Friday, July 18, 2014

Life isn't a Spectator Sport

Three years ago, I was a freshman with little direction. My dream college was UC Berkeley and I had no other aspirations beyond that. I knew that Ivy League schools existed, but I didn’t think that I would ever be able to attend one. I had all these misconceptions that it would be too expensive, too far away, and too selective for me. That was until I found out about the Ivy League Connection. Past ILCers talked to me about the program and that was the first time that I heard about the ILC. Throughout my high school career, I saw more and more of my peers join the ILC and apply to Ivy Leagues. Students from WCCUSD were going on to UPenn, Yale, Brown, and other prestigious universities all over the East Coast.  Tamilyn Chen from my very own Cornell cohort is going to Harvard this fall, and all the accomplishments achieved by ILCers continue to amaze me. These success stories and the ILC gave me confidence to venture beyond the Golden State.

Going to Cornell and Columbia these past two years has taught me so much. I learned more about myself, other cultures, and college. It’s truly a medley of the application stage, dinners, people, college tours, and courses that provide students with such an incredible experience. Starting with the application, students from all over WCCUSD begin to attain skills regardless of whether or not they’re admitted to the program. Interview practice, essay writing, and punctuality are only a few of the skills that students are able to gain prior to becoming a member of the ILC. Like most ILC members, I remember going through this application stage and being nervous until all the interviews were over. It’s an exciting feeling. It’s also hard work. This is the first and perhaps the most valuable lesson that the ILC has taught me. Anything is possible—if you work for it. Life isn’t a spectator sport. WCCUSD students have the ability to attend Ivies, but getting into Harvard or Yale is definitely not easy. Being admitted into the ILC isn’t easy either and there’s no way to become an ILCer unless you put in the effort to apply to the program first. I can guarantee that it’ll all be worth it though.

The dinners are another large component of the ILC. The cohort meets up with current students, alumni, sponsors, and the ILC administrators before leaving for the East Coast. The food is always impeccable, but the real appeal comes from the people that you are dining with. The students and alumni always become starry-eyed when they start talking about the school you’ll soon be attending. They share all their favorite study spots and college stories throughout the night. It’s interesting to watch alumnus from the 70s talk about their experiences as if it happened just yesterday. Before dinner even ends, all of the ILCers become that much more excited about their journey. And over on the East Coast, more of these dinners are set-up so that students can get a better feel of the school they toured earlier. Most of the time, we’re even accompanied by admissions officers. This is truly one of the rarest privileges that any student can have. Being able to present yourself and ask these admissions officers questions is a privilege that simply can’t be bought.
Our first dinner at La Folie
Eating dinner with Yale students
Along with the people that accompany us on these dinners, there’s a plethora of other people you meet in the ILC. Sometimes it’s the person next to you on the subway. Often times, it’s someone who’s from the other side of the world. At Columbia, I met students from Italy, Thailand, Mexico, Greece, Bolivia, and England—just to name a few. I know that I would not have met them if it weren't for this program. Their cultures are so different and unique. There were students that came from countries where education isn't a right. Their parents had to pay for their schooling and less fortunate kids had to go to work instead. Meeting these other students made me put my life into perspective. I realized that I was incredibly lucky to have free education along with free speech and right to protest. All American students learn about the freedoms granted to us, but we almost never think about what it would be like if these rights didn't exist.

