Thursday, May 9, 2013

We Speak, We Dine, We Learn Things.

There are certain days that are not normal days. The day explodes with hyperbole and blown-up feelings and events that spin wildly out of their comfortable, neutral orbit. They're the extreme days that cause extreme reactions, and Wednesday, May 8, was certainly one of those days. A hot meal is the incentive to look forward after a moderately tough day. I was blessed to have the Yale dinner at Kuleto's to look forward after a four hour intense, long, difficult AP Calculus AB exam (your typical extreme day). The dinner was a great event for everyone that attended and was excellent in its social interaction, dining, information, and program.

Over the BART ride over, I was able to talk to Damian, which was great because I got to know him a little better, as well as Genevieve, a senior at El Cerrito High who's Yale bound come this fall! I was also able to sit down next to Tracey, our Yale chaperone, and catch up on what was going on with her and the Yale program. It was from her that I found out that the district had won an effort to use the funds from the bonds in Measure E that we passed last November. There was more to celebrate besides the creation of this blog!

Kuleto's was only a couple blocks away from the Powell Street BART station, so we all made it there relatively early. The private room where our dinner was held was very intimate, but it felt very elegant. During drinks, I met Peter Hanley, a school board member from San Mateo, as well as Ivy League Connection interviewer. Hailing from the Burmington shipyards up near Seattle, Mr. Hanley also runs an education reform organization that aims to give parents the choice to decide where to send their child for school. As he said, "We already get to select what grocery store we go to, where we get our haircuts...why shouldn't we be able to select our school?"

Sitting down with my mom, we introduced ourselves to Andrew Gao, a Yalie, class of 2011, who was working in the tech industry, literally a block away. Sophia Lee and Ning Liang also joined our table, two other intelligent, engaging Yalies (class of 2011 and 2009, respectively) who worked nearby in investments and analytics. They came from diverse backgrounds; Sophia was originally from Kansas and raised in Texas, while Ning was from Seattle (That Seattle theme came up a couple more times during the night, I met two other people from there!) While I only had a chance to really talk to Andrew toward the beginning of the dinner, I can say without a doubt that all three of them were articulate, charming, and well-mannered, engaging in high levels of discourse. By that, I don't mean "oh, gee, they use big words." They have a wide grasp of the English language and yet weren't pretentious about it. That's a combination that should take them even farther in life from where they are now. We talked about a dearth of topics, from Suzy Lee Weiss to snowboarding to jazz to toilet paper! Suffice it to say, I was privileged to sit at a table with such interesting people.

The program began during the conclusion of the first course (don't worry, an entire paragraph devoted to food follows this one) and started with everyone introducing themselves, from the Yale alums to the ILC Yalies for 2013 to the donors. Bill Lindsay, a friend of the district and a Yale alum himself ('78) shared his remembrances and impressions of Yale. For me, my favorite moment came when he started talking about when he felt that he was really "at college." "I got out of the bus with my friends, and the snow was falling down on a cold, lamplit street at night. We threw the freshly packed snow at each other and that was the moment." Eric took the floor to express his appreciation for everyone there, and as usual, it was a very charming and heartfelt speech. Charles Ramsey closed the program by discussing the struggles we face as a district. The WCCUSD is stereotyped as the district not to go to, with people always focusing on its problems, but there's so many bright spots that people don't know about - and the Ivy League Connection is helping to change that. However, just being intelligent or having talent is not enough. As Mr. Ramsey explained further, "that knowledge needs to be utilized into helping others." No one believed our district could take on the state - and the State Superintendent of Education. But we did - and we won, the same day as the dinner. There was so much more to celebrate besides a great meal and an upcoming life-changing class.

The food, overall, had a lot of great flavor. Appetizers included lots of bruschetta-inspired samplers and romaine salads, which are always delicious, and the filet mignon was very tender, the butter melting well with the meat and vegetables in your mouth. The callebaut cake was very smooth, combining effortlessly with the vanilla bean gelato. I thought the food had a lot of pop and was certainly good quality food, but I could find food of equal quality at a better value somewhere else if I were to eat there again.

