Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Inspiring Tribute

A previously mentioned Cornell alum Doug Mitarotonda- as well as Don Gosney- forwarded this link to me. It is a graduating student's video tribute to Cornell, both thanking the college and acknowledging Cornell's greatness. Please enjoy the touching encapsulation of his experience there as I did, wonderfully produced through recording long hours of students studying and beautiful scenery. Such a work can only leave me more eager to take off this summer and explore what Cornell has to offer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lesson on Preparation

I had had a bad day, the kind everyone experiences every once in a while. As I hurried out the door Wednesday evening, I was not going to let the day's events spoil the momentous evening ahead at the Hercules City Council Meeting. Unfortunately, I nearly did by arriving late, almost a sort of brush-with-death experience as the embarrassment reminded me of what a privilege it was to be an Ivy League Connection participant and what responsibilities came with the role.
As the event began and I finished scribbling a speech, I clumsily got my arm stuck in the crevice of a chair while reaching for my pen, thinking, "Oh dear, this is going on the blog."

Even though I had sat in on a couple of City Council meetings before with fellow Hercules High student Justin Bautista Jones, who by now is famous with the Council, addressing the Hercules City Council was quite a new experience. I’m not proud that I felt almost like a nervous wreck inside. As an ILC student who is only human and not immune to stage fright, I know the importance of recognizing one’s flaws and working to fix them. That night I listened with the utmost admiration for the many fellow ILC students who spoke with confidence, spoke from the heart with no need of notes scrawled on tiny, creased sheets of paper.

Mr. Ramsey and previous ILC participants have expressed what a transforming experience it is to be part of this program, both for individual students and eventually for their community. In light of this, I dream of returning from Cornell and telling everyone how the life-altering ILC experience helped me mature, taught me how to handle myself in a variety of situations and conquer public speaking. A host of experiences await us this summer, and I know they will reinforce in me the strength and confidence to be independent, to compete with other talented students from across the globe, and to take control of my own destiny.

My First City Council Meeting

I am 16 going on 17, and I have always lived in the city of Hercules, Ca. I attended Tiny Tots and Pre-school in Hercules. I attended Hercules Elementary School until it was renamed Lupine Hills Elementary School, and as a fifth grader I was part of the first ever graduating class of Lupines Hills. I went on to attend Hercules Middle School and now, I am a junior at Hercules High School.
That’s why I understand if it seems a little bit unusual that the May 24th Hercules City Council meeting was the first one I’ve ever attended.

I could feel sad about that, but I’m just happy that I finally went to one.

I was told that as an ILC student, I was expected to say a few words at the meeting. I still don’t know how to prepare a speech, so I didn’t attempt to write a “legit speech”. I ended up just talking about how I felt again and I did get a few laughs, which I hear is a good thing.
The day after the meeting, Beilul Naizghi and I were sitting in our A period journalism class when our teacher Natalie Wojinski (who is a Hercules resident) praised us for doing a good job at the Council meeting. She had watched the entire thing on television. This came as somewhat of a surprise for us, even though both of us obviously knew that many people watch these meetings. For me, it was just the fact that someone we knew, someone we see and talk to everyday, had watched us speak. I guess it was an eye-opener, because at the actual City Council meeting, the Hercules City Council members had also listened both intently and graciously. People actually care about what we have to say.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

From Zero to Hero

Last night marked a challenge in public speaking as I am sure many of my cohorts can attest to.
Being recognized by the Hercules City Council was actually a surprise to me. I understand that Hercules is swarming with hot issues and topics that need to be addressed, so it was an honor to be acknowledged by its members.

Unlike many of my fellow students who have lived in Hercules for much of their childhood, I still consider myself a "newcomer" in the neighborhood because I only moved in 6 years ago. While it may seem like more than enough time to become settled with my surroundings, there are so many things in this city that are completely foreign to me. I wouldn't be lying if I said that I felt like I didn't belong up there with my fellow ILC members from Hercules.

After wonderful words presented by Charles Ramsey and Terri Ishmael, I was the first of the students who had to stand up and speak. Presenting myself in public is something I am easily used to as I believe I am a highly outgoing, carefree, and eccentric person. However, my nervousness and intimidation shot up for three reasons.

