Friday, August 25, 2017

Overwhelming Gratitude

I remember walking into the classroom and seeing that familiar guy who always wore a Hawaiian shirt, and sandals. It was the yearly Ivy League Connection Presentation held every year to students who were academically capable of participating in the program. Since I first heard about it freshman year, I had been fantasizing about the journeys I might one day encounter. I dreamed of such an opportunity to arrive, and here it was, being paraded to me. I told myself after watching the presentation for the second time, that I was going to get into this program. It wasn’t the type of ambition where you hope to get in. It was the determination that I knew I was going to get into no matter what.

That same day, and the weeks following I spent countless nights reading the previous cohort's blogs. I loved reading about all their experiences, and the things they learned. Reading the blogs inspired me to try and apply. I sometimes doubted myself, and didn't think I would be able to get in. But seeing that these people were just like me, made me want to put in the effort and take a gamble at it. After all, even if I didn't make it I still tried. The idea of personal growth and change also caught my attention. I'm the type of person who grows a lot from struggle. So every time I struggle with something, I learn and grow from it. Every challenge I face, I grow from. So this program was also a type of challenge for me, and what I am capable of accomplishing.

When looking through the courses offered I noticed Women and Leadership. I remembered how Don emphasized that women came back from this program as different people. That they were stronger, and empowered. I knew, that I had to try to get into that program. Being a women, I have experienced the discrimination, and mistreatment because of it I have wanted to stand up for our rights, and be an advocate for women all around the world. I have always been the type to embrace change, so the program caught my attention.Women are so under-represented in society today, and I felt that this course would help me in learning about how to be a better leader.

The first step was the essay which I completely poured every ounce of my soul and heart into. While writing it, I found myself in tears and feeling so happy to write it. At  first I was afraid that my essay was too personal, but I decided that I wanted everything I wrote to come from my heart. I wanted Don to know what kind of person I was and why this program was going to mean the world to me especially. I submitted my essay to him, and found myself feeling so accomplished. Every step of the way I would tell myself that I even if I didn't make it to the next round, that I was still proud of myself for getting this far.

One Saturday morning, I received a call from Don. It was him telling me that I made it to the interview round! I was so excited that I couldn’t stop smiling the entire phone call. I even danced around my house! I put my heart into that essay, and I was so glad to find that it was rated the highest. I was so proud of myself, for being confident enough to share such intimate details about my personal life, the struggles I have encountered, and how it has shaped who I am. After the phone call, I immediately cried of joy and jumped up and down. I ran to my best friend and her mom, and hugged them so tightly. We all cried, because they knew how much I had been stressing about it. I never stopped talking about it. I was so worried that I wouldn’t get through. It wasn't just me going through the process, it was my loved ones too. They all wanted me to get in, and have this opportunity. They also knew how much it meant to me. I never stopped talking about it and worrying about it.

The next challenge I faced on my journey was the interview process. This was what was going to really determine whether I was going to move forward with this program, or if this was when I had to say goodbye until next year. I think that I wasn’t so afraid of talking in front of the judges, but more so getting rejected. I knew that if I got rejected I would be torn apart. My confidence would plummet, and it would honestly be really hard for me to want to even consider applying the next year. I found myself so nervous to face them. I was nervous to my stomach. I couldn’t stop fidgeting in that room at El Cerrito. I found out that I was going in second and my heart dropped. What really helped was the friends I made that day. I was so shocked to meet such inspiring and sweet people. We all calmed each other down, and decided to stay in touch with each other even if one of us didn't get in. I got along with them so well and I fantasized about the trip we would potentially take together.

Before I knew it departure day was here, and it was time to leave. I left my house that night feeling so exhilarated. The entire time my brain was going crazy fantasizing about all the wonderful things I might learn and do for the two weeks. I was surely going to come back a different person.
Throwback to departure day.
The beginning of the trip was like I was a fish taken out of water. I was so used to being around my loved ones, and not stepping out of my comfort zone. For the first few days I was quite intimidated, and even wondered if my nervousness would go away. I even wanted to go home at a certain point because of how different it was. I tried my best to calm down and realize that things were going to get better, and that I was just not used to everything. 

At Brown I settled in and started to have the time of my life. Everything we did was so fun and interesting. I was meeting amazing people, and learning so much about myself. I even made amazing friendships a long the way. Everyday I took a step in getting a better understanding how to be a leader. Every moment was an adventure, and I began to fall in love with the program. I even started to love my dorm, and the independence I had. The program also brought my cohort and I even closer. We learned so much about each other, and now they're some of the closest friends that I've ever had.
 "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." - Neale Donald Walsch.
The two weeks I spent at Brown have been the highlight of my entire year, and possibly my entire high school experience. I discovered so much about myself. The kind of leader I am, and how my identities blend together to form the person I am.

Every time I reflect on my trip, or think about the ILC I smile. I smile because I am overwhelmed with gratitude. The ILC is so generous, and the people who have contributed their time into making the ILC possible are so amazing. Every previous ILCer's life has been impacted by this program, including mine. I will never forget how much the ILC has impacted my life. 