The evening ended with more photos and conversations, including talking to Mr. James Lu about
meeting up with his daughter for a little pre-Yale get-together. Gosh, those Bay Area kids are just so talented. As we said our goodbyes and headed out back into the blurry San Francisco night (yeah, it would've been clearer if my glasses were on), I walked slowly, past the illuminated storefronts, through the busy crosswalks, and down the escalator, heading back home; stocked up on experiences, memories, and remembrances.

I took a moment to really think about the night's events when I got home, but soon after, it was back to blogging and the daily school grind, practicing for AP tests and finishing the work I needed to complete. It may seem to torture to many people that aren't me, running from place to place and working day after day. But I don't think of it as torture - I think of it as Yale prep.

Readers, you've been warned - the program legendary for its academic achievements, as well as the extremely long days of work, will be covered entirely right here. Last night was an example of an achievement for not only the cohort, but the partnership between the West Contra Costa Unified School District and Yale University, after long periods of hard work made by all.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have another AP test to study for.

Contact Josh by commenting below or by emailing him at

Kuleto's: A Dinner to Remember

Last night my cohorts and I had dinner at Kuleto’s, a restaurant known in the Bay Area for its excellent food and high class clientele. But we weren’t there just for a good meal: my comrades and I were on a mission. We knew that we were going to meet Yale alumni and get a chance to pick their brains for any information that will make our summer stay in Yale more enjoyable, what to expect, and how to prepare ourselves. We also knew that the men and women who fund the Ivy League Connection would be there and that it was expected that we thank them for their contributions. Finally, we knew that we were being given an awesome responsibility at this dinner. We not only represent our respective schools, but we represent the next generation of Ivy League Connection scholars. With Mr. James C. Lu there, we had to show that our generation was going to be the best of the best. And what better way to do that than with a dinner? But before I go on and tell the highlights of last night, allow me to tell you of the hectic time I had preparing earlier that afternoon.
Mr. James Lu on the left and me on the right

I know that anyone reading this probably wants me to get directly to the dinner, but preparation with the Ivy League Connection is just as important as the events themselves. Following a long day at school, from 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM, the last thing I wanted to do was go anywhere. Nevertheless I had a duty to fulfill. My mom showed up with my suit at my school, I ran into the locker room, made a quick change, and I was ready to go. I made sure my suit matched the dress code, my camera had enough memory for pictures, and that I had spare batteries, just in case. It was also vital that I work on my introduction. People don’t want to hear your whole life story, just a quick blurb about who you are and what you represent. That is one of the more important things that I learned from Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone. I bolted out of the locker room at 4:20 and hopped in my mom’s car and she drove us to a BART station. BART is our local train station that takes us all over the Bay Area, for those of you reading who are unfamiliar with the means of transportation in the Bay. I was tense that we were going to be late, but lo and behold there was little traffic and we arrived twenty minutes early. Well, it’s better to be early than late. We waited a while, caught a train ride to San Francisco, and walked to Kuleto’s. As we approached Kuleto’s we saw such extravagant stores like Sephora and Nordstrom in a busy upper class shopping district.

Our party waiting for the train.
Then we entered Kuleto’s, an Italian restaurant that had a warm, delicious smell in the air as you entered. We walked down a piece to our private room and along the way saw people dressed to the nines. This looked like the kind of restaurant that you have to call three months in advance to get a table. The room that the Ivy League Connection had leased for the evening was the Machiavelli room, a small and intimate space with mirrors on one wall. Don gave me some photography tips so that I would get hit with my own flash reflection on a mirror, and they did prove very useful. I mingled lightly before dinner with former Ivy League Connection member Austin Long, who wrote a great report on Bull Dog Days at Yale. There were also, as mentioned before, Yale alumni who provided some insight into the campus and the culture of Yale. I also got a chance to talk more with my comrades and got to know them better. AP testing is on all of their minds, and I wish them the best of luck with their endeavors.