One of them is the fact that my own family was there. While I am a very perky person, I trivially grow shy and quiet whenever I am in front of my family. One of the more legitimate reasons was that I had to speak to city administrators, which is something I have never experienced before. The last reason is that I am associated with a title as I spoke and that happened to be the Ivy League Connection. I do admit that I embarrass myself in public many times and as long as it makes people laugh and be happy, it is generally something that makes me feel happy as well. Unfortunately, such an odd liberty can no longer be granted when I am a part of an organization. If I make a fool out of myself, it makes a fool out of everyone in the ILC and I most definitely don't want that to happen.

I will admit that I grew quite envious throughout the night when people on the council and in the crowd would chuckle and laugh at the various things they said. I had a sincere anecdote and joke planned that I hoped would have garnered an amusing reception from the audience, but it fizzled out so quickly I think it may have been borderline-offensive.

But all jokes aside, the one thing I realized from this experience is that I am truly a part of this community. The fact the Council would recognize us like this and put off some valuable time to do so shows that our city appreciates us not because we might be outstanding students, but that we are Herculeans.

An Attempt at Public Speaking

As much as I respect the City Council, the meetings were never my thing.  They tended to be long, tedious, and I could barely understand what was being discussed.
That being said, it was rather strange to speak in front of the Hercules City Council on Tuesday night.  Public speaking has never been my forte, but in this case, people wanted to listen to what I had to say.  Or at least, it seemed that way, and that was enough motivation for me.

I do not think I felt any nervousness as I lined up behind the podium.  Nor did I feel anything as I became next in line to speak.  But once I walked up to the microphone, stared at my speech card for ideas, I could not help but feel afraid that I would make a blunder, a careless mistake in relaying how much this opportunity meant to me.

So, I did what any good public speaker does -- speak spontaneously, from what I could feel.  Not that I had many other options, the speech that I had in my head had been thrown out of the window as soon as I walked up to the podium.

I spoke about old aspirations, first impressions, great friends, and life-changing experiences.  Being me, I always had the ending planned out, and thus, I spoke about the future, and how I cannot wait for it.

Of course, all of the ILC members from Hercules spoke in front of the City Council.  And as has been customary the past few weeks, the speaking portion ended with Yueming Wang's thoughts of going to Cornell next school year, as well as Mr. Charles Ramsey's reiteration of the difficult process the candidates went through, as well as the intention to attract colleges to look at "not only Berkeley and Palo Alto," but Hercules as well.
As I listened to Terilyn's conversation about who she was, Beilul's carefully prepared speech that cited her experience, and Kathleen's readiness to represent Hercules, I reflected on the past seven months, since Ms. Ishmael first called in students to meet about the Ivy League Connection.  And to be honest, despite the hard work, the pains, and the bipolar joys of these past few months, I do not think I would trade them for anything.

And I really wouldn't.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Hercules City Council Hosts the ILC

The evening was a beautiful climax to a typical Spring day here in West County.  The Hercules City Council opened their meeting as they have so many times in the past by welcoming the Hercules residents who are cohorts of the Ivy League Connection.
After the warm welcome from Mayor Joanne Ward, West Contra Costa Unified School Distirct School Board President Charles Ramsey explained to the gathered crowd--and those watching on TV from the comfort of their homes--about the history of the program and how the program positively affects so many of the young people from our community.

Following Mr. Ramsey, Hercules High Assistant Principal Terri Ishmael spoke on the application process and how these cohorts went from the "what's this all about" stage to the "what time does our first class start" stage.  Ms. Ishmael introduced the cohorts and invited each of them to step to the microphone to talk about their own involvement in the ILC.
Concluding the presentation, and before the traditional group photo, former ILC cohort and Hercules resident (and the big sister of current Columbia Constitutional Law cohort Eric Wang) spoke about how her own participation as a two time ILCer affected her.  Yueming Wang was a Hotelie at Cornell two years ago and last summer she attended the Presidential Powers course at Columbia University.
Yueming eloquently spoke of how she was a dyed in the wool Cal Bear fan until she saw what else was available to her.  After attending Cornell and Columbia her views towards Cal were altered-altered to the point where she will be studying engineering at Cornell starting this Fall.