I just want to thank the ILC for choosing me, and for making this all possible for the WCCUSD. This opportunity is such a life changing experience. I understand why everyone would always talk about how great it was. It really is the best. I love the ILC, and what it’s all about, which is giving back. After my experience at Brown, all I want to do is give back for all everything they've done for me. Thank you ILC, and thank you Don for all that you do. No matter what, you always had our backs, even when times were rough, you made the impossible happen. You are inspirational.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Life Changing Experience

After several months of preparation, orientations, and dinners it was time to depart eastwards. It was really funny because the moment before I got into the car to leave to El Cerrito High, it really sunk in that I was leaving, that  I was accepted into this program, and that I was going to experience some of the best moments of my life. I left my home, thinking about how I was going to come back to it with new perspectives, new friendships, and plenty of memories to cherish.

The first few days of the trip, I was so nervous and home sick. I realized how much loved ones meant to me, and how the daily routine actually kept me stable, and able to function. The shock of being separated, and on my own really got to me after those few days. For a while, I just wanted the program to end, so I could go home. But now I miss it more than ever. I cried a lot, about my family, about how nervous I was for what was to come, and for the frustrations. I missed my routine, and I always took it for granted.

When my emotions settled down, and I started to become really close to my cohort and chaperone, I relaxed and just had fun.

When we got to Brown and unpacked all of our stuff into our dorms I realized that I was at the beginning of my adventure at Brown. I took note of all the small details of my dorm, and hall. I was so relieved that we were all staying in the same hall since the idea of sleeping alone in an entire hall spooked me a little. When I woke up my back, hurt and It was really hard for me to fall asleep the night prior. We set out to get our fans, and go to orientation.

What really assured and grounded me that these two weeks were going to be a blast, and it was the first day of class. I learned so much about myself on the first day. We had very deep discussions and I made so many new friends. I stepped out of my comfort zone so many times which I am so proud of myself for.

I learned the value of an open minded discussion, and that sharing my opinion was valued by the rest of the class. For so long, I always neglected the idea to participate a lot or share my opinions because I was so afraid of the judgement carried along with it. I left class the first day, feeling more empowered than I had in such a long time. The atmosphere was just so supportive and loving.

So many people are given the impression that one is born with leadership skills, and that there are natural born leaders. This is completely invalid, not only is it degrading to others who have never been labeled as a leader, but it discourages them from even trying to be one. Even though this idea is quite simple, it's really important to remember when working within a group setting. There isn’t just one leader of the entire group, instead it’s more like a combined team effort. One person may be giving the rest of the group guidelines, but it’s the other members in the group who also give ideas, and make sure things are moving along. Just like how there isn’t one set way to paint a picture, or sing a song, there isn’t one way to be a leader. There are so many different styles that you can use. And these styles don’t have to be separated, they can  intermix, and blend together in any way. Like how we learned about the "north" style, or the "west" style. It doesn’t have to be just "north" or "west" it can be "north-west".

I think that workshop was so helpful for me in being able to categorize the traits I possess when leading a group. It wasn’t me slapping a label onto myself, but more so understanding what traits seem to usually compliment each other.

I also learned how it is so important that every single voice in the group is heard. Every single individual in a group has great ideas, they just need to be encouraged to speak, and given the opportunity to. I also think that it is so important to respect everyone within you group, making sure everyone is heard, and respecting their ideas. You can’t have a successful group without giving everyone the proper recognition and respect. It should never just be a select few doing all the work  in a group. It should be everyone collaborating and working together towards a common goal.

By the time a week had passed, I was smiling so much and making so many friends. As each day passed i learned something new about myself and the world. It was so refreshing to be wake up and gain a new perspective. My mindset also gradually became more optimistic and positive. I found myself feeling happier and more confident. Even though I was learning so much, the two weeks were flying by fast. I tried my best to live in the moment, and take advantage of my time to step outside my comfort zone.

Sadly and soon enough, it was the last day of class. I took a look at all the wonderful faces that surrounded me, and had an overwhelming feeling of love and appreciation. I think that we all established such strong connections and bonds with each other that will last for the rest of our lives. I don’t think that I’ll ever forget my time at Brown this summer. I will always try my best to empower women around me, and share the knowledge I learned this summer with them. I wish that I could send my entire district to this course, because I know it would open so many eyes.

On the plane ride back home, I was holding back tears the entire time because I was going to miss everyone so much, but I was also excited to share all the things I learned with my loved ones and friends back home. It was bittersweet, and heart warming to reflect on my entire trip that plane ride.

School has already started, and because of the open atmosphere I was exposed to at Brown. I participate in class, and share all of my opinions and thoughts. I don’t think twice about the judgement that might result from this. Instead I embrace it, and provoke thought in others to try to shift their perspective. I look at everything as an opportunity to learn and gain new perspectives. I also have very successful group assignments because of what I’ve learned. I provide a positive and safe environment for all the members to speak, and encourage them to be innovative and share their thoughts.

