Friday, May 17, 2013

The AP Tests, The Yale, And The School Board

Wednesday, May 15, 2013 was everything but normal. It was euphoric, it was depressing, it was ire, it was annoying, and most importantly, it was important. Words cannot explain how hectic and bipolar my day seem, but I have plenty of words, so I will attempt to explain just how insane the day was.

My day began as an abnormal Wednesday. It was near freezing, though it was spring. I woke up at 7:20 AM, though on Wednesdays I wake up at 8:15 AM. I'm normally an all around energetic person, no matter what part of the day, though I felt like I was half way to death. The reason for my different mood was because this day; this hectic day, I was to take the AP U.S. History exam. History has never been my strong subject, but nevertheless I got up, got ready, and got to school. Since by law I am not allowed to speak of the material on the exam I will say this -- this test was absolutely horrible. It wasn't just the test itself, but also the atmosphere, the length of the test, and the people supervising the test. Many of my fellow students and I went in to take the test knowing very little, and I believe many of us came out knowing that we knew less of what we originally thought we knew. The test was a grueling four hours, there was nothing but thinking, analyzing, and remembering. The people who were conducting the test continuously ran in and out of the classrooms, had conversations on their walkie talkies and phones, and constantly switched shifts, leaving the new conductors confused and the test takers annoyed and frustrated. After the test, some strange force shoved me to French class, though I really should have gone home because my brain refused to function properly after the difficult test. After French I decided to leave school and find some food. Siri ended up taking me to a nearby Thai restaurant, where I met my mother and had a little lunch date. After my delicious meal of Pad Thai and Thai iced tea, I went to my car. The second I ignited my engine I received a phone call. I whipped out my phone wondering who it could be.

"Hello Damian? This is Don Gosney. I thought you would like to know that Yale just contacted me and has accepted all four of you!"
"OH MY GOD! Are you serious?!"
"Yes, thought you'd like to know. Though I don't think they were pleased with the e-mail I sent them."
"Thank you SO much Don! Bye!"

This is where the euphoria kicks in. I was elated. I was awestruck. I couldn't believe it. After months of being put on the waiting list for the Young Yale Global Scholars Programs, I was finally accepted. I stepped out of my car looking for my mom. I just had to tell her. She was halfway out of the parking lot and I proceeded to flail my arms like a stranded man on an island who has just seen a ship. She drove up to me and I told her that Yale has just accepted me. She was happy and shocked and would meet me back at home. I went home and I was more jolly than Saint Nick. I was finally accepted into the program. The next few moments were all a blur, but after all the testing and screaming I did, I was exhausted. I decided to take a nap until 5:00 PM.
As you can see our flag is facing the correct way and Liam is about to give his speech.
When I woke, I immediately started getting ready for the School Board meeting. After the same old routine of choosing a blazer, a tie, a shirt etc. I was ready to head out with my dad. I had already told him via cellphone that my fellow cohorts and I will be going to study Grand Strategy at Yale this summer. With the help of my trusty iPhone GPS, we made it to Lavonya Dejean Middle School. I walked in and talked to my cohorts, my chaperone, and my classmates. Then we were instructed to sit down. Everyone sat with their cohorts and we listened to some worries and concerns of a people in the area. Then it was time for the Ivy League Connection to have the spotlight. All the chaperones and groups went up one at a time. After the chaperone gave their speech, a member of the cohort spoke to the board expressing their gratitude for the Ivy League Connection and what they hope to achieve, accomplish, and bring back. The Yale group was the last to go.  We lined right next to the podium and after a little fumbling around we held up the Yale flag. First we held it upside-down, then we flipped it up only to realize that the flag was now backwards, and finally after flipping it around, we had our flag ready. Ms. Tracey Singh-Poole gave her speech and handed the podium to our chosen speaker, Liam Guevara. Liam did a fine job with his speech. I distinctly remember speaking about how he'd like to teach illiterate children in his community how to read. After his speech, Ms. Tracey had us go up to the podium and introduce ourselves. After the Yale group, the sponsors were told to stand up and were given a round of applause. Two of them went up to speak and again were thanked by the board and the audience. Ms. Kronenberg spoke of all the hours and hard work put into the wonderful Ivy League Connection and Mr. Ramsey spoke about giving back. Finally, it was time to take the group photo. Don positioned the students, chaperones, and parents and took 21 photos so that he wouldn't have to dilly dally in photoshop for too long. After the board meeting, I couldn't even go home! I had to go to practice. By the end of the day I was beyond exhausted, but to me it will all be worth it. To be able to study at Yale. To visit Wesleyan, Brown, and Harvard. I don't think I'd miss this opportunity for the world. 