What was clear this evening, as it has been since the beginning, the ILC saw once again that the Hercules community stands firmly behind their young students and if the ILC will help their young members of the community, then the Hercules community stands behind the ILC.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Last Wednesday evening, I managed to wait as long as possible (I couldn’t bear to leave and miss the Celtics game of course) before heading over to BART to meet up with my ILC cohorts to go to the fabulous restaurant Town Hall in San Francisco. Surprisingly, I was able to arrive at around the same time as everyone else, even beating Mr. Ramsey by a whopping two minutes. I was a bit nervous about the dinner going in, and the sight of Don in a fancy suit did not settle these nerves. For those who have not met Don, he is a more casual man, who even told me the first time I met him that I would “never see him dressed up anymore than his usual button-down shirt and khaki shorts,” so needless to say, seeing him in a nice suit showed that this would be a very serious dinner. Fortunately, the dinner turned out to be fun as well as serious.
Once we got inside our private dining room, I began looking for my place card while the adults drank their wine. I found my seat relatively early and instantly became jealous of fellow students Jobel, Kevin, and Terilyn, who were fortunate enough to sit at the same table. I was a bit nervous about sitting with more strangers than people I actually knew, but that too turned out to be a great experience. Seated at my table were my mom, Joe Arciniega and his mom Melissa, School Board member Mrs. Kronenberg, Hercules assistant principal Ms. Terri Ishmael, Cornell alums and classmates Bill Vederman ('63) and Peter Lee ('63), and the self-proclaimed youngest alumni, Ms Irma Anderson ('55).
The boisterous crowd made it quite difficult to hear across the table however, so I never really had the opportunity to talk to Ms. Ishmael or Ms. Anderson. Lucky for me, I happened to be seated directly next to the most entertaining and insightful guest at the whole dinner, Mr. Peter Lee (class of ’63). Now I know all of my cohorts will blog about how they were at the best table and that they had the best alums to talk to, but I am afraid that simply is not true. I can say with complete confidence that Peter Lee will be by far one of the most interesting people I will ever meet. He happened to be a guest of honor of sorts (of course) and even gave a speech about what opportunities Cornell gave him. My fellow ILCers Taylor and Terilyn also gave nice speeches, and they happened to be lucky enough to speak before Mr. Lee went up and worked his magic.
Peter instantly made me feel comfortable as soon as I met him, and he asked all the questions I would have expected, “what’s your best subject, what is the program about,” and the question alums seemed required to ask, “Are you planning on going to Cornell for college?” Once he began telling me about his experiences at Cornell did I fully realize that the ILC was giving me a once in a lifetime opportunity in attending a class at Cornell. Both my parents had gone to Cornell, so I was clearly going to be considering that as a potential college for me, but Peter told me something about Cornell that got me even more excited about this program, which I did not think was humanly possible. Peter Lee explained to me that Cornell was not only a place where you could receive a fantastic education, but also “a place where you can make connections that will last a lifetime, which is really what college is all about.” I look forward to making these connections at the summer program I will be attending, and am now looking forward to college more than ever, thanks to Mr. Peter Lee.

Putting the Wonderful in Wednesday

The company was sublime, the food was divine, complemented by a venue with panache, and the night was- well, cold…but nonetheless turned out to be electrifying.

Leading up to Wednesday evening’s adventure in the City, I was jittery but excited for the chance to grill alums on the Ivy League experience and to get acquainted with the ILC sponsors whose monumental support I had witnessed a week before, at the School Board Meeting. A floral Neiman’s number reserved for the occasion lent me a boost of confidence as I stepped out, determined to have fun and to forget about the AP test that awaited me in the morning. I was in for an eye-opener.

My father and I had the pleasure of being joined at the table by chaperone Ms. Tiffani Neal, ILC Selection Committee members: Mr. Izzy Ramsey, Mr. Henry Ramsey, and Mr. Herman Blackmon; the latter also was an ILC sponsor along with Mr. Wally Gordon.

Our table was rounded out by Mr. Kuehne, who happened to be the father of my friend and ILC Brown member, Erin Kuehne. Erin hadn’t told me that her dad was an alum of the Cornell School of Engineering, which was well-represented that night.