I will continue to share my experience with others, and give them new insights they once never knew even existed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thank You Don

 The very beginning

This is probably the one blog I least looked forward to writing. The past 6 months were spent with this very trip on my mind, and it's hard to believe that it's now over. I remember the very day almost two years ago where I saw a man named Don Gosney, in a tropical shirt and cargo shorts. I had no idea what the presentation was for, but within 5 minutes I was hooked. I knew this was something I had to pursue, it was as though it was just calling my name.
Color Me Mine

Fast forward a year later, there I am again, sitting in the very same presentation. This time, however, something was different. I was finally eligible to apply, and guess what I did? I applied to the Women and Leadership course at Brown University. It was the program that stuck out to me the most since the first time I heard of the ILC.

I still remember stressing over the application, rewriting the essays at least 5 times, until I was satisfied. I remember sitting in my SAT  prep class and getting a call from Don Gosney, telling me I got the interview.  I remember how excited yet nervous I was. When I submitted my essays, I kept telling myself I wouldn't get the interview, and I remember sitting at the interview surrounded by a group of amazing people telling myself, and them that I wouldn't get into the program. I remember being filled with joy ( and doubt) when I heard Don call my name. I couldn't believe it, I actually got in.

From there began an experience like no other. Going through the tutorial, orientation board meeting, and dinner, everything still felt surreal. I was still in disbelief that I was actually going to Brown. Along the way, however, I began to form friendships with people within the program and it reminded why I signed up for the program in the first place. I loved meeting new people, and surrounding
The dinner
myself with goal oriented people with similar aspirations. All the people within the program worked their way to that position. I saw potential in each and every one of them, I had absolutely no doubt that they would be going far in life.

My cohort and I began to become closer and closer as time passed, and my excitement continued to grow. Planning out all the places we wanted to visit and all the things we wanted to do made me restless. I remember reading all the other cohorts' blogs, to pass time and get an idea of what our trip would be like when the time came.There were definitely a few bumps along the way, but next thing you know we were all gathered at El Cerrito High School at 2 in the morning.

This was my first time away from home for longer than a weekend. I remember feeling homesick the first night, but slowly but surely I began to enjoy myself more than ever. Sophomore year had been incredibly draining, and finally coming out of the nutshell that I called home was exactly what I needed. Although temporary, it was a fresh start. No one knew of each other's past and approached one another with an open mind. All the laughs and conversations were genuine, and I hold them very dear to my heart.

Every bit and piece of this program was a learning experience. The moment you closed your eyes, you would miss out on something amazing.  Coming out of the routine life I had become accustomed to taught me a lot about myself., as well as others. It was such a short period of time, and yet I
The amazing people I met along the way
managed to learn so much. I went to Brown as a different person and have returned as another. Living on your own definitely forces you to grow up, to be independent, and to be responsible. It's something I had to learn, but it's just another thing to add to the list of why this program truly is life changing.

This program allowed me to meet people from all over the world, with entirely different backgrounds, upbringings, and mindsets of my own. I shared a room with someone who's family was in the 0.01% of the world's wealthiest, while that is a life I couldn't even dream of. I met individuals who spoke 5 or more languages, went to the top schools of their countries, and some who played sports at the national level. At first, it was a huge culture shock, but as time progressed,  I got to know
A class for the books
these people, and it showed me that at the end of the day, people are just people, regardless of their backgrounds. Everyone at Perkins got along with each other so well, and we all became incredibly close.

At Brown, I was surrounded by a group of people that empowered one another to become a better person, to feel comfortable in their own skin, and to pursue their aspirations. I had never been surrounded by so many amazing people all at the same time, it was absolutely wonderful. Getting to know these people, and their stories really opened my eyes. My life back home left me with tunnel visioned thought, but being exposed to such a diverse group of people left me with an entirely new perspective.

Throughout my time at Brown, it would be an understatement to say I had fun. I had the time of my life. But all of this would have been impossible if it weren't for one very hardworking and selfless individual: Don Gosney. Thank you. This man definitely deserves more credit than he receives, because of him, an opportunity like this became a reality. If it weren't for him, so many children would not have achieved the success that they have. For me, and many others, this man has opened doors. His priority has always been for us to learn, to grow, and have fun at the expense of his very own health and money. Whether it be working countless hours to raise funds for our trip, or staying up all night organizing every little detail for all the cohorts, checking up on us multiple times a day, making sure we were on the right track, or making sure he photographs the perfect moments. Instead of spending his retirement years in solitude, he works relentlessly to ensure students of our school district do not remain inferior than those of more affluent backgrounds, to ensure we recognize our potential, and to ensure we pursue our hopes and dreams. I know I may have not been the most responsible ILCer, and for that Don, I apologize. Regardless, I am eternally grateful for everything you have done for me, and the others as well. Your efforts mean the world to me. Thank you.
To the very end

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Memories For a Lifetime

Sunny days
It has been 4 days since my return, and yet that feeling of nostalgia is still weighing me down. Who ever thought that two weeks could literally change your life? I, for one, did not believe that; however the Brown Leadership Institute continued to change my views. It continued to show me that as a matter of fact, two weeks can change your life.
My favorite intersection

We checked in Saturday night, earlier than everyone else. I remember only seeing about two other people in all of Perkins. If I were to be a honest, it was a bit terrifying. I was miles away from home, in a partially empty building. I had only one other person on my floor and it was almost midnight. That night I felt incredibly home sick, I told myself I would be miserable there. Little did I know what lay ahead.