Despite some of our differences though, I was able to relate to these international students. We were all on the same mission. We wanted to get a head start on college and we wanted to make all of our supporters proud. We wrote seventeen page papers together and studied from some of the best professors in the world. All of us were far away from our parents, and we discovered how to be independent of them. We had similar interests and we were able to form bonds in just a few weeks. We shared cookies, stories, laughs and even bathrooms! We went on fun trips to Broadway shows, museums, and other touristy places in New York. It was always sad to part by the end of the program. I’m sincerely thankful to have met all of these people. Just the thought of being in one place with such a diverse pool of individuals is still so mind boggling to me.
Manhattan during the day
A small group of people I met at Columbia
Going into my senior year, the challenge of college applications is getting closer and closer. Before asking myself what I need to do in these applications, I’m asking myself, where am I applying to? I started off with four in-state colleges, but after the ILC, I ended up with a list of eighteen schools! Fourteen of them are over on the East Coast. Luckily, the Columbia cohort toured six Ivy League schools in addition to MIT and NYU. From these tours, I acquired more information about the school than any website could offer. I could “feel” the campus and learn about financial aid, study abroad, and admissions. I finally understood why the Ivy Leagues were so acclaimed. These schools genuinely earned their names and there are countless reasons as to why so many students yearn to attend them. After all of the touring and info sessions, I can finally delve into college applications with confidence.
Harvard's freshman dining hall
A collection of school brochures, playbills, and tickets from the past month
Again and again, I can’t stress how thankful I am for this opportunity. Ms.Kronenberg, Mr.Ramsey, and Don, thank you for working so hard to make this program possible for students in West Contra Costa. It sounds very cliché, but thousands of students have been touched by the opportunity in one way or another. Your dedication to this program inspires us to be selfless. The ILC teaches students that the knowledge we gain is meant to be shared with our peers. We are ambassadors for the district and we strive to show that there are options outside of California. Thank you to the sponsors, community members, and continuous supporters of the ILC for making this dream become a reality. And last but certainly not least, thanks for chaperoning us Ms.Thrift. You were so easy to approach and you went above and beyond to make this trip the best it could be. I'm sure that you'll have terrific plays and musicals at Hercules, especially after examining those Broadway shows! 

As a final string of comments to other students, be fearless in all of your aspirations. Be bold. Don’t let anyone deter you from achieving your goals. Have confidence in yourself regardless of what school you go to or what background you come from. It’s more than possible to attend an Ivy League school. Remember to work hard and push yourself throughout high school. Life is not a spectator sport. Find all of the resources you can and utilize what you have. Although it may not be easy to get into an Ivy League, that possibility won’t exist unless you try.  If you’re a rising sophomore or junior in the district, apply for the ILC. In addition, take challenging courses and dedicate yourself to activities that you enjoy. If you’re a rising senior, good luck with college applications! Don’t hesitate to apply to schools on the East Coast! They offer better financial aid, special dual programs, strong support systems, and established study abroad programs. Don’t be afraid of rejection. You will find your own niche wherever you go and you may even discover that the school you end up at is the perfect place for you. Being rejected does not mean you are not qualified enough by any means. Sometimes admissions officers see that you have a better fit elsewhere. At the end of the day, be yourself and stay humble!

A Life-Changing Experience

The Columbia cohort at the school board meeting.
I can honestly say that March 3rd was the best day of my life. That was the day that I went to my Columbia interview and earned the scholarship that would change everything. I remember going home early that day to change my clothes and mentally prepare for what was to come. My previous rejection for the University of Pennsylvania Social Justice program made me a bit nervous for what was to come, but I felt more prepared and experienced when I went into the room for my Columbia interview. Don passed out cards with numbers that would determine our speaking order—I ended up being the first speaker. I was still anxious about my interview, but I went in the room and did my best. When I came back in, I didn’t know what to expect. I was 79% sure that I’d get in, but there was still a part of me that remembered getting rejected from Social Justice. When I finished my interview, my mom assured me that she was proud of me regardless of the outcome. I waited for hours watching other people leave the room for their interviews and waiting for the interviewers to make their final decision.

Don Gosney and the panelists entered the room shortly after all the students finished and announced the students who will go to New York. My name was the first called. At first I didn’t realize that they had called my name, but when I realized that I’d be going to Columbia, I started crying. I was so grateful for the opportunity that I couldn’t help my tears of joy. Don took me and Emily into a separate room and told us about the program would expect of us. After the short meeting, I went home and celebrated with my mom. When I was home, I began pondering the meaning of my scholarship. Not only would it benefit me, but it would also benefit those around me. It would make the people close to me proud, it would show my community a figure to look up to, and give me the opportunity to help others get the same experience that I would get.