Left to right: Josh, me, Damian
At about 6:30, we all sat down and began the dinner. They brought out tiny pizza slices and cheese and ham on small slices of toasted bread. It was good, but nothing to write home about. But far more important than the appetizers was the company. Some of the Yale alumni who gave me some great insight not only into the Ivy League Connection but also into campus life include Esther Hong, Ken Yamaguchi, and Austin Long. Each was from a different college within Yale University, and I soon found out how deep one’s commitment to their college runs. Ken told me about the modern architecture that is in the newly renovated Stiles and Moore building, which piqued my interest. But then Esther came along and told me her experience about living in a “castle” as she described it. But beyond those two and Austin debating which college was the best, I had the pleasure of picking their brains on the majors offered, the teachers, the food, the dorm life, and everything in between. The excitement in the conversation made it go by all too fast. Before we knew it people were giving speeches and introducing themselves to the assemblage.
Me with Esther

Bill Lindsay gave a speech on his experience in Yale along with some personal experiences that I hope I will one day use. His wisdom is priceless, and when he spoke about being a “lost Californian” and finding the help and the strength to keep going will inspire me to shoot for the stars. All of the people who help fund the Ivy League Connection also spoke and a story by a man named David Leuffler who spoke about having to fight the school board to start the Ivy League and finding the funding. Another funder talked about the struggle to get funding to build new facilities and buildings for schools. Then, my comrade Eric went up and talked about what he plans on bringing back to the West Contra Costa Unified School District and how he plans on using it. Eric is a smart guy, as are my other comrades, and his speech was both eloquent and concise. He gave enough information for all of us to understand where he is coming from and what he’s going to do without clouding it in excess material.
Eric giving his speech.

After that Mr. Charles Ramsey spoke and praised my comrades and me for our hard work and grit along with thanking those alumni who showed up. Charles also gave us some great advice on how to deal with the struggle of the real world where we must help the community around us. He said that it is not enough to have a nine-to-five job and come home to be with your family. We must help the community that has helped us; give back to those that gave us so much. To quote Charles, “The more you give, the more you get.”

The rest of the evening was followed with wonderful fillet mignon with mixed vegetables. It seemed to melt in my mouth and the butter on top added so much. The rich, creamy butter and the vegetables, along with the medium rare fillet mignon complemented everything so well. The food complemented the conversation so well. We talked more about the classes, how Ken and Esther picked their majors, and how Austin enjoyed the entire Ivy League Connection when he went to Brown. The time spent conversing with such educated people has broadened my horizons. I have always wanted to enroll in a university on the East Coast, and after talking to these people I am positive that I will apply to all the ones that I can. Yale has the classes that I am interested in, and from what I got from Ken and Esther it really isn’t that competitive and more cooperative. I was told that everyone there wants you to succeed and is extremely supportive. This is the vibe I get at my high school, Middle College, and a vibe I hope to experience after I apply to Yale.
Ken Yamaguchi and me.

We finished off the night with pictures next to the Yale alumni and pictures next to people like James Lu and Madeline Kronenberg. We then walked to the BART station, seeing the extravagant stores on our way out, caught a train, and made our ways home. It was a fantastic night filled with educated people and intelligent conversation. It has prepared me more for my trip this summer to Yale.
The name of the restaurant emboldened over the entrance.

A Night At Kuleto's

I came home from school in a rush. The second I stepped through the door, I began getting ready for an Ivy League Connection dinner located in San Francisco. Kuleto's is the name of the restaurant, and it is situated on Powell Street, in between a few popular shops, and right up the street of the Westfield Mall. I quickly ran upstairs to take a shower. When I got out, I went to my closet to put together my outfit for the evening. We were told to dress formally. I was extremely anxious, my mind was running wild, wondering which shirt, pants, and blazer I should wear. After all, it was my first time eating at a high class restaurant. By the time I finished all the ironing of my clothes and the nagging at my dad, it was about 4:15 PM. My dad drove to the El Cerrito Plaza Bart Station with the help of my trusty iPhone. We arrived at approximately 4:45 PM, and on our way to the station we ran into Don. While others arrived one at a time, the group engaged in idle chat; mainly about AP tests and grades -- the usual high school conversations. I met new people such as Madeline Kronenberg, Charles Ramsey, and Genevieve Simmons. 