The next day started off on a much better foot, and the days continued to look up. The first day of class I walked in slightly unsure and a bit reserved. By the end of that first day, my spirits had changed. I revealed to a complete stranger parts of myself that not even my closest friends know about me. I was posed with questions that on a day to day basis, I rarely think about. If there was one thing everyone in that class had in common, it was our passion for the subject. Regardless of our backgrounds, we all were in that room with a common purpose, and that is exactly what brought us all so close together.
I would never have thought I could become so close to so many people in such a short amount of time. All of the people I met inspired me in some shape or form. I felt genuine happiness being surrounded by so many amazing people, which definitely made the goodbyes all the more difficult.

Each and every day I was able to wake up to my friends, share meals with people from around the world, and have conversations that will forever remain invaluable to my heart. Inside and outside the classroom, I cherished every moment. I learned so much from the people around me, it just proved to show that learning is never exclusive only to the classroom.

Mary Grace
The classroom however, did teach me a lot. It taught me about issues that I would rarely think about. It taught me to be conscious of myself, as well as others. It taught me privilege is not a bad thing. It taught me to be comfortable in my own skin. It taught me that it is okay to take care of yourself. It taught me things about myself not even I was aware about. It was an entirely different environment than what I was used to. There were no standards, there was no right or wrong, and most importantly, there was no fear of judgment. High school has drained parts of me that this class managed to bring back, and for that I am eternally grateful. Just these two weeks have allowed me to grow more than my last two years in high school ever have.

The trip was not all smiles, it definitely had its ups and downs, but I am grateful for it all. Each and every moment contributed to me being able to call this a life changing experience. It was definitely a high for me, and it was a break from the routine life I had become accustomed to. Change is something I typically feared, but I have now learned to embrace it. I would wake up each day not knowing what to expect, and instead of being uncomfortable with that idea, I pushed myself to make the most of it. Being away from home, on the other side of the country, has taught me incredibly valuable lessons and has left me with irreplaceable memories. Even a week later, here I am, still wishing I could go back.
I miss them all

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Feminism is For Everyone

My favorite moment during the Challenge Course.
When I first started ILC, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve heard a couple of stories that have convinced me to go venture into this from previous ILC alumni, but nothing that actually felt as if I would have a place in it. The first person I talked to was Jahnvi, who gushed about her time at Vanderbilt. I felt excited and happy for her, but I knew mathematics was something I lacked skill in, so I couldn’t relate. The second person I spoke with was Komal, who took the same course I ended up being selected for in a few months after our conversation. She didn’t mention details, but she completely recommended it to me and I’d never seen her so enthusiastic about something other than the JSA club.

Flash forward to February. I entered the room full of other women that were selected for the Brown interview. I was already feeling discouraged from not being able to get into Vanderbilt and UChicago, but I since I had experience, I knew I had to try my best and not give up. The first thing I decided to do was talk to the people in the room, and though I felt intimidated by them, I found several familiar faces in the room that provided me comfort. First was Esmeralda, who had been there with me at the Vanderbilt interview, and Zunarah, who I knew through my best friend who goes to De Anza. The atmosphere felt so positive, that I couldn’t help but feel as if we weren’t at an interview, but instead at a meet and greet with other high school students.

When I was selected, I found it hard to believe because it was late and I had binge ate too many twizzlers for my own good. I was delighted that my hard work had paid off and I was proud of the five of us- Amelia, Kelsey, Esmeralda, Zunarah, and I, making it this far.
The Brown and Cornell dinner.
The Brown Cohort listening to Zunarah's speech at the District meeting.
I had a blast decorating my mug and learning more about everyone.
The milestones we all faced ended with us feeling more bonded with each other, especially after the chaperone and cohort get-together at “Color Me Mine”. We met Kendra at the District meeting and dinner, but by having a more casual setting for us to interact, I got to know more about them than I thought I would. I still have my little owl mug on my desk, and it brings me back to those times as if they were yesterday.

Next came the applications to take the Brown course. Don came at our backs once every few weeks for each requirement needed to complete it, and I’ll admit, it was a hassle to deal with it. But, I knew this was absolutely necessary and I had no right to complain for a couple of hours spent calling Don for a few requirements that were needed. After the last piece of work was finished, we were all finally free of having duties regarding ILC, and could focus more on the summer ahead of us.

A few weeks before our planned leave, we received an email from Don telling us Amelia couldn’t make it. I was devastated to find out about this, since we’d always worked together as a group. Now we had only four and during the weeks we stayed at Brown, I felt as if something was really out of place without her. We made sure to send letters, clothes, and souvenirs to her, and I really hoped we were able to support her, even if it’s just a little.

