Thursday, July 21, 2011

To End an Experience

This is it. Well, that was it, about five days ago.

New York was an experience in more ways than accountable for on my fingers. From the subway, to the M.T.A., to the taxi, to the dorm life, to the classroom, to the homework, to the library, to the food-stands, to the attractions, to the entertainment, to the shear national acclaim of the Big Apple, New York City and Columbia University intertwined to provide me with the experience of a lifetime.

What I was able to learn and cultivate in a mere three weeks is comparable to what I gathered in the past three months. It's unfortunate that the Ivy League Connection cannot provide for even more students than it does, but those who are able to experience the immense opportunity presented in front of them should have the utmost appreciation for those who make it possible--the administrators, the sponsors, and the supporters. We may only hope that the I.L.C. is able to grow in the future as it has in the past to provide more students this experience, for it is an opportunity to learn as much about yourself than about the situation surrounding you. I'll elaborate.

To begin, the dorm life was just what I expected, but it was incredibly helpful to experience the expectation in mind. It was shocking to find out that Columbia University dormitories were not already equipped with wireless capability, but they did have an Ethernet slot to allow Internet accessibility. The dorms cam with bare minimums: one towel, one pillow, one blanket, one mattress, one room telephone, one trash can, two desks, one chair, and three shelves--for books. With just one carry-on and one check-in bag from California, however, I was able to disperse my belongings throughout the room and give it some homely essence. The dorm is intended to be utilized with such simplicity, I believe, because it is not intended to be an eternal sanctuary. In college, there's too much to do, too many people to meet, and too many places to go. You have no time to flirt with your dorm, nor would you want enough time to do. Given, my experience was in New York, so the area is a natural activity safe-haven, I'm pretty sure there are few colleges out there that emphasize dorm occupancy for the majority of the day. I myself was given a single, so I have no experience with a roommate. Of course, I do have ideas after sharing an entire floor with about 50 other students.

I definitely viewed the dormitories in a positive light: I loved them! I can't wait to settle down in one in the near future when I head off to college myself. There's something neat--not to mention convenient--about having that instant community surrounding you to draw upon. It's an innate college attribute that removes the possibility of a lone-wolf and highlights the accessibility of a social life.

The classroom was, in contrast, everything I hadn't expected. It was rewarding, and even fun at times, nonetheless. I always had it in my mind that college work was abundant, that academia would keep you busy the majority of the time spent at college, but I also thought that I was going to be able to handle it with relative ease, which was certainly a naive mentality in retrospect. Don't get me wrong, I kept up. I did what I had to do. I did more than what I had to do in some cases. But, by no means was it easy. It took a great deal out of me, and it definitely took away from some of the time I could've spent exploring the city and socializing with new and old friends. But, I believe that is simple a high school flaw. I only had a problem squeezing everything into a tight schedule because I was in New York for the first time, and I was only going to be there for three weeks. Had I enrolled in a New York college in actuality, I think I would have had an easier time managing needs and wants, because four years would have been a lot more spacious than three weeks.

Aside from the classwork and time management, the professor was wonderful. Dr. Z. was incredibly down-to-earth, practical, and humorous. She was not what you would expect from a college professor, but that relates to our knowledge of high school teachers. She was always around to lend a helping hand. She pushed us to do our best work and to do it in a timely manner. And, she taught us not only how to be knowledgeable in the subject matter, but be knowledgeable as college students as well. I hope that the course is provided for the future I.L.C. generations; it really allows you to learn as much about yourself as the American presidency.

Student peers and classmates were by far the most stretching change for me, personally. Using my class as a prime example, the students were so educated. I am around the top of my class at Richmond High, as I'm sure the vast majority of other's are as well, and to be in a classroom full of kids that have learned and pushed themselves as hard as you was different--in a good way of course. It was a pleasant surprise to have such high ability within my own classroom. It was easy for the students to thrive off one another, I thought. It was a huge plus.

As for my floor=mates and other friends I was able to make over the course of the course, it was also contrary to expectation. Some of the wealthiest, preppiest individuals in the summer program were also some of the most spectacular students and people. Sure, there were some individuals who spoiled the lucky batch, but many were really cool to meet, and I am grateful to have been given such an opportunity.

As for New York City, it was different, but not entirely astray from my familiar route. It was more busy and more purposeful, definitely. People moved in abundance with such celerity. The route from A to B was shortened at every possible opportunity, or so it seemed. Everyone just had a place to go and wanted to get there as soon as possible. That's something I admire. What else became blatantly apparent to me was a sense of pride. It's a lot easier to notice a New Yorker than a Californian--they just have a certain style and atmosphere around them. They pop, for better or for worse.

