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!

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