We first traveled to Philadelphia. This was the home to the University of Pennsylvania, one of the Ivy League schools that Don wanted us to tour in. I had a fun time there, my only complaint is the food size, which was too large for me and I ended up throwing leftovers away even with just an appetizer. But on the bright side, the food tasted delicious.
The four of us each took a rightful letter on the famous "LOVE" sign.
Brown University was our permanent stop for the next two weeks. We were able to arrive there on time to see the WaterFire Providence event. Though we stayed for a short time, I felt more relaxed by the environment than I had been for the last six months.
A calming view of the WaterFire Providence event.
Before class started, we had to meet our other dorm mates and tour around campus. I met several students and I found it easier to talk to them because I had lots to ask and lots to tell. Because of the different environments and experiences each student lived in, it was easy to be immersed by the stories they tell about themselves and others. I met people from the East Coast, China, Korea, Turkey, and Argentina.
The whole Women and Leadership class.
Say cheese!
Class started the next day, and I was honestly a bit scared of what the class would be like. I thought it would be a six hour lecture, with little tests or quizzes at the end of the week. But the class I experienced was nothing like I anticipated it to be. The class was discussion based, and our teacher, Mary Grace, shed a different light on the social injustices we face today. I’ve been able to learn more about and from my classmates than I thought I possibly could during those two weeks.
Mary Grace is honestly the best teacher I've ever had.
Brown Bears: the cohort!
I’ve also been able to learn about myself, which was something I didn’t expect out of this program. I feel like I can accomplish anything from the support the Women and Leadership classmates have given me. Even now, we still talk to one another in the WhatsApp and Snapchat group we’ve created.

If I were to write a letter to the me of six months ago, they probably wouldn’t believe how much this course would impact me in a short amount of time. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity, and I hope others would be convinced to join next year as well. As Mary Grace says, “empowered women, empower women”.
It was a life-changing ride. Until next time, Brown University.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Empowered Women Empower Women

The day we left I knew I was going to be changed throughout the trip but a number the ways I changed was more than I could have ever imagined.

My original thought going into the first day of class was that I would walk out a strong leader but I walked out with so much more. That first day I began breaking my comfort zones and opening up about things that I did not tell my closest friends, but I was willing to share with a stranger I had just introduced myself to. This was the first barrier I broke while at Brown, it taught me that it was okay to be me and to get rid of who I pretend to be.

My next barrier was being afraid to speak up and share my thought due to the possibility of being ridiculed. I was pushed to break this during the challenge course. The timing of the course was a key factor because the day before we (Women & Leadership) all participated in a privilege workshop. The workshop was a big part because it made us feel more connected. More so I think the fact that everyone participated and felt that they were in a safe space to share gave me an experience I don’t think I will have again. Which allowed me to feel comfortable speaking against the very north oriented people in my group, knowing that they respect the safe and brave space.

Bring up a brave space is my next point. I learned that it’s not only important to have a safe space but it’s crucial to have a brave space. In our brave space, everyone could speak their truths will others “seek first to understand, then be understood.” Everyone in the class took this very seriously which is why I believe we had so many meaningful and controversial conversations without offending anyone.

Finally, I formed a family that has continued to help each other even though the class has ended and we are spread out around the world. These amazing women have opened my eyes to so many different solutions to one problem as well as the diverse cultures the world has to offer (that are now a text away). I have learned so much from them that I would not have learned if I would have stayed in the Bay Area during the summer.

The class not only made me realized what type of leader I am but the type of women I want to be moving forward. Mary Grace, Imani, and Ashley have been key role models who have redefined what it means to be a woman to me. I will never forget the time I spent at Brown with them for they have changed who I am and who I will continue to become.

Even though we returned Friday night but I still find myself waking up and planning my walk to the Ratty and expecting a new discussion that changes the way I view something else. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Until Next Time

Just before my alarm went off this morning, a thought flew through my brain. “It’s the last day today”. I opened my eyes and looked around my dorm. My roommate was still asleep and the soft light of the morning was just peeking out. I listened to the birds chirping for a while, and then thought about how peaceful it was. Throughout these two weeks I didn’t realize how quiet it gets in Providence. Back home, I am constantly awoken by dogs barking, racing cars, fireworks, trains, and even gunshots.  

Then I carried all my stuff downstairs to Kendra, who was already there. I must say taking all my stuff down was way harder than taking it up three flights of stairs. As I was walking down the stairs an overwhelming feeling of realization occurred to me. I would no longer walk up and down these stairs. 

I packed my umbrella into my carry-on backpack and left it with Kendra. As soon as she drove off it started to rain. The rain was a soft drizzle, and relieved me from the morning heat. I headed to the Ratty for my last breakfast there. Of course, I had my usual oatmeal and coffee. I said good morning to the woman who always scanned me in and greeted me with a smile. I think that these little things about Brown that I didn’t really think about before, are going to be things that I vividly remember.

I went back to my dorm with Bianche to get our fans and return them, my RA told me that they opened at 9:00 AM so I thought I could get it turned in early instead of later. Unfortunately when we went to the building the door was locked and no one was inside. So we went to class which started at 9:30 today.

