From the beginning I felt like I didn't belong. I thought it was a mistake that the Ivy League Connection chose me to represent the school district. I applied for the Cornell and Columbia programs and was rejected by both. I couldn't understand why I had been accepted to the most selective and rigorous course the ILC had to offer, the Yale Grand Strategy Course.
I tried to talk to people about it, but everyone said the same thing. "You were accepted! That means you're just as qualified as everyone else!"
I didn't believe that one bit.
For weeks I heard people tell me how the Yale Grand Strategy Program was the hardest, and how I wouldn't get any sleep, and how Yohanna Pepa did so well last year. My parents told my grandma and my grandma told everyone. My whole family was so proud of me. "I know you'll do well." They told me.
I was afraid that I would let everyone down.
Nonetheless, on July 20th I found myself on a plane to Philadelphia. It was a fun ride. I bonded with Brandon, Marisol and Henry, and I'm pretty sure I saw Jason Sudeikis on the plane. I forgot about how scared I was.
The next morning I woke up in the hotel in Philadelphia and remembered. The butterflies in my stomach were too much. I knelt over the toilet and waited to throw up. I didn't.
The rest of the week we toured colleges. It was a pleasant, informative distraction. I went in thinking I was set on going to college in the city, but Dartmouth changed my mind. After the tour and dinner with the admissions officers, I'd have to say it's my number one college choice. This surprised even me, since Hanover is the opposite of the big city I had always imagined myself living in.
After a week of touring colleges, the Yale Grand Strategy program started. I settled into my dorm. There was no turning back now.
I learned so much inside and outside of the lectures. I learned about Identity Politics, 21st Century Entrepreneurship, and how to cut meat in America. I wrote complicated essays and ended up presenting a proposed policy to a panel of judges who were there to tear our plan apart. I loved the academic rigor, and I didn't find it impossibly challenging. Contrary to what everyone told me, I got about seven hours of sleep every night.
However, I still didn't feel like I belonged. My Marshall Brief Group was dysfunctional, and I felt like I wasn't smart enough or qualified to take charge. At mealtimes I listened rather than participated in conversations, since I felt my input wasn't very important or substantial. I raised my hand in class to ask questions or to comment, but I would feel like everyone else had a better question to ask.
It wasn't until the end of camp that I felt good enough.
At the end of the program some students suggested that we put together a talent show. The administrators were all for it, and I took charge of putting it together. I made a list of everyone who wanted to participate, I organized practices, and I was the Master of Ceremonies for the actual show. I ended up performing a rap I wrote about the Ivy Scholars program as well (I'll upload it on YouTube soon).
The talent show was a success, and I felt just as qualified as everyone else.
It took a week for me to find my confidence, but once I did it was the best feeling in the world. People I was afraid to talk to days before patted me on the back and congratulated me.
When we left the next day, one of the administrators came up to me and said, "Wow, Connor. I didn't know you had it in you."
I wish I had proved myself earlier. I wish that I had believed in myself. However, no one could have told me that I was worth something, I had to find that out by myself.
I now know a ton of Grand Strategy tactics that I'm going to implement as Drum Major of the Marching Band and as co-President of Speech and Debate. However, I also know that I exceeded my expectations. Not my family, not my friends, not even the ILC's expectations. My own, and for that I am thankful.
This was one of the most enlightening and inspiring life experiences I think I'll ever have, and I thank the Ivy League Connection from the bottom of my heart for making it possible.