The inspirational speeches set the mood for the electrifying evening to come. My admiration goes out to Terilyn and Taylor, both of whom genuinely expressed exactly how I (and I’m sure the rest of us Cornellians) was feeling at the moment, their words better than I ever could have put it. As alums, sponsors, selection committee members, parents, school district supporters ‘popped up’ to introduced themselves, I marveled at how many people were gathered here in support of us. It really echoed what Mr. Peter Lee had said about the importance of forming life-long connections and the embodiment of being a Cornellian. I realized that there was a greater network of support behind us out there, much bigger than the eight of us journeying to Ithaca. Joe Arciniega put it impeccably that these were people who wished us success and had already made contributions to our success. I’m ready to make them proud in New York and share what I’ve gained from the experience with fellow students.
Mrs. Lilhanand, Mr. Ramsey, and Mrs. Kronenberg stressed the importance of bringing back to the WCCUSD community what we’ve learned from the ILC experience in the form of service learning projects and encouraging other students to reach for the Ivies. Indeed, ILC alum and future freshman at Cornell University, Yueming Wang certainly brought that quality to the table Wednesday night. Her stirring description of how Cornell and the ILC completely altered her point of view and bolstered her confidence that she and the rest of WSSUSD could compete just as well as anyone else from more privileged areas, fired me up for what will be the most difficult but most exhilarating three week experience of my life.

As the amazing evening carried on, I got to know Ms. Neal much better, as we chatted about what her past experiences chaperoning for Cornell were like. She is really pleasant, friendly, easy to talk to, and eager to help; I’m so glad she’ll be accompanying us to Chicago and Ithaca this summer! I was very impressed by Harvard Law graduate Mr. Izzy Ramsey. I have never been to the East Coast before, so his and Mr. Kuehne’s descriptions of the weather (especially the winter weather) made me all the more grateful for this summer sojourn.

Later on, Genevieve told me about the alums at her table, the sweet story of how Doug Mitarotonda and his wife Rachael Reichenbach met and got married at Cornell. I was also awed by Doug’s triple-major status and marveled at how he managed that while participating in varsity athletics. Genevieve passed onto me Doug’s tips from his cross-country days on the best trails to run during our stay at the beautiful Cornell campus. Genevieve, Joe, and I have already made plans to try them out; I’m so excited!

Amidst our conversations, the Cornell alums and ILC students were ushered outside to take group photos. I will always remember the iconic shots of the eight of us popping a pose on the courtyard boulders. We made it back in time for a sumptuous desert which concluded the evening. My one regret was that I never got to take a picture of the delicious, quickly-devoured food.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Dinner that was Both Bubbly and Informative

I have a confession to make:

When I first read the email Mr. Ramsey sent to us about the Cornell Alums dinner, I was not excited. In fact, I dreaded the dinner. I was nervous, too.

Granted, I was chosen to give a speech at the dinner, but having to give a speech wasn’t really what made me nervous. Mostly, I was afraid that I would not feel as excited about the ILC program as I wanted to feel. I was afraid that I would have to stand in front of everyone who had worked so hard to support us and have to act more excited than I actually felt. I was afraid of being a fake.

This guilty anxiety was bothering me even as I travelled to Town Hall via BART with the ILC leaders, students, parents, and chaperones. I did not talk much on the way to the restaurant. That’s not really normal for me.

We eventually got to Town Hall and it was cold. We were stuck outside and it was cold. I started talking to some of my Cornell cohorts, but I was still feeling uneasy. Pretty soon, we were all inside, marvelling at how adorable the place was. The restaurant was cozy in that way where any source of light appears to sparkle.

Eventually we all sat down. The two Cornell alums at my table introduced themselves as Jesus Verduzco (‘99) and Emily Wyffels (‘05), and the minute the two of them started talking to us, I started to worry less. After that, everything pretty much went uphill. What an instant transition.

Like Jobel, I felt a rush “once the human element had been introduced.” I was amazed at how much fun I was having. Right then, Ms. Kronenberg asked different people to “pop up” and introduce themselves, and that was when I looked around the room and noticed that I didn’t know most of the people around me. Even people I did know, I did not know. Then I remembered where I was and what the purpose of the dinner was. These people supported us wholeheartedly before they even knew us. That was kind of overwhelming to think about, and I was still in that dazed state of mind when it was time to make my speech. I ended up completely deviating from what I had previously planned on saying, but that, I am convinced, was a good thing. I tried to convey what I actually felt, and I was glad to find that I did not have to fake excitement, because I was really feeling it.