After a few mandatory events, it was time for me to finally go abroad. I had been away from my parents before, but at the time, I wasn’t ready for the experience. This time, I had grown and matured, so I was much more prepared to leave my parents and be on my own for an extended period of time.
My classmates Clara and Philip.

During the first week of the program, we went to tour different Ivy League Universities. I found that visiting each college was beneficial because I got a sense of the campus’ atmosphere, a glimpse at the different majors, and I saw the different personality of each university. The dinners we had were also useful because the students were extremely honest and I was able to talk to admissions officers and other campus representatives. After visiting all the campuses, I think it’s a lot harder to decide which one is the perfect school for me because all of them were so brilliant and offered so many different opportunities. I was considering colleges on the east coast before, but after visiting all the gorgeous top-tier institutions, I feel like there’s no way I’ll be going to school in California—the East coast offers so much more! Being around the different campuses and hearing from the students made it easier for me to picture myself on those campuses. Whereas before it was just an elusive dream, now it seems like it can be a reality.

Throughout the week of my college tours, my anticipation to go to New York grew greater and greater. By the time we reached campus, I was almost bursting with excitement and I couldn’t wait to set up my dorm and meet the people I’d be living with. After a quick goodbye photo, I raced into Hartley, my new home, and met the most amazing Residential Advisors, Megan and Rebeka. They were so excited when I arrived and showed me to the room that would be mine for the upcoming three weeks. I’d always heard horrific roommate stories from my family, so I was surprised to find that everyone was so friendly everyone was. I remember Lulu being the first person to introduce herself to me and telling me little things like how much she liked to sail and how her life in Connecticut was and I remember feeling so lucky to be around girls who actually had passions, hobbies, and interests instead of someone from all the creepy stories I’d heard in the past.
A few of the friends I made.

The day I settled in seemed to last forever, but the next day would be my first day of class. I remember going to the building for my Business and Economics class and seeing this weird old guy telling people to take the stairs. Little did I know that the weird old guy would be my professor and my class was only one flight of stairs up from the entrance. I went into class to listen to my goofy professor talk about random facts and I found myself thinking “What does this have to do with economics?” I soon found out that everything is related to economics—from the rain patterns in Cameroon to the supply of potatoes across the globe. I learned that if someone wants to make money, all they need to do is think outside the box and have a little bit of luck on their side. Of course, I also learned basic economic terms and discussed the crash we saw in 2008 which will provide background knowledge for the economics class that I’ll be taking in the following year. But this class offered even more than that. It taught me skills that I’d need for my future college career like speaking up for my beliefs, explaining my ideas more clearly and powerfully, and not being afraid to ask questions when I didn’t understand the material.

But not everything was peachy keen, there were some times when I cried, some times when I felt left out, and some times when I just wanted to be near my mom. I chose to power through these times and try to enjoy my time in New York to the fullest. Just as my trip wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t perfect either. I made plenty of mistakes throughout my journey, but they were mistakes I learned from. Being on my own made me reexamine my character and pay attention to the flaws I usually don’t notice. I learned how to be a better problem solver, I learned to communicate better, and I learned to value my opinion.

