there waiting along with Will, Eric and his father, Milani and her mother, Mr. Ramsey, and Masao and his mother. Once Beilul arrived with her mother, we set off, taking a cab the rest of the way from the BART station in San Francisco to the restaurant. We were led into a private dining room with two tables set up, and arranged ourselves at the tables. Also dining with us were Ms. Kronenberg and Ms. Hernandez of the school board, several alums from Columbia, one of the generous sponsors of the program, chaperones from other cohorts, and other adults involved in the ILC through their positions as instructors. I and the other students sat in sort of a ring around a very nice man named Mitchell, who had graduated from Columbia majoring Economics and Math in 2009, who we quizzed all night about what Columbia was like, from the social life to the libraries to the core classes to the (sometimes eccentric) student body, in turn being asked questions about the ILC program and about our lives in general. The food was superb, as I'm sure all of the other Columbia students will write about in their blogs, and very nouveau-cuisine, with one of the appetizers being a surprisingly delicious smoked-salmon lollipop (I'm really hoping Milani got a picture of it). Between courses a few mini-speeches were made, with Ms. Kronenberg kicking things off by talking about the ILC program and introducing everyone in the room (including an editor interested in pitching an idea he called “Ivy League Connection: Poets and Writers” that I really hope to hear more about!) before turning the floor over to Beilul and me, who both spoke about what the program at Columbia means to us. Beilul, being her great ultra-prepared self, had a brilliant set of small little flash cards in her hand, and I told her after we both sat down that that was a great idea I was definitely going to mimic in the future. Mr. Ramsey then gave an ultra-rousing, inspirational speech about what the program was meant to do, how it helped kids from the WCCUSD get on an equal footing when applying to colleges and thinking about their future with other students who had had more opportunities than your average high schooler in our district. After his closing remarks, we all applauded and tucked in to the delicious food, not finishing our meal until almost 10:30. The evening was wonderful: it was great talking with Mitchell about Columbia, as well as seeing two of my interviewers for my application to the program, Ms. Hernandez and the other Mr. Ramsey (Charles Ramsey's younger brother), who both congratulated Eric and me and said how pleased they were that they had made the right choice, which is always wonderful to hear from someone.

All in all, the school board meeting and the dinner at La Folie were a lot of fun but also very instructive and useful, which I think is the whole goal of the Ivy League Connection.

La Folie and the Ivy League Connection

Tonight the Ivy League Connection’s Columbia cohort wined (the adults at least) and dined at one of the finest restaurants in San Francisco – La Folie.
The evening was fantastic. The food was not only delicious and unique to anything my taste buds had ever experienced before, but visually entertaining as well. I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the setting and the wonderful conversations.
All of the students and their parents were seated together with Mrs. Kronenberg and Mitchell Flax (‘09) at one table while the ILC sponsors, Columbia panelists, ILC administrators and Columbia University admit Beulah Agbabiaka (‘15) sat at another. My mother and I had the wonderful pleasure of being seated next to Mrs. Kronenberg. We enjoyed a great conversation about how many college admissions officers focus on creating a class that is comprised of various backgrounds, talents and opinions as opposed. The emphasis during the admissions process is more about what the student has to offer the school than vice-versa.

Furthermore, it was great to hear about the progress the ILC has made, now in its sixth year and going strong. I enjoyed listening to Mrs. Kronenberg and Mr. Ramsey speak about the impact they are noticing throughout the various high schools in the WCCUSD. And kudos to Irene for her fabulous speech before the School Board!
However, the show stealer in all respects was recent Columbia University graduate Mitchell. He is currently a high school math teacher in Oakland and a member of Columbia University’s Alumni Association. His insights into the experiences of a Columbia underclassman were incredibly riveting because of his openness to answer all of our questions and the depth of his explanations. He spoke about everything including the benefits of Columbia’s famous core curriculum, the trials and tribulations of being a college student in NYC and his transition from his public high school to an Ivy League institution.
Overall, the event whet my appetite for our amazing trip that is soon to come. Following the presentation to the Hercules City Council in two weeks and the ILC orientation in early June, the last of our milestones will be completed and we will be in NYC before we know it.