We were all given our BART tickets and hopped on the BART to the Powell Station. During the ride, I sat next to Yura, the mother of a Yale student and Ivy League Connection Grand Strategy alum. I talked to her about my interests and inquired about how her daughter felt about Yale and the Grand Strategy program (now called the Young Global Scholars Program.) The train finally stopped and we headed out to Kuleto's as a group. The interior of Kuleto's was amazing. Keep in mind that this is all new to me. The atmosphere was filled with the smell of wine, champagne, and Italian cuisine, giving it an elite air that I have never experienced. I walked down the stairs to the Machiavelli Room and was surprised at the number of people. The first two people I met were named Sophia and Andrew, two Yale alumni. Before the conversation could truly start, we were instructed to find our seats. My name card was put in between two Yale alumni, Tiffany Ng and Mo Lau. To the right of Mo Lau was my cohort, Eric Wilson, to the right of Eric was a Yale alum named Tyler He, to the right of Tyler He was Eric's mom, and to the right of Eric's mom, or left of Tiffany Ng, was my dad -- creating a large circle. 
The restaurant of the evening, Kuleto's.

Before the dinner started, we all greeted each other. Most of the time I spoke to Tiffany, I learned that she majored in Music and English at Yale. I asked her about Yale and college life and in turn, she asked about my hobbies and future aspirations. Later in the dinner, I learned that Mo Lau owned a tech company and Tyler was aiming to find the new Facebook. One thing that almost everyone in the table had in common was an involvement with their high school Speech and Debate team. We spoke of different types of debates and resolutions. 

The food was one of the exquisite parts of the night. The salad was delicious. The vegetables were a bit sweet and crunchy, yet just slightly bitter and topped off with garlic croutons, ranch, and parmesan cheese. For the main course there were two choices, salmon and steak, I ordered the steak. It was delicious! The steak was a filet mignon topped with butter. My father and I described the steak as soft and juicy. But the highlight of the meal was definitely the dessert. A warm, moist chocolate cake with a semi-liquid center topped with a small scoop of rich vanilla bean ice cream. This was one of the best desserts I've had. The cake wasn't too sweet nor bitter and the vanilla was tasted nice and rich.

During the three course meal, everyone (except the parents that were brought along) introduced themselves. We listened to a few people give speeches, including Charles Ramsey, Don Gosney, and our very own Eric Wilson, who was the featured speaker of the evening. After our dinner was finished, Don had us take group pictures. First it was a picture of the Yale graduates, then, Eric, Joshua, Liam, and I had to squeeze in the center of the picture. The picture-taking signaled the end of our dinner. My cohorts and I introduced ourselves to James Lu, a Yale graduate who has a daughter attending the same program as us. He gave us his contact information and we proceeded to chat a bit. A few minutes later I said my goodbyes to Ashley and Tyler (I couldn't find Mo Lau) and they gave me their contact information. As a group we walked back up to Kuleto's main floor. I got to re-experience the elite air that was caused by the bright lighting, white walls, large pictures, candle-lit table, spacious dining area, and the intimate aura of the people of each table.

Stepping out of the brightness of the restaurant into the darkness of Powell Street, I felt the cool air of night time San Francisco caressing my face. As we walked back down to Powell Station, as a group, I marveled at the bright colorful lights of the city. I have always been fascinated by the bright lights and the hustle and bustle of urban areas. I was told by the Yale alumni that New Haven, although not like San Francisco, was an area filled with many activities. I doubt that I will be exploring much of New Haven with the rumored twelve to thirteen hours, but nevertheless I am excited to explore the East Coast and meet new people, while indulging in my passion of government and politics.

As a group we walked back to the Powell Bart Station in the Westfield Mall. Some of the alumni and adults decided went home on their own, while the kids, parents, ILC heads, and a few adults and alumni took BART. During the ride home I spoke with Austin Long, a current student at Yale. He is from a neighboring town and explained to me about the application process, what makes you stand out in school, and what colleges are looking for in a student. He told me his personal story of being accepted into Yale, and overall his story encouraged me to apply to Ivy League schools such as Columbia and Yale.

This night was a lot of fun. I learned so much about Yale and college life. Tonight was a rare experience and I am glad that through the Ivy League Connection I could experience it. I just can't wait to go study at Yale this summer and study government and politics, while meeting new people. The glutton in me also wants to taste the pizza of New Haven, which is rumored to be extra exceptional.
My outfit of the night.