The rest of the night was bubbly and informative. After the dinner, as we all walked back to BART together, I found myself skipping along with Genevieve and humming and chattering about Cornell. Everything felt right, and it still does.

Unorthodox Studying for an AP Test

As my cohorts could corroborate, the whole BART ride on the way to the city I was stressing about my upcoming AP test early the next morning. However, the Cornell Alumni Dinner at Town Hall restaurant was probably one of the best things that could've happened to me that night- and not only because of the delicious food. As a Turkish proverb states, "No road is long with good company." And let me tell you, that Wednesday night my company was supreme.

Maybe I am a bit biased, but my table was, I believe, the best. Wouldn't you agree Don? Also seated at our little circular table were Yueming and her mother Mrs. Wang, and an alumni couple Doug Mitarotonda and Rachel Reichenbach. My mother and retired Hercules Highschool Assistant Principal Cheryl Lilhanand completed our group. After a few inspirational speeches and the very well deserved acknowledgements of all the hard work Madeline Kronenberg, Charles Ramsey, and Don Gosney do for all of us in the Ivy League connection (I thank you once more*), we dug into our dinner and got to know each other a little better.

Yueming, Rachel, and I Sitting In Town Hall

*I also want to thank again the individuals and companies who help fund this wonderful program, as well as the interviewers who selected me for it. There is a myriad of people whose support I am extremely grateful for, and would not have this opportunity without.

Yueming attended the summer Hotel Management program at Cornell two years ago, is now graduating from Hercules High School she will soon be part of the Cornell class of 2015! It was really inspirational to hear an account firsthand how the ILC program has shaped someone's life and to see it put into use. Maybe I'll even see her there this summer!

As inspiring as it was to see Yueming's story of success and her accomplishments to come before my eyes, I think it really struck a chord in me to hear glowing praise of Cornell from two of it's very own. Doug and Rachel not only attended school there in Ithaca, but they got married there! Beginning as a triple major, and then receiving both his Master's and PhD at Cornell, Doug is an exemplary embodiment of everything that Cornell has to offer. His greatest advice to me, other than good trails to run while I'm in New York, was about the broad spectrum of classes Cornell offers; it's broad range of classes leading him to take Nepali and further shape his life. Rachel, a graduate student of the Sociology Dept. of Cornell, also had very encouraging words about Cornell- and had also attended the University of Chicago, one of the colleges we will be visiting this summer, for her Bachelor's.

Rachel, Doug, My Mother and I

After the dinner, I made my way home happy and full, the least of my worries a silly little test the next morning. Not only had I enjoyed a glamorous night in the city surrounded by people I was honored to bask in the presence of, I had gained some insight. This amazing journey I will be undertaking this summer is not a fairy-tale born of my dreams, but reality. A reality that might even include me considering attending Cornell University for college, if it lives up to all it is said to be; because if I haven't made it clear already, let me do so now. I have heard FABULOUS things about it. :)

Looking forward even more earnestly to this summer with every post.

"Popping Up"

It was a casual Wednesday afternoon and I found myself reaching for my suit. Funny how such a normal day can suddenly change into such a fantastic night.

Wednesday, May 11, was the date of our Cornell Alumni Dinner where we recognized all of the people who are either involved in our program, or who are somehow associated with it. The mere idea of this dinner, admittedly, was already beginning to make me nervous. I thought that I might freeze up in conversation with such civilized adults as the ones who I knew I would be dining with. What could I say to the individuals who were paying for my trip? Would I have anything to say that could possibly interest them? And more importantly, how could I thank them for their generosity? My interviewers who had decided to put me in the program would be there as well, so I would have to thank them too, but how could I really tell them how much I appreciate this colossal opportunity?

By the time we got to the Town Hall Restauarant, however, everything just seemed to flow. From the outside, the place seemed to be pretty regular. There was a big red tent-like room that we stepped into and we waited in there for a few minutes until we were seated. 

We Cornellians had been laughing and socializing the whole way over, so our amusement was only heightened when we saw that our "Formal Dinner" would take place in a heated tent. However, this was not the case at all. We took a left into the main building, a right past a rather large dining table, and then another left to the stairs. We climbed two flights and entered what was definitely one of the swankiest places that I have ever seen in my seventeen years of existence. All of our jokes stopped, and were replaced instead with genuine smiles of excitement.
I found my seat quickly afterwards and began speaking with the individuals sitting to either side of me; One was a Cornell Alum from the class of '63 and the other was the chaperone of last year's Columbia trip (and, as it turned out, she knew my brother from earlier ILC experiences. Nice to know that someone of importance recognizes and respects your last name). 