Mary Grace was sitting in her usual spot at the front of the class, and waiting for everyone to arrive. I kept thinking about how this was the last time I might ever see her again, and I wanted to cry. She has been so inspirational and empowering. To start off class she put up two quotes on the wall. We were going to write about each. The second quote read “Knowledge makes me more aware, it makes me more conscious. ‘Knowing’ is painful because after ‘it’ happens I can’t stay in the same place and be comfortable. I am no longer the same person I was before.” - Gloria Anzaldua. 

I decided to write about the second one because I felt like I could say more about it. I talked about how I interpreted it as knowledge is a good thing since it makes us aware of issues that we need to know about, but with that knowledge comes a price. This burden of bearing awareness, can be quite heavy on some shoulders. It causes us to feel discomfort with ourselves and society. However, with this knowledge we can take two paths, either ignorance or action. To choose ignorance would mean to pretend that you aren’t aware of your knowledge, but to choose action means that you accept that it makes you uncomfortable, and instead of running away or hiding from it. You choose to do something about it to make a change.

Later on we played an activity that was truly heartwarming. I hadn’t had my heart touched so deeply by others in a class setting before. The activity was when students would close their eyes and about five would get up. Then Mary Grace would say something like, “Tap someone who is inspirational”. The five people chosen would silently go around the room tapping shoulders. With every touch from someone, chills went shooting down my spine. I tried so hard to contain my hurricane of emotions, my throat was aching. I felt my eyes closed, and when we were asked “Who has a good heart, so many of my classmates came to me to tap my shoulder. I heard the sniffles and sharp breaths from other girls. I couldn’t bear to try and hold in my tears. My eyes overflowed with hot tears rolling down my cheeks onto my chin to be dropped onto the desk. It felt so incredibly good to let out all of my suppressed emotion. The energy in the class was pure love and support and I couldn’t help but feel so proud and happy of the girls around me. In small groups of five while everyone else’s eyes were closed we took turns tapping shoulders. 

After the activity we all showed our faces, mascara stained our cheeks, we laughed about it and wiped it away. Just when I thought that I could stop crying I was wrong, we then went around and talked about what we thought about the class. I wanted to say so much, but I could only mutter out a mere “This class was out of this world.” without choking up and crying some more. 

Mary Grace had Imani and Ashley sit in front of the class, where they talked to us about their experience with these two weeks. Their words also warmed my heart. Then we all had the chance to tell them how we felt. While going around I gathered the courage to tell them how I felt. I told them how much I look up to them, and that there couldn’t be anyone else that would be perfect for this opportunity. They are so inspiring, and I look up to them in so many ways. As I was telling them how I felt, I didn’t try to stop the tears falling out of my eyes. I am going to miss them so much.

After that, Mary Grace did something that completely shocked me. She passed out each of us a small bag. Inside the bag was a small Kleenex packet, a rubber band, band aid, Play-Doh, bubbles, and four puzzle pieces. 

Each thing represented something relevant to what we will experience throughout our lives. The tissues meant that it was okay to cry. The rubber band meant that we shouldn’t try to stretch ourselves too far out because we can break. The band aid encouraged us to take risks, because even if we do get hurt we will always heal. The Play-Doh symbolized how no one is born a leader, rather we mold ourselves into one over time. The bubbles represented how we will always rise up over the tendencies to be competitive with others, so that we can be better leaders. Lastly, the four puzzle pieces were to signify how we are all a part of one big puzzle, and how one day we will come together again to put our pieces together and make a puzzle.

When class was over, I didn’t want to leave. In fact no one did. We all stood still. Eventually, after complaining about how we didn’t want to leave, we all got up and hugged each other. We took some last photos with each other and headed out to lunch. I am going to miss my new friends, Ashley, Imani, and Mary Grace so much. I’m probably going to cry so much more later. Just writing all of this brings back the emotions from then.

Afterwards we were off to our presentations. My heart dropped so low, it was time for the big event that I had been thinking about all summer. Once I found my lead I introduced myself and talked with her until everyone else came. We walked over to the Brown Center for Students of Color. We walked upstairs and went into a lounge. I was so shocked to see couches, and a coffee table. I was presenting in a living room! All of my anxiety melted away and I felt so relaxed. There were only a few people in the room as well. Since we had to catch a plane, I presented first and afterwards had to rush out to meet with Kendra.

I became so connected with my class. I didn’t think it was possible to create such an open, and supportive environment. From the first day of class to the last, I loved every single moment of this program. I already feel so much more confident, empowered, and strong.  Learned so much about leadership, and I was able to look at teamwork from different perspectives.

Even though we had to say goodbye to each other, my classmates, Ashley, Imani, and Mary Grace will stay in my heart for the rest of my life. I will always reminisce about the experience I had this summer at Brown. 

I truly owe so much to the ILC, and Don Gosney for dealing with so much, taking care of us, and making sure that everything was going to go smooth. I know that when I go back to class on Monday that I am going to spend all my free time telling them about this life changing experience. I wish that everyone I know could be able to partake in this program.