I like both New York and California, and I am considering college and post-college lives in both areas, but I dare not say I have a more passionate love for the East Coast than the West Coast. I don't think a three week trip can accomplish that kind of a goal. It did, however, put my geographic loyalty into perspective though. I had always thought of living and pursuing interests outside of California, but it was nice to have experienced such before even exiting high school.

All-in-all, the trip/experience/opportunity was a total success. I experienced much and learned even more, and I could not be more grateful for such. So, thank you for everything. I have become a more successful student and a more well-rounded person. I cannot wait for next-year's students to be able to experience what I have myself, and I look forward to advocating for the I.L.C. in my upcoming senior year. It's been swell!


Looking Back

Now that I have completed my class and experience on the east coast, the time has come to reflect – on the whole ILC experience. The entire process has been a period of growth for me, and I am truly appreciative of the sponsors, Mrs. Kronenberg, Mr. Ramsey, Don, Mrs. L., Beilul, Milani, Irene, and Will for providing me this opportunity and teaching me along the way.

To me, the ILC is far more than just taking a college class at an Ivy League institution. Had it not been for this program, I would still be a small shy teenager quietly minding my own business. I applied to the program, knowing what I observed about my sister who was part of the ILC for two years. I feel that she has become more confident, and more willing to speak in front of other people besides our family and friends. I think that the same change has happen to me. I remember what Milani told me on our last day at Columbia and I think it sums up the change that has happened to me because of this program. She told me, “When I first talked to you at the dinner I thought you were this shy kid who hiding in a shell. I’m so happy that you came out of your shell.” Going through the interview, writing formal email to Mrs. Kronenberg, Don, and Mr. Ramsey, reaching out to admission officers, talking to alumni, talking to professors, and interacting with top notch students from across the globe has made me a much more confident person. I would say that I am now more willing to initiate a conversation with a stranger and has made me less likely to walk away and just mingle with who I know well.

In addition to exploring the Big Apple and meeting new people, I was sent to Columbia University to take a class called Constitutional Law. Let me begin by saying the class was absolutely amazing. I firmly believe the ILC should offer this course again next year. Why? When I first applied for this class I thought that it was going to be centered on how to be a lawyer, and I was completely wrong. The class focuses on understanding Supreme Court opinions and how the justices develop their opinion. The most important lesson I think I’ve taken away from this class is to make legal, not moral arguments. Now when I watch the news, or read newspapers and come across a case, I ask myself, what would be my argument. I learned so much from by professors about the Constitution in these three weeks than I ever did in all my years of school. This class taught me that the Constitution can be interpreted in radically different ways, because of the origionalist, textualist, and developmentalist. I learned that differences about key topics such as capital punishment stem from these different beliefs. While our professors were very knowledgeable, the part of the class I found to be the most enjoyable were the discussions. A typical class would begin with our professor discussing the facts of the case and explaining the reasoning behind the majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions. After that, it was pretty much open discussion about whether or not we agreed with the court. When we had exhausted one case, our professor would talk about another case, which was similar, but had different reasoning or an entirely different decision. We were then asked something along the lines of why do you think the reasoning changed?” I think through these discussions, I’ve learned so much more than just from reading a dull textbook. These discussions allowed me to be exposed to ideas I would have never thought of. For example if someone asked me in the beginning if I supported interpreting the Constitution taking in account social factors or just by following the Constitution word by word, I would have undoubtedly said follow the Constitution word by word. However, as we read and discussed cases such as Schenck v. United States and Abrams v. United States, I realized that I’m more of a person who would interpret the Constitution taking in account social factors. Participating in discussions has brought to my attention the dangers of having truly free speech. If we had an absolute right to free speech then, one could scream “Fire!” in a crowded theatre with no aims but to cause harm and would be protected by the law. It is these controversial issues such as should the government be able to regulate free speech, Supreme Court decisions, and their reasoning that I wish to bring back and share with my peers.

I think it is critical that I share what I’ve learned at Columbia with my peers because it is o the upmost importance that everyone knows about the Constitution that we live under. I believe that everyone needs to know about how the Supreme Court has interpreted the vagueness of certain parts of the law, and how certain parts of the Constitution can be manipulated. I plan to share this information by first telling my friends and teachers at school. Hopefully, they will also find this material interesting and share this with their friends and family and more people will be aware of landmark decisions. Next, I would like to found a club where member would debate matters such as the commerce clause or the right to privacy. As the debates become more and more interesting, then I hope to get more members and soon, there would be many more people from grades 9-12 who are aware of the Constitution and how it has been interpreted.

The ILC has truly provided me with an amazing period of growth. I have become much more confident and have learned so much from my peers as well as my professors at Columbia. I cannot thank the sponsors, Mrs. Kronenberg, Don, Mr. Ramsey, Mrs. L., Beilul, Milani, Irene, and Will enough because it has really been a mind-blowing experience.