We spoke for a while until the first few speakers came up, saying how wonderful everyone in the room was. My fellow cohorts Taylor Doty and Terilyn Chen were asked to speak and both expressed everything that I felt for the people around us. There was a lot of thanks already drifting around the room, but they made it clear that we, as students, are truly grateful to everyone who has helped to make our trip possible.

And then Mrs. Kronenberg stood up. She walked to the front of the room and gave more thanks to the people that deserved it. However, a few minutes into her speech, she looked to us students and asked us to "pop up" and introduce ourselves so that everyone could see what the program was all about.

And that was when I realized it. As I stood up, I realized that the Ivy League Connection is not all about professionalism or fancy dinners; It's about us. It's about showing the world that the West Contra Costa Unified School District has potential and that we, being that potential, can compete with students from absolutely anywhere. We are not insignificant and we are not small. We are the reason that the people in that swanky room came together and we are the reason that our school district will be better recognized in the future. I realized that I never had any reason to be nervous around these people, because each one wanted me to succeed just as much as the next. They had all made contributions to our success in one way or another, and this was simply our chance to show them our appreciation.

From then on out, the dinner went very well. I was 100% comfortable and felt like I could speak with President Obama if he had decided to walk in the room. The Alumni Dinner was a great experience for me and was a true milestone in my journey with the ILC. Thank you to everyone who has made our trip possible, and thank you for providing us with what is truly the opportuninty of a lifetime. I am extremely excited to get to Cornell and show the world what the WCCUSD has to offer.

...and by the way, here is a picture of my cohorts and me demonstrating our newfound enthusiasm. I am the one in the white, haha.

‘Dinner’ And The City

5:12: I rushed out of my house, forgot to put my makeup on and was convinced my mother and I were going to be late to our mandatory “beat Mr. Ramsey to the BART station” date. However when we pulled up and parked my fears were eased because I could see small crowd with no Mr. Ramsey; I had beaten him there. I joined my cohorts in a penguin-like huddle as we waited for the rest of the sponsors, students and Mr. Ramsey to show up.

The ILC students, parents, sponsors, and leaders shuffled onto the BART train. Naturally the car is crowded, but we (the students) were able to sit within speaking distance from one another. The sophomores, i.e. Genevieve Simmons, Kelly Xi, and Nick Shebek (Jobel Vecino and Kevin Buensuceso are also sophomores; however they were not taking part in the conversation) were attempting to study for the AP World History test the following day, while Joe Arciniega and I (both of us are juniors) laughed and thought back on what we had “learned” in our AP World History class. 

“Embarcadero Station” the BART driver said and we exited the train to begin the walk to the restaurant. I hadn’t been nervous before hand even though I knew I would have to give a speech at dinner, but now that dinner was getting closer I could feel myself start to get nervous.
The restaurant, I must say, was not what I was expecting. Not that I was disappointed by it at all, but rather I was expecting an extremely formal ballroom-like dining room. Instead the restaurant, from the first floor and outdoor tent took away some of my nervous apprehensions because it made me feel comfortable and like I was just going to dinner with a group of people who want me to do well, where there was no pressure on me to be overly prefect. However we were lead upstairs to a private dining area with a brick wall look, candles, and red trim windows. I was seated with my mother at a table with Mr. Ramsey, Sewellyn Kaplan ~ the Cornell chaperone from last year, Linda Cohen ~ the principal of Coronado Elementary School, Kevin MacQuarrie ~ the architect who designed my beautiful new high school, and Samantha Berg ~ an alumni of Cornell. I found myself spending the entire evening entertained by the running conversation Samantha Berg and I were having. In fact I want to credit my speech to her in part because she told me just to say what I felt, that speaking from the heart would hit people with a bigger impact than facts would and that is what I tried to do.