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. One day, I hope to see everyone again, and bring each of our pieces together once again. Just like each person was a piece of our own puzzle of some sort. Without one piece, it wouldn’t be complete.

The Last Meal

Last class

Friday was an emotional day. As a matter of fact, it was a very, very emotional day. If you're wondering why, it was our last day at Brown. It was a day I had been dreading oh so much since the first day of class. I managed to find my home at Brown, and shortly after, it was already time to leave.

I had woken at 6 am to take care of some last minute packing and get ready for the long day ahead. By 7 am, my bags were all packed and were being loaded into the rental car. I went back into the dorm, purposefully taking the long way to my room, stopping to have conversations with people on my way up.

I grabbed my bag and laptop, took one final look at room, and closed my dorm room for the last time. Classes started at 9:30, so majority of my friends were still asleep. Esme and I wanted to grab breakfast early and practice our presentation for a bit, so we headed to the Ratty at 7:30. When we stepped outside of Perkins, we realized that it had begun to rain. Even though the rain came at the most unpredictable and inconvenient times, I knew I was going to miss it.  Just like my room, I intentionally took the long way to the ratty, taking in every second of it. I admired the trees, the houses, and the people a bit more and a bit differently than usual. With each passing minute, the wave of dread began to crash harder and harder.

I swiped my card for my last meal at the Ratty. For the past two weeks,  I had been eating 3 boiled eggs, fruit, and a cup of tea every single morning, and it's not surprise that was exactly what I got this morning as well. The Ratty was still relatively empty, which didn't help my mood one bit. I sat with Esme, Bianche, and Kelsey. All of us were a bit down to some extent, but as usual, conversation temporarily aided in forgetting what was soon to come.

From the Ratty, I walked to List Hall for our last class. I did not expect this class to be as emotional as it was. I walked in, took a glance at the people, at the walls, and once again felt the dread. In front of the room, Mary Grace had put up two quotes, and told us to do a free write for one or both of the quotes. The quote I chose was about knowledge, and how it involuntarily changes a person.

Then, we played a game Mary Grace had planned out for us called "Touch Someone Who..." The objective of the game was somewhat similar to Heads Up 7 Up. Everyone has their eyes closed, except for the people Mary Grace chooses to pick. The assigned 'pickers' come to the center of the room, and Mary Grace gives a description, and the person who fits that description will be picked, anonymously. I think that was the best part. You have people who believe that you have a good heart, or people who you believe you are selfless, yet you aren't entirely sure who. I remember trying to listen to the footsteps, to see if I could figure out who was who. All the descriptions were so pure, I tried my best not to cry, but then it was my turn to do the picking. "Pick someone who made you laugh until you cried." That was the one that got to me, because I won't get those moments with those people ever again. There were some where I tapped every single person in the room, because I genuinely believed they fit the description. I remember seeing their faces light up, or hearing a sniffle or two.

We all put our heads up once the game was over, and everyone had tears running down their face. Mary Grace then asked us to reflect, and speak about our experience with the class. I was the first one to raise my hand, but I remember having trouble speaking because my voice kept cracking.  I thanked all my classmates for the amazing times and hoped that we could keep in touch. I mentioned how I originally didn't think that this program would change my life, but that changed within my two weeks there. That led to the start of a very emotional discussion. We all spoke to each other, and Mary Grace about how we felt, but then Mary Grace invited our TA's Ashley and Imani to the center of the room and gave them the chance to speak. The words they said made everyone cry even more than we already were, and then it was our turn to make them cry. I thought  I couldn't cry anymore than I already I, but I was so wrong.

Mary Grace began to pass out little gifts bags to each of us, the contents inside still yet a mystery. In the bag, there was a pack of tissues for the plane ride back home. There was a rubber band to remind us not to stretch ourselves too far. There was a band-aid to remind us that risks come with pain, and to practice self care. A tub of play doh for when we are stressed. A bottle of bubbles to rise up against those who believe we are not good enough, and lastly 4 puzzle pieces. At first I was confused, but then it clicked, and Mary Grace began to explain. She purchased a puzzle containing 100 pieces, among us 25 students, she distributed 4 to each of us, in hope that if we are ever reunited in the future, we will be able to complete the puzzle.  It was as though she strategically planned out how to get the most tears out of us, because once she explained the contents of the bag, I was fully bawling, as was majority of the class.

We all then came together for pictures, and began to say our goodbyes with plenty of long, tight hugs. My eyes were a bit puffy in many of the pictures, but nonetheless, those are pictures that I will cherish for a long, long time.

After pictures, I made my way to the dorm to get pictures with a few people as well as a few goodbyes since we would be leaving early. My heart just kept sinking more and more as I realized how much this place had really become a home for me within such little time. All the people at Perkins were so kind and genuine and we all got along so well. Even though the building desensitized me to some disgusting sights, such as moldy bathrooms, I loved it there.