The Ivy League Connection is one of a kind and very kind. Thank you to the sponsors, the chaperones, and to everyone who is connected to the Ivy League Connection. Words aren't enough to explain my gratitude.
The entire Ivy League Connection and its chaperones and parents.

School Board, but Never Bored

There's this imaginary clock that runs in my head. It ticks and tocks and mirrors the beat of my heart, whirring softly as I run from place to place. The seemingly never ending cycle of something finally took some kind of beating as I finished the last AP test of the year on Wednesday, May 15. The clock winded down until it was nothing more than a slight whisper. And of course, what better way to celebrate the ending of adrenaline-induced stress than by celebrating...

Oh, of course. It'd probably be better to build up to there. When I got home from school that day, I turned my phone back on (after keeping it off during the test) and was surprised to find that I had received a voicemail from Don Gosney. The only thing I could think about was Yale. "I wanted to give this message know, person to person..." the message started out. "Oh, snapple," I thought to myself, but then the message went straight into saying that "they're going to take all four of you in." And with that, the muscles in my face managed to twitch up into some form of a big grin, although I had to quickly adjust it so that grin wouldn't look too creepy.

Four hours later, my mom and I arrived at Dejean Middle School in Richmond, CA to attend a WCCUSD (West Contra Costa Unified School District) School Board meeting, where we'd be introduced and congratulated as this year's members of the Ivy League Connection. It already planned to be a more poignant evening thanks to the day's earlier terrific news. After getting there, I met up with the rest of my cohort and shot the breeze, talking about the AP tests, trip to Yale, college tour, and a whole gambit of random topics. Eventually, we took our seats and sat down as the board came back after their closed session.

After a rousing Pledge of Allegiance, the meeting kicked off with some rousing public comments over the changing of the guard at Gompers from the district to the county. A lawyer team brought up their plaintiff's case during the comment period, so of course, lively discussion between the board and the lawyers followed. After the board refused to back down, the pair of attorneys walked out, in step, their briefcases moving in tandem with each other. It was quite the way to start off.

However, soon enough, we made it to the ILC presentation, and cohort by cohort was introduced by their chaperone and speaker. After Tracey's short introduction, Liam took the podium for us and did a fantastic job, expressing his deep gratitude for what the Ivy League Connection is going to do for us this summer and for the rest of our lives. In fact, all the speakers that went up did incredibly well, speaking eloquently and expressively. The ILC program closed out with grateful thanks toward the benefactors and leaders of the program & congratulatory notes from all of the board members. The group photo ended up only taking twenty minutes to set everybody up - and then bright, loud flashes of light repeated over and over again as Don told us to "sit still" and "stop blinking." As soon as it was over, my mom and I rushed back to the car, headed off to a swim banquet. The clock ticked in my head, but I managed to keep it in the back of my head, quietly as the hands moved.

To close, here's what I thought about last night put in Public Comment form:

To the Board of Education, to the benefactors of the Ivy League Connection, and to the community of the WCCUSD: I am honored and privileged to stand before you today as a member of the Ivy League Connection. Thirty eight of us stand here, holding our flags of the Ivies and throwing up smile after smile. How did we get here? We didn't grow up in a community of the very wealthy. Our district is thought of as the place with the crime and grime and no time. The money that goes toward education here is certainly not that of other areas. And yet, we hold these flags, and we speak to you today because of you. The very reason we were able to interview with the best of our abilities and think critically is because of the people in our lives that brought us up to be those quick, critical thinkers. In a community riddled with stereotypes that people hold from far away, you hold us close as we learn from you. 

Mr. Ramsey often talks about the idea of giving back, the fact that that idea is something that just...must be done. When I look back and see what the community has already done for me, teaching, nurturing, guiding me through my life, even before I entered into the ILC, how can I not want to repay all of you? Your generosity of time and talents means so much to me and everyone else here, and I thank you for all of your service to the students and community of the WCCUSD.

When I go to Yale this summer, people will ask where I'm from, and I'll tell them that I'm not simply next to the Golden Gate Bridge or "that hippie town Berkeley." I am a proud citizen and member of the West Contra Costa Unified School District. We fought tooth and nail to get to where we are. We read till our eyes hurt and spoke till our mouths were dry to compete. The fact of the matter is that there are other places where other students are given more tutoring, more education, more money...but none of that matters. The tenacity, perseverance, and strength that this district has causes all of us to invest not only in ourselves, but in each other. 

When I get back, I want to give back. I want to attempt to give even a fraction of the time some of you put into this community. I want to show people what's out there, what people can accomplish, and how to dream and succeed.

So thank you, Board, for your support of us - your smiles are infectious. Benefactors, thank you for believing in this community. Don, thank you for your tireless efforts to get us to work hard and achieve great things. And community, thank you for standing behind us proudly. We are the Ivy League Connection - proud ambassadors of the West Contra Costa Unified School District. 

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