After coming home, I’d say that I’m still the same person, but I’m a better version of myself. The ILC has given me more confidence in my abilities and more motivation to succeed and I hope to bring this experience back to those in my community so they’ll be motivated to apply and get the same experience that I was awarded. After taking a bite out of the Ivy League experience, it’s hard for other schools to compare. I couldn’t imagine going to college anywhere else but the east coast. I'm not exaggerating when I say that this has truly been a life-changing experience.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Final Thoughts

I started my journey in my sophomore year, trying to get into this program and prove to people that I am someone. After my interview for presidential powers at Columbia last year, I knew that I had a lot of growing up to do. I had no idea how to express myself, and even less be confident about what I was saying. Lucky for me the Ivy League Connection, does make other connections. In this case, after my interview I was fortunate enough to meet Matt Arciniega. I met him after I was denied admittance in the program because he was one of my interviewers. He saw something in me, something I hadn't seen for myself; it  was potential. Coincidentally he told me that he had done this program and that when he interviewed me, it reminded him a lot about his first interview. He gave me his contact information and I got a hold of him because he wanted to help me.

                                 Matt and I  (he's at Columbia by the way)

I met with Matt for the first time my sophomore year and I have to say he's been a mentor to me ever since then. His aspirations paralleled mine and what he told me really resonated through me. Because he went to the same school as me, and had the same struggles as I did, I really could relate to everything he was saying -- so I listened closely to every word he said. I remember his words being very persuasive, with a purpose. He wanted to help me and not just criticize me or give me tips. After I heard from him I had a different view on what it really meant to get accepted into the Ivy League Connection. It meant that you showed leadership, and good heart. That's what he learned from the Ivy League Connection and that's what I needed to learn in order get accepted.

It's now my junior year and after a couple of meetings with Matt I started to tap into that potential . I had to grow up, start being more confident in who I am and what I said, and always try to become a better person. To put it in simple terms, he helped me mature and develop the skills I needed to get into the Ivy League Connection. It took me a total of three times interviewing before on that third time I was finally accepted. It was the most amazing feeling getting accepted, to know that I was worthy of that scholarship and to know that I was someone important. I finally felt that  my hard work was paying off.

The whole concept of the Ivy League Connections was about giving back. Don Gosney told us that he likes hearing that stuff especially in our essays. There  is even a whole interview question on giving back, which really  just  summarizes what the Ivy League connection is all about. What they were doing was giving back to their community by giving a hand to the youth that make up the community. They send kids to represent the community and give these kids a chance to learn as much as the more fortunate kids who take these summer classes learn . They sort of evened the playing field by giving opportunities to these kids in the WCCUSD to have the same experiences as those kids that go to boarding school or private school.

I realized, this scholarship wasn't just for me or for my college application, it was to share with others. This scholarship was the passing of the torch and now It's my turn to keep the fire alive. Having this experience, making all these friends was great, but I can' let it blind me from the real purpose of the scholarship. It's my turn to pass this fire and help other people have this wonderful experience. Being in New York was fun and all, but the process of getting there was life changing. I had to become a good public speaker, a good leader. Thanks to the Ivy League Connection for this learning opportunity and this great experience.
The Ivy League Connection has changed my life and has introduced me to all different types of people in the world. I loved my roommate and my hall; I enjoyed every single part of this trip. From the dinners, to the college visits, even those dreaded mandatory meetings, I appreciated just being there. I am very grateful for the learning experience and the fun experience given to me by the Ivy League Connection.  Keep doing a wonderful job, thank you to all the supporters, donors, and anyone affiliated with the Ivy League Connection. I will keep the flame alive, and help more students like me get a chance to  have this amazing opportunity! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reflection Introspection

Here it is. The last blog to sum it up, to make peace with the fact that this amazing experience is truly over, and to say some final words.

March 3rd, 2014 was the date that my life changed. At 4:45PM, I left work early to get dressed and prepared for my interview. My heart was racing and I couldn't stop worrying about all that was riding on this one interview. I had previously interviewed for the Constitutional Law program, but didn't make it. That failure only had prepared me for this next interview I had coming up. 