A few friends and I went down to Thayer Street to grab something quick to eat before heading over to Solomon Hall for our closing ceremony. 1 hour left, 1 hour was left until I had to depart. I saw all the lovely familiar faces I was so used to seeing everyday in the room, and knew I had to be quick to get pictures with them as soon as the ceremony ended. The Leadership Institute staff were given an opportunity to speak, including our professors. Then, a slideshow created by our amazing RA's was shown. It had pictures of all our little moments from program, and it left me feeling bittersweet.

The ceremony ended, and I quickly snapped some pictures with a few friends and said my goodbyes, even though there were many I missed. It was now time to present my action plan! Surprisingly, it was much more laid back than I had expected. A total of 5 students in the room, along with one adult. I went first, and presented my plan about establishing a youth support group at the nearby middle and elementary school. Within 5 minutes, I was done, and made my way to Van Wickle Gates to meet up with Kendra and the group. Once we were all settled, we made our way to the airport.
I miss my girls

Shortly after, we were on a plane to Chicago. Feeling so down, all I wanted to do was sleep, and that was exactly what I did. I woke up to Kelsey laughing at me because supposedly my head was hanging to the side of the aisle and people kept bumping into me and apologizing, and I genuinely had no idea that had happened. Being a deep sleeper is both a blessing and a curse.
Chicago airport

Our layover at Chicago went by quite fast. I grabbed a bagel to fill my stomach, and once again we were in the air for a 4 and a half hour flight. Thankfully, this plane was much larger, and comfier as well. I fell asleep listening to jazz and woke up to the gorgeous bay area lights. We were home. I felt a mixture of emotions. On one side, I was excited to see my family, and on the other side I felt homesick of a home that wasn't really mine. I missed everyone and everything about Brown.

We grabbed our baggage and were shortly sitting inside the shuttle headed towards El Cerrito High School. The ride was silent, but I didn't mind. These past two weeks have taught me to be comfortable with silence, and how wonderful of a thing it could be. Shortly after, I spotted Don. As usual, he was in his shorts and a tropical shorts, while I was wearing to jackets and jeans. When he said it wasn't too cold here in the Bay, I didn't believe him. Our internal thermometers are slightly different. About a minute later, my parents arrived and I greeted them with big, big hugs. We said our final goodbyes as a cohort and I realized how strange it was going to be not seeing them everyday.

I came home, and for some reason, things just felt so different to me. I got to eat food, home cooked food, which was wonderful. I went to a bathroom, that I got to call my own, and there was no mold to be spotted. I was able to shower without shoes on, yet at the same time, the feeling of melancholy still lingered. After a crazy day, I fell into a deep, deep sleep.
And it's over

Flight of Reflection

I stepped into the car with Kendra, to go to the airport. I took my last look at the Main Green, and the Van Winkle Gates. I was excited to be going home and seeing all of my friends. I was also really happy to see my cats. However, when I entered the car it really started to set in that I wouldn't be coming home to my dorm, I wouldn't be seeing the same faces every morning. 

At the airport in Rhode Island we were waiting for a wheelchair to assist Kendra, and a shuttle to take our luggage. This took longer than expected since they were taking awhile. My mind kept going back to the same thought. That the program was over. It felt like it all had just started a day ago. 

We eventually got through TSA and headed to our gate where I bought Kendra something to eat since she wasn't feeling to well. I also got myself a wrap to eat since the flight was going to be long and I might not have another time to eat for awhile. 

Soon before we knew it, we were on the plane headed for Chicago. Not too soon after the plane took off everyone began to fall asleep. I looked  across the aisle and saw Bianche and Esmeralda knocked out. Zunarah who was sitting next to me was also in deep sleep. It was really funny because Zunarah was hanging over her seat, and when people would walk by they'd bump into her. She was in such a deep sleep that she didn't' even budge or hear anyone who did this. I found this incredibly funny and laughed.

I was tired as well but used the time I had to write about how my last day at Brown was. (You'll hear about it soon!) There were so many moments that I felt like crying when reflecting on how deep and emotional the day was. Soon I was finished writing about my last day at Brown and then started on my essay for my English class since school has already started. 

Before I finished writing my essay, we were landing. I looked at Lake Michigan, and the tall buildings of Chicago. It was so interesting to see how such a vast body of water wasn't the ocean and was in fact Lake Michigan. 

We were escorted by Kendra's wheelchair driver to our next transfer gate at Chicago. It was so nice to see the sign say the words San Francisco on them. It's really interesting how, these past two weeks have really consolidated how much I love the Bay Area. Our weather is amazing, it is so open minded, and the people are so loving. 

On the long plane ride to San Francisco, I tried to get some sleep. It was easier since the  earlier plane had a lot of turbulence. I later learned that this is because of the plane size. The plane size for Rhode Island to Chicago was fairly small, so turbulence was especially harsh. The plane for San Francisco was much larger, so the ride was smoother. There was also more leg room, so I was more comfortable. I woke up to the lights of the Bay Area, it made me feel so happy to see my home again. 

After picking up our luggage, we took a shuttle to El Cerrito High School. We took a group photo and hugged each other goodbye. It has been so nice to have been able to get so close to my cohort these two weeks. Our bond will always be incredibly close to my heart, and I will always cherish the memories we made together.