Tuesday, August 4, 2015

This Is NOT the End

By now, you, the reader, know exactly what the Ivy League Connection is. The Ivy League Connection is a program that provides scholarships to selected students for them to travel to prestigious schools on the East Coast and in the Midwest, all to promote the college-going culture. But is that all that the ILC is? I believe that the ILC is not just a program, but a symbol. A symbol of opportunity through determination.

Years ago, when my brother got into the ILC, I saw all the privileges he had. I decided that if my brother could do it, then I could do it, too, and began preparing myself for this opportunity. My logic was kind of backward at the time; I was driven by pride rather than the desire to succeed. 

One of my proudest moments.
Then, in the fall, it was finally my turn. Don came to our school advertising the Ivy League Connection, and I soaked up every word he said. My friends, on the other hand, were more reluctant. After hearing that we had to write several essays and applications, most of them were discouraged and decided not to apply. I was disappointed when I heard this, since an excellent opportunity like this was definitely worth the work. But I didn't let this discourage me too much, and stayed on track. I finished my application essays, and soon found myself sitting in a classroom with six other students, waiting to be interviewed. I still remember not understanding one interview question at all, and having to completely wing it. This part of the application process was very intense and nerve-racking for me, and was no doubt an important experience that will come in handy when applying for a job in the near future. But even though I had doubts about whether or not I would succeed in that interview room, my name was called, everyone cheered, and I had an amazing time in the Midwest. The end.

Remember this? Oh, the memories this brings back.
Of course, that's only part of what happened. Although we had successfully become ILCers, we still had to face several trials to show our commitment. There was the dinner, for example. One of my biggest weaknesses was my lack of sociability; this event truly put that to the test. But I got to meet some amazing people, including important sponsors and UChicago alumni. It was cool to meet people who had actually gotten into the school, since it showed me that getting into prestigious schools like these were not impossible without will and determination, just like the ILC itself. This idea would recur in the other school dinners as well. Another big test was the school board meeting, where I had to give a speech in front of the school board, and many families watching from home on TV. This, in itself, was a learning experience that tested my ability to work and perform under extreme pressure. Even though I don't want to do something like that again in the near future, I'm glad that I did it. But each of these events was more than just a challenge to overcome. At each event, we were reminded of our overlying responsibility to give back to the community, one of the most important reasons we were going to the Midwest in the first place.

I loved traveling with the cohort to places like this (WUSTL)...Just so green.
Next came the actual trip. The first week was just one nonstop flurry of meeting new people, touring schools, seeing sights, and listening to information sessions that all contained pretty much the same information. But that aside, this was an extremely rich experience. I finally learned what need-based and merit-based financial aid were, started considering study abroad in college, and became interested in Northwestern University. Around this time, I realized the complete unfairness of the situation: we had gotten this opportunity to learn about the wonderful schools that exist outside of California, but what about the others? What about the people who don't understand the possibilities, the people who just need a glimpse? This realization definitely reminded me of the responsibilities I had as an ILCer.

Of course, one of the most important aspects of the whole trip was attending class at UChicago. I believe that this ultimately changed my way of thinking about school and academics. Before I became an ILCer, I was incredibly prideful and self-assured in my abilities. I thought that things would always be the same, that I would always turn out on top when it came to academics. I look back and regret my naivete. Right on the first day, I was thrown into oblivion as the class delved into material that I had never heard of. It would not be an overstatement to say that I was one of the slowest learners in the class. But even though I lagged behind everyone else, I began enjoying myself. My parents used to ask me whether I would rather be in an easy class and get a high grade or be in a challenging class and get a lower grade. I now understand the merits of the latter choice (even though I still ended up with an A in the class). 
Some of my classmates at Yerkes. These guys were awesome to be around, and super helpful, too.
This trip - no, my entire ILC experience, has been without a doubt the most life-changing experience of my life to date. I've gotten a view of the possibilities that exist outside of UCs and Stanford, and the competition that I will face in just a year when applying for college. I've learned to live by myself, and have experienced both the upsides (freedom!) and the downsides (fatigue, poor health, apparent isolation, possible insanity). I've been inspired to push myself harder than before, and I've found the true joy in learning. For the remainder of my high school career, I hope to do my best and to strive to break my previous limits of accomplishment. And as an ILCer, I want to carry out the rest of the original mission: spread my experiences in the Midwest to everyone I know and encourage them to look beyond that ubiquitous goal, UC Berkeley. My friends who didn't apply for the ILC: you have been warned. 

To Tamika, Brandon, Aisha, and Alana: You guys are awesome! Thanks for everything.
Once again, I'd like to thank everyone who makes the Ivy League Connection possible. This is such a once-in-a-lifetime chance for students across the school district. I hope that this opportunity will continue to open doors and create inspiration for college-aspiring students. I've had a wonderful time being an ILCer, and will keep forging ahead to achieve my own goals, every single day. And even when things look bleak, maybe when everything is overwhelming, just remember:
Tomorrow is always another day.

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