When Don and the interviewers stepped into the room after all the interviews and their deliberations, I tensed up. I wanted this scholarship so badly; I had worked hard for it. He announced that Kendal and I had earned the scholarships and I breathed a sigh of relief, happiness, and excitement. My mind started wandering about how my life would change over the next few months: the dinners I would be having, the schools I would be visiting, and most of all, how the experience of taking a course at Columbia would be like. 
Crazy how things have changed from this moment forward.
One of the first big events that I did with the ILC was the dinner with the Columbia alums, sponsors, and parents. At this dinner I met so many amazing and passionate people; I was nervous at first, but once I began talking with these people, I felt at ease. Most of the dinners the first week of the program went like this as well. Even after the first dinner, I felt like my speaking skills had greatly improved. Talking to such educated people in such a setting was a situation I had never dealt with before. The more and more we had dinners, the better I became at holding conversations with these people and learning more about them. 

The school tours are something that I am not going to miss quite as much. I loved visiting all the schools and hearing what they were all about, but at the same time, a lot of the information sessions would get redundant. The most helpful aspect of these visits was really having the dinners with the student after. The best way to get the low-down of a school is to grill someone who is actually attending the school. That is where the honest, first-hand information comes from. Thanks to the dinner with the Yale students, I realized that I wanted to go to Yale. Not only were these students incredibly smart, but they were still accessible; they weren't sitting on their high-horse looking down upon everyone. They were very friendly and supportive people. And the environment they were describing Yale to be was one I wanted to be in. I could envision myself right there. 

Even just writing about my time at Columbia makes me wish I was back there. The best place to start is the dorm, because I was there the most. I absolutely loved living in a dorm and I loved my dormmates. There was always someone to be around in the dorms; I could always knock on my dormmates' doors or see who was hanging around the lounges if I was bored. On the contrary, I could easily be by myself if I needed some time alone. However, the amazing dynamic of my dormmates and I kept us together (as much as we had time for). We were all so different, yet still we found things to bond over. I think the dynamic of the group made our relationship so interesting. We were from different places, grew up in different cultures, and had different perceptions. We learned from each other, and I think that was the best part of being friends with such a multicultural group of people. My whole living situation was a win-win.
Our silly pose for the yearbook. I miss all of them so much!
I was incredibly lucky I was able to take my Introduction to Economics, Finance, and Business course. It opened me up to what studying economics, what I want to major in college, would be like. My class was also very college-like; it had 140 students with a teacher who had over 25 years of experience lecturing at Columbia. I really could not have asked for a better situation. In just those three weeks, I learned so much about our economy. I also learned that our system is very complicated, and cannot be mastered in little time. I do, however, feel more confident about choosing economics as my major.
My TA group for my economics class. I will miss all my friends in this class so much!
Fast forward to the present and I am now back home from a truly life changing experience. I cannot stress how much I have learned, grown, and changed from this trip. All the people I have met, all the sights I have seen, and all of the memories I have made will never be forgotten. Being home now, I've come to realize that I have a different perception of things now. I see things differently because of the experiences that I have had, and I love the way things have changed for me. I am ever grateful for this experience, and hope to inspire and encourage others in my community to seize this amazing opportunity.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Take a Breath and Let the Rest Come Easy