Samantha Berg graduated in ’09 from Cornell University with a major, as she said, that is a mouth full and now works for Palm in the city. I cannot thank her enough for her entertaining conversation and honesty. Thinking about college is always a scary thought for me, but Samantha put my nervous at ease with comments on the fact that no matter where I end up I will love college. She also told me good place to go for dinner and fun things to do while during the summer college program since she participated in the summer college program when she was my age. She also introduced me to Emily Wyffels who was a soccer player at Cornell University, which is of interest to me as a class one soccer player.

Of course there were many pictures taken by the camera wizard also known as Don Gosney. My favorite one (below) is of my new family =]. I cannot wait to spend three weeks of my summer with these amazing kids, and this dinner helped me realize that we were actually going to Cornell, that we had been selected and that we were the cream of the crop (so to speak). I am so thankful for the opportunities that the West Contra Costa Unified School District has given me, and continues to give me.

A New Gang in Town

Recent police logs indicate that a new gang has been formed and is making strong efforts to infiltrate everyday life here in the Bay Area.  This new gang—known on the streets as The Cornellians—seems to have as its main goal to raise the educational bar for everyone they come in contact with.

The public should be warned of the dangers of associating with this new gang.  Even the smallest interaction or casual contact can lead to a desire to read, have meaningful discussions and, even worse, the uncontrollable desire to check their emails on a daily basis and to blog every chance they get.

If anyone sees members of this gang, they should not try to stop them on their own.  This gang can be dangerous and affect permanent changes on anyone they come into contact with.  Please contact the professionals to deal with them by emailing The Ivy League Connection at


Friday, May 13, 2011

Awaiting the Future

Wednesday afternoon, I managed to garner a few stray looks by random bystanders on my way to the El Cerrito Plaza BART station.  They were probably wondering why I was wearing a black suit-jacket at the local Starbucks or why I was wearing a red pinstripe shirt.  To be honest, I questioned that choice myself, but this was not the time for second thoughts.  After all, I had a dinner I had to attend.

Pardon my manners, I have forgotten to introduce myself.  My name is Jobel Vecino, a sophomore at Hercules High School.  I am attending the Hotel Operations Management program at Cornell University this summer.

Within half-an-hour's time, the rest of the group had arrived and the formalities had been dealt with.  

I followed Mr. Ramsey as we departed the Embarcadero BART Station and made our way to the restaurant: Town Hall.  The air around us remained cold while conversation was light and frivolous.  Despite the fact that many of us had an AP test the next day, there would be no qualms tonight.  We would enjoy this dinner.

The restaurant was certainly chic.  The second floor dining room was illuminated by candlelight.  The table where I was seated was bordered by open windows, allowing the cool breeze to keep us company.  My fellow cohorts Terilyn and Kevin joined my mother and me, as well as their mothers.

After a few minutes pondering the empty spaces we had at our table, we finally received an answer.  Cornell alumni Jesus Verduzco ('99) and Emily Wyffels ('05) were kind enough to join us for dinner.  As soon as the alumni arrived and began speaking, Cornell no longer seemed like a faraway land on a college brochure - it was every bit as real as the memories Jesus and Emily shared with us.  We learned about the general dormitories, the snow-ridden days, and the great experience that lay ahead of us.

Before the alumni arrived, many of us, myself included, were still on edge about the situation.  It still seemed as surreal as the day we were called into the board room to be interviewed.  But once the alumni explained the nuts and bolts of Cornell and how rigorous and beneficial it was, once the human element had been introduced, I can truly say I feel excited to be going to Cornell this summer.
The 2011 ILC Cornellians striking a pose outside of Town Hall.
Photo courtesy of Don Gosney.

As we conversed with the alumni, Ms. Kronenberg acted as Mistress of Ceremonies for the night.  She called up Taylor and Terilyn to speak to the group, as well as Cornell alumnus Peter Lee ('63).  After the speeches, Ms. Kronenberg had several groups of guests "pop up" for a round of applause, all of which were well-deserved.  Former ILC participant and soon-to-be Cornellian Yueming Wang ('15) also spoke.  Having known Yueming since I was a small child, it was rather strange to wrap my head around the fact that she was going to college, but she reassured all of us that her choice was sound.

At the end of the night, after a lavish dish of catfish and sorbet for dessert, we left, our taste buds and our minds satisfied.  As I watched the nighttime San Francisco skyline, I pondered what this program would hold for the future, a future I am now willing to embrace wholeheartedly.

