Wednesday, July 31, 2013

To Infinity and Beyond

Just a couple years ago, I was an incoming freshman embarking on my high school career. Walking through my school's college fair, I came across a booth for a program called the Ivy League Connection. And there was former ILC Ambassador Dyana So, manning the table and talking about the ILC in all its glory. As a freshman, I was ineligible to apply, but had the intent of applying either my sophomore or junior year. But as my sophomore year came wallowing by, I did nothing while I saw others try it out. And after hearing about my friend Yessenia Reyna's days at VSA, I regretted nothing more than not giving it a try. So as I started my junior year, I started school knowing that I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by. 

I didn't need Don's information session to sell me on the idea of applying as an ambassador for the ILC. With each of the school's program's descriptions in mind, I had an idea of which programs I hoped to apply for. Applying for Vanderbilt University on a whim was one of the best choices I've made in my life. Because I'd be cutting it close with my submissions, I almost passed it up. But because of Yessenia Reyna's encouragement, I quickly wrote my essays and emailed them to Don. I soon found out I went through to the interview round and the rest was history. 

After months of preparation, I was out and about on the East Coast. Free from family and friends, I was in charge of my own well-being for three and a half weeks. And like former ILC ambassadors have said, being a part of the ILC is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Just as I had initially thought, I learned things in and out of the classroom. In doing so, I learned more about myself each and everyday. The knowledge and self discovery that came along this trip was endless. 

Acquiring knowledge is endless just as this body of water is. 
As a naive freshman, I was stuck inside the Bay Area bubble. Attending college in Southern California was drastic enough. I thought that was what all there was for someone like me.  But because of what the ILC has done to me, I know that there's more for WCCUSD students than UCLA or Cal. Although the UC system offers one of the best college educations in the country, students in our district tend to limit themselves only to UCs. And the same could go for anyone in the country choosing colleges that are most comfortable. Personally speaking, I was one of them. I would have never thought that someone from our district could ever venture off into the unknown like Dyana So has in attending the University of Pennsylvania. Not only is it far far away from Pinole, CA, but it's one of the best private universities in the nation. She's left all that was familiar to her and was fearless in doing so. And during her freshman year, she's tackled living on a different side of the country making a new home for herself.

Before arriving to Columbia University.
From the West Coast to the East Coast, to a public or private education, everyone has the opportunity to be in charge of their own destiny. Sky's the limit, and so is a student's future. No one should be bound to staying in a familiar environment if given other alternatives. Venturing into uncharted territory is part of becoming independent. And by leaving my family behind these past couple weeks, I got a taste of what being independent is like, free from comfortable settings. I want more for myself than I ever have. As a rising senior, the college application process is soon underway. And from my tours and dinners with former and current Georgetown and Vanderbilt students, I hope to look more into universities outside of California. There's thousands of colleges in the United States alone that no one can simply subject themselves to just applying to nine University of California schools and a couple California State Universities. But if it weren't for the ILC, I would have never heard of Vanderbilt University or Georgetown University, two schools I never would have heard about. And now they're two schools I may actually apply to.

Once arriving at Vanderbilt Summer Academy, I gained a wealth of knowledge in my Med School 101 course while discovering more about myself. Med School 101 has taught me the harsh realities of what it takes to be a doctor in our current healthcare system. While there were days that were depressing, it only compels me to want to do something about it. Although I'm not completely sold on the idea of being a doctor, I do know that that option is always there if I choose to act on it. I know that I'm not the only person who's indecisive in their career path, and I'm not ashamed of it. Because of my instructor Mary, I know I don't have to have all the answers in the world right this minute. Sometimes, it just comes naturally, and with time. All I know is that whatever I choose to pursue, I have to be passionate in doing it. Whether I become a doctor or whatever life has planned for me, as Mr. Hillyer would say, it has to have the "That's cool." factor. If not, there's no reason in pursuing it at all. 

With so many bright young minds of all different backgrounds, I felt slightly out of place. Coming from a school where I was easily in the top 10 percentile of my class, to VSA where everyone's just as intelligent if not more, is frightening. But this environment is something that's been both refreshing, and inspiring. It's okay to not be the smartest person in your class. I was surrounded by individuals who came to class eager to learn from our guest speakers and instructors, and from each other as well. It felt a lot different than any of the classes I've ever been a part of. I've learned more in this three week class than I ever have in some of my past classes. X amounts of knowledge was thrusted upon me in such a short amount of time. I'm more motivated than ever to push myself this upcoming year. Rather than taking it easy my senior year, by pushing myself, I hope to prepare myself for what lies ahead. I'm fully aware college won't be an easy ride, just as Med School 101 has proven not to be. I can't imagine being in a different course, let alone a different program. Getting a taste of what medical school is like, I was given an advantage not many students during their undergraduate years of study can say. Listening to the guest speakers and instructors that I did, I couldn't be any more grateful. Having been given my first choice program and course, I couldn't have been happier with the outcomes. 

My lovely Med School 101 class.

VSA all the way!
Before leaving for my East Coast journey, I was afraid of not making any friends at VSA. At least, I was a little apprehensive at the idea of it all. And I couldn't help but feeling that even more after arriving late my first day. And I was completely wrong. It would have been hard not to make friends in such a welcoming environment. Being at any summer camp, everyone is that new kid on block, let alone dorm room. I was forced to break free from distraught and make new friends. Given this amount of time, it's hard to think how I made so many friends, let alone close friends. From my proctor group to my Med School 101 classmates, to all the VSAers, we became a family. Not only did I enjoy their company, but I learned something about each about where each of these individuals came from. Never did any of these individuals show that they did have money. You would have never known about their financial circumstances right from the start. There, I met some of the most humble and brightest youth all gathered into one summer camp. I never felt on edge for being sent to VSA on a scholarship. Money was the least of our worries. Instead, we all hoped to make the most of our stay at Vanderbilt. Whether I met someone from my home state of California, or someone all the way from Shanghai, they all made my VSA experience unforgettable. 

One last proctor group picture for our last dance.

With that being said, the Ivy League Connection has definitely changed my outlook on college, let alone life. This journey has opened up my eyes and prepared me for college like no other. I knew that I was in for a life changing experience, but not to the degree that I was immersed in. I came into this experience wrapped in my cocoon, and now I come out of it, a fluttering butterfly. There's nothing but advantages to being a part of the Ivy League Connection. Sadly, not everyone from our school district can take part in this opportunity. But as an ILC ambassador, I hope my daily posts on this blog inspire students to look beyond the boundaries we've all been guilty of staying in. No one is preventing you from going after what you want but yourself. After all, everyone is in charge of their own destiny. This couldn't be more self-evident throughout my entire East Coast stay. Moving ahead towards my senior year, I plan on taking action and talking to students of Pinole Valley High about my ILC journey. And I hope eligible students jump at this offer. Besides, there's no hurt in trying. Given my experience, you'll never know unless you try.

Before leaving Nashville, dressed in our Vanderbilt apparel in front of VU's sign!

I can't thank the Ivy League Connection enough for accepting me into their program. It's done so much for me that I hope to give back in every way that I can. I can't help but feel blessed to have taken part in such a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'd like to thank everyone who has made this dream a reality: Mr. Ramsey, Ms. Kronenberg, Don, the sponsors, Mr. Mannix, and my parents. I will forever be grateful and humbled to be one of this year's ILC ambassadors. With a wealth of knowledge behind me, I look forward to capping off my high school career and starting a new chapter of life: College. Although my East Coast experience has ended, my journey continues. As my S-House Space Jammers would say, to infinity and beyond!

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