For as long as I can remember my mom has always told me, "It doesn't matter what other people do or where they come from because you are just as capable as them." Without my family's encouragement and support, I know I would not have gotten this opportunity of a lifetime. I still remember at the end of my first quarter as a sophomore, Don Gosney spoke to students at my school who would be eligible to get a scholarship to go to an Ivy League school over the summer for free. I had heard of this, but I was not sure if I could get in so I applied to Vanderbilt, got rejected, then applied to Columbia and got accepted (just remembering that moment is exciting all over again!). January 30th feels like a lifetime ago, but that was the day that my hard-work paid off, the day that I knew my parents were right, and the day that I no longer had to dream about opportunity, but look forward to the opportunity presented to me. That was the day that I got accepted into the Ivy League Connection to take Constitutional Law and became an ambassador for the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD).
Back when it all began!
Thereafter, I thought my ILC experience would become a lot simpler. If only I could have  known how wrong I was! Afterwards, things only got harder and getting in seemed like the easy part. Endless emails, staying on top of forms, attending meetings, and finding the energy to do it all was a large part of being a WCCUSD ambassador from February until June 16th when I left the West Coast. Still, I matured greatly in that time because I was given a lot of responsibility. That was the second indicator of the ILC shaping me into an adult, the first being the application process, the next being my experience on the East Coast.
Yale is full of cool stuff like this!
First, the college tour of the Ivy League schools got me thinking. For a long time, I had one plan for college. That plan was: go where the money is, not necessarily the school. This would mean working extra hard for a scholarship in the UC system most likely. After sitting in on the many college information sessions, I realized that I did not have to sacrifice my education for my financial situation. The Ivy League schools have amazing financial aid because they have very impressive endowments. This means, if I got into an Ivy League school, I would not have to put a very large financial burden on my parents compared to if I got accepted to a state school that does not have a lot of money to give to their students. I realize that I have set a pretty high bar for myself, but I think that with hard work, I can try my best to reach that bar. Even if, when the time comes, I do not get accepted to an Ivy League, the ILC will have rewarded me in other ways, like allowing me to make a difference in my community and giving me this opportunity of a lifetime.
Batman when he stayed at our hotel in Philadelphia.

I met a lot of inspiring people in New York and the East Coast in general. A lot of these people I met through class, but also by just putting myself out there. I think one of my favorite people to meet was a man named Kirk on a trip to the Philharmonic my first week at Columbia. He told me all about himself and I shared my recent experiences with him in return. He went to Brown and seemed to know more about schools on the New England Coast than a lot of college kids from that region did. Then again, he was an older man with a lot of experience. I think what made me remember him most was his genuineness when he spoke to me. He believed I could get into one of these schools with hard work and I had not even known him long. He told me he lived in the Columbia area and I was sad that I never saw him again, but the conversation I had with him will stay with me for a long time. He gave me confidence and I knew he was not being spiteful, but sharing his wisdom. Turns out, I would meet a lot of great people over the rest of my stay at Columbia.
The fantastic Cyber Seniors crew!
In New York, I changed. And, I don't mean I left and came back an entirely new person. I mean, it was as if a switch inside of me was flipped. Before this trip, I had no idea what I was looking for in a school, let alone a program to major in. Though I am still not sure about a major, I definitely have a better sense of where I want to go to school. I thought before this experience, "Psh, an Ivy League. Like I could even think of applying." Now, I think I have a legitimate shot at these schools and that feeling I got in my gut when I visited Harvard, Yale, and UPenn is my inspiration. It is a long way until I apply for colleges (a year and a half), and the prospect is equal parts terrifying and exciting. My first taste of the college experience was amazing and I am very eager for when I get that experience again in two years. This is all thanks to the multitude of experiences I had in New York. It ranged from my first Broadway show to meeting brilliant people from across the world to getting a little homesick to recognizing my flaws. The East Coast affected me significantly and I will miss it a lot.
My second home on one of the first days of class.
After the fact, I feel like I am finally in control of what is going on in my life. It's like everything is falling into place after a long and tedious process. I am rapidly becoming a young adult (which I am sure is scaring my parents more than it is scaring me). First, I got accepted into Columbia for the high school program, then I got my license, and pretty soon I will be taking my standardized tests for college applications and applying to college. Time is speeding by fast, but I feel like I am finally in the driver's seat. I know my goals, now I just need to reach them. I say it like it's easy, but I know it won't be. Lucky for me, I love a challenge. I promised myself at the start of the year that I WILL make it. At the time I was not even sure what "it" was. Now I know that "it" is the goal of getting accepted to one of my top, Ivy League schools.