A Night to Forget

As odd as it sounds, Wednesday night was truly one to forget. With my AP exam looming for the morning after, it was a week filled with stress, anxiety, and worry. However, once we settled in our seats at Town Hall for our Cornell alumni dinner, it was as if I didn't even know what AP stood for.

As I am sure many of my cohorts will tell you, May 11 was the night we would converge with the Cornell alumni so that we could make connections with them. After wise words from the guest speakers, we experienced a wonderful three-course meal that was funded by the same sponsors who continue to help fund every portion of the program.

Throughout the night, I sat with Jobel, Terilyn, and their parents. At our table were also Emily Wyffels and Jesus Verduzco ~ Cornell alumni. It was rather interesting to learn that both of them graduated with an Engineering degree but have yet to use it. It was quite reassuring to realize that while so many students in my school have already made solid plans for their future from their college all the way to their career, being indecisive is not a flaw, but a human quality.
As we mingled with the two alumni, it was quick to learn that they simply “cut to the chase” of typical college inquiries. We were able to “dig down” and learn about their college life and how college society works. From the emotional struggles that will be experienced in one's first year to how and when to rent an apartment off of campus, valuable knowledge was gained from the minds only alumni could bring. It was rather thrilling to hear of the student traditions on campus that college officials would obviously never reveal such as an annual Slope Day celebration and an event where the architecture students would build and burn a huge phoenix and dragon.

Because the night was filled with excitement, enlightening words, and exquisite food, it truly makes it a night to remember as well.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Everything Old is New Again

The 2011 Cornell cohort of The Ivy League Connection joined with ten local Cornell alums who were able to share with them the vast knowledge they've accumulated about attending Cornell.

Whether it was learning from the youngster Rachel Reichenbach ('10) or the 'youngest' alum in the room Irma Anderson ('55), our young Cornellians were soaking it all in.

Although Bill Vederman ('63) and Peter Lee ('63) were classmates, one was able to tell our cohorts about the excellent engineering program at Cornell while the other was singing the praises of the Hotel Management program.  Both seemed convinced that their programs were the real shining stars at Cornell.

Then there was triple major Doug Mitarotonda who finally shed his shy inhibitions and regaled his tablemates of the ins and outs of making the Cornell experience one for the ages.

While the interaction of the young and old were of great value and the main purpose of this gathering, the fine food served at Town Hall didn't hurt.  Fine food, good company and a common bond and purpose made for a fine evening and a grand event.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The (School Board) Enlightenment

With the sun glimmering off of our skin on a warm Wednesday evening, the Ivy League cohorts and I were mingling outside of Lovonya Dejean Middle School. While most humpdays are simple reminders that the mounds of work on one's table are due at the end of the week, this particular Wednesday was a reminder that being part of the Ivy League Connection is most certainly not a free vacation, but an honorary program in which the school district and sponsors see huge potential within the futures of its students.

Once we were all called inside, I saw the stage in the multi-purpose room filled with tables end-on-end with microphones beside each chair and a giant timer across a podium. This entire set-up felt as foreign as a South American jungle. It was my first time attending (let alone watching) a school board meeting, so I didn't know what to expect.

Little to my surprise, the main focus of the meeting was to recognize the ILC and its accepted students. Many of these faces were familiar and I was quite delighted to see some classmates in the program whom I didn't know were even in it.
Each chaperone went up to the podium to announce which group of the program they were representing and many of the insights and anecdotes these adults shared were entertaining to listen to. In fact, various alumni of the ILC went up to share their tales. Yueming Wang's experience at Cornell was perhaps the most memorable for me.

Amusingly enough, the fact that these courses will be very difficult has been drilled into our heads so many times that when Yueming went up to that podium and talk, I was already desensitized. It was enough that when she shared the specific struggles at Cornell, I simply shrugged my personal concerns of my class off of my shoulders.

When the sponsors were to be recognized as well, it actually shocked me that these were not corporations or large businesses that helped fund the program, but citizens who actively participate in the community.

It's not as if I did not have any appreciation for the Ivy League Connection prior to May 4, but when the meeting concluded, I left as a scholar who appreciated the program ten times more.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just a Teaser

The 2011 Ivy League Connection cohorts, their chaperones and parents gather for a group photo after being presented to the West Contra Costa Unified School District on May 4th.

Stay tuned for more photos.