From my entire journey thus far, I think the best things I have learned are things about myself. This is like learning to let go of the small things and staying true to myself. While attending Columbia, not everything was perfect, and I have had time to reflect on that. I have learned that not everything may be handed to me, but my hard-work will pay off one day. That day may not be soon, but it will come. I know that distant reward will come in different forms and can become what I want in life. I have started on a path to that distant success this summer. I love where it has taken me so far and I am excited to see where it will take me in the future.
My mom motivates me.
The Ivy League Connection is the best thing to ever happen to me. It has simultaneously been the most extensive learning experience I have had and the most tiring one I have had. I am so grateful for the experience I had in New York this summer as well as the schools I got to visit on the college tour beforehand. My ILC predecessors have told me that this program changes lives and it definitely affected mine. In New York, I did not realize that I was changing, but at the end of the program, sitting on the plane, I realized that I am a new person. I may look the same, smell the same, sound the same, but I am returning to Pinole a better and more mature version of myself. From the endless emails, blog-posts, dinners, new people, laughs, and struggles I have gone through, I left New York better than when I arrived and I will bring back new knowledge and a mindset to my community. I will try to inspire change for the better and for something bigger than myself. I would like to thank all of the ILC sponsors, Don Gosney, Madeleine Kronenberg, and Charles Ramsey for their continuous support for the ILC and all students in the WCCUSD looking to make a change. I would also like to thank my family who has always supported me, especially on this long and strenuous adventure. This journey has been wild, an enormous blessing, and every moment was worth it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Home Sweet Home

This trip is finally over and now I'm back in my home state,  California. After a long plane ride home, I get to reunite with my family. My mom greated me with open arms at the airport terminal and told me how much she missed me. She drove me back home and my grandma, my brother, and my dad were waiting there for me. I think my grandma missed me the most because she likes to mess around with me and on the trip, she didn't have anyone to joke around with or drive around with. I must say that I did miss my family, but they missed me a lot more than I missed them. Even though they saved money on their water, electric, and grocery bills without me there, they still wanted me back at home. 

I handed out the souvenirs and everyone was grateful and appreciative for what I got them. My mom had made her famous 7-up pound cake and saved a piece for me! It was the first time I ate something home-cooked in a month. After I said my hellos to my family, I started unpacking my luggage. 

After I got a little settled in,  I called all of my friends from school and told them about the trip and how much they missed out on. They all really miss me and I can't wait to see them soon. 

This experience has been indescribably great. I couldn't have asked for more out of my summer. When I get back to school, I'm definitely going to get more Middle College students to apply because this is such a wonderful experience. 

New York Style Professional Development

Today was the last day of being in New York City as the chaperone for this amazing group of Columbia Ivy League Connection students. Many of you who have been following their blogs, may be wondering; what does the chaperone do while the students are in classes? For me, as the theater arts teacher in Hercules, it’s professional development, New York style!

Between meetings with the students, taking in the sites of NYC on the weekends, and setting up those wonderful dinners with admissions people, students and alum, I have seen 8 Broadway shows! The four musicals I saw could not be more different—Pippin, Matilda, Cabaret, Kinky Boots and Once.

Pippin is a musical I first became a fan of back in my own high school days. I remember listening to the original cast recording on my 8-track in my first car and singing along at the top of my lungs. Since then, I have only seen a high school production that left me thinking Pippen had an unbearably weak plotline.  This production demonstrated how one can make a Broadway hit out of a less than perfect script—add circus acts! The show was like seeing a Cirque du Soleil show with terrific singers!

Matilda is a show I wanted to see since it open in the West End. I am a big fan of the songwriter Tim Minchin and have fond memories of reading the Roald Dahl book to my own children when they were small. Plus, it seems like the perfect musical to do one day at my own school. It did not disappoint me! The production captured the extreme characterizations of the book and the score echoed Dahl’s quirky humor.

Cabaret was one of the first musicals I fell in love with. I was in middle school when I watched the movie with Liza Minnelli over and over. I have since seen several productions, but none compared to this one staring Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams. Cumming was incredibly expressive and funny. Williams was so vulnerable, yet bold and sassy. The ending was staged in such a way that all the characters, except the American Cliff,  end up in a concentration camp. In fact, the ending makes it almost seem as if the Emcee is telling the story from a concentration camp—wishing he, like the rest, had listened to Cliff. If I ever do Cabaret at my school I will do it with this ending.

Kinky Boots is a musical about prejudice. A son inherits his Dad’s failing shoes business and turns it around by selling shoes to drag queens. Yet, the son, the workers and even the drag queens, must all over come preconceptions about each other.

Once is based on one of my favorite movies of the same name. It is a simple, yet powerful, love story between two Irish street musicians. The chorus and supporting players are also the musicians for the show, so the entire production incorporates the perspective of the struggling musician. Their love is a struggle, too. It is about a love that might have been and that in it’s self is bittersweet. It’s about lost connections and moments, and also about how seeing yourself from someone else’s point of view can be healing.

Musicals tend to dominate the Broadway scene, but I took in 3 outstanding plays as well—The Cripple of Inishmaan, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, and The Realistic Jones.
Daniel Radcliff and Sarah Greene in
The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Cripple of Inishmaan starred Daniel Radcliff in a show that started in the West End. Radcliff is well known for his role as Harry Potter and has since performed in two different Broadway shows—Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I was excited to catch his performance as well as check out another play by Martin McDonagh. I became a fan of McDonagh when I saw The Lt. Inishmore a very dark comedy produced by the Berkeley Rep. Radcliff surrounded himself with an excellent cast, and the play has some terrific character roles. This is a play I might do one day at my school.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill is about Billie Holiday at the end of her life. It is a one-woman show starring Audra McDonald who now, with her latest Tony for this role, has won the most Tony’s of anyone in Broadway history. It was an honor to get to see her and the play is surprisingly moving. It takes place only a few months before Holiday’s death when she is performing at a run-down club in North Philadelphia. The banter she has with the audience goes from humorous to dark during the course of the show, demonstrating how her run-ins with Jim Crow laws and the police destroyed her chances to continue as a star performer.

The Realistic Jones was the most star-studded show! It featured 4 actors—Michael C. Hall, Toni Collet, Marisa Tomei and Tracy Letts. Some of you might not recognize Tracy Letts, but he won a Pulitzer for his play August: Osage County.  The play was about two couples who were struggling to cope with a life and death disease.  Reality was too painful, so they often avoid talking directly about what was happening.

She looks like she's getting a text....
Inspiration for theatrical sets and costumes do not just come from watching other theater. Visiting some of the best museums in the world was another way to think about theater. In the African art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I remember thinking; this must be where Julie Taymor came up with her designs for the Lion King! To have a resource like the Met to do research for design concepts is an amazing asset for theater artists in Manhattan.  The play I am producing this fall, The Visit, has a German Expressionist setting, so going to the Museum of  Modern art allowed me to see some of the actual paintings I used for the design concept.

Theater People
Some of the best way to learn anything is through personal contacts. While in NYC, I met with people I knew from my undergraduate days, someone I did a play with,  2 people I did my graduate work with, and a former student who is now a playwright. Whenever I socialize with other theater artists I learn so much.  We discuss plays that we are working on or ones we want to do. They will often peak my interest in new works or help me figure out a technical challenge. Most importantly, they provide that support needed to work hard and stay inspired.

More to do…
It was at one of these meetings that I found out that the NY Public Library has a performing arts archive located at the Lincoln Center. All the Broadway shows are filmed and stored there. One can just go in and ask to see any production since shows could be filmed and watch them.  It breaks my heart to think that I only found out about it on the last day of my trip and was not able to take advantage of it.  

The three weeks I spent in New York were a fabulous time for me to grow as a theater educator. It allowed me to see fantastic theater, great museums and wonderful artists. I also grew attached to some amazing students, and share my love for education with them. I am so grateful that I was chosen to go, and I would love to go again next year!