Eastside Editors’ Summer Journal

This past summer, Eastside editors participated in various summer programs all across the country. While each program had a unique focus, all editors were influenced,and even changed during their attendance. Check out some of the amazing things they did!

Ashley Cooper’s RYLA Summer Program

In most instances of my life, I try to maintain a positive disposition. I often hope that my optimism will spread to others, and simply cause a feeling of happiness to grow inside my friends and family.

Nonetheless, a definite feeling of pessimism washed over me as I drove up to Stockton University on the morning of June 26.

But it was not the hour drive to Stockton that bothered me; rather it was the thought of attending the RYLA program. First of all, I had no idea what RYLA even meant. Yes, I knew it stood for Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, but what did awards have to do with a summer program? Even more so, I wondered why was I even doing this? Although I was thankful, as I had been specifically selected for this program, I worried that it would just be an awkward experience through and through. What was this program really even about? Would I be able to make any friends? Would I be able to live in a college dorm for five days? My worst fear was that I would be a loner for the entirety of the trip.

And sadly, based on my experience from day one, it seemed as though  my worst fear had come true. Though I talked to a few people throughout the day, and found a place to sit for lunch, I felt—very much so—alone. After a night of athletic icebreakers (not exactly my forté), my feelings of discontent only heightened. When I retreated into my room, however, I felt some sense of relief. As a natural introvert, simply lying down and reading on my (temporary) twin XL bed, was exactly what I needed to calm down. It was in this moment of serenity that my ever-resilient optimism shined through in my mind. I knew I needed to open myself up to the idea of making friends and drop this dreary “woe is me” attitude. Yes, I knew I needed to do this, but how? As I said before, I am an introvert; I don’t enjoy going out of my comfort zone, I am terrible at witty banter and the concept of “small talk” alludes me. Though I knew I needed to make a change, I doubted such a reserved person as me could implement such a drastic one.

Doubt, doubt, doubt.

This word resonated so prominently in my head. Though doubt is something so subjective, indefinite, and often unwarranted, I realized this one little word had had an extremely strong hold on my life for much too long. Throughout my entire existence, I had been preventing myself from doing what I really wanted to simply because of that tiny five-letter word: doubt.  As I layed on my bed in this pondering moment, I took on a new mantra…

Don’t doubt, just do.

With these words in mind, I decided I would talk to at least 20 new people the next day, in order to really get the most out of my experience. With this daring plan of charisma resonating within me, I went to bed with hopes of a bright future.

The next day, my hopes ‘magically’ came true. But this magic was not derived from witchcraft and wizardry; it was simply bred from my change in attitude. Initially, I thrived in the cafeteria. After daringly talking to ten different RYLA conferees on the morning walk to breakfast, I finally found a niche of friends that I deeply related to. Now, the old Ashley would have been extremely happy with this turn of events. She would have happily sat at that same exact table for every meal, and would have settled for stability. But now, knowing that simple comfort was not truly what I desired, I could not stop there. So, I moved around to various tables that very same day, still learning and discovering new faces, stories and emotions. All in all I met 38 people in that one day, completely exceeding my goal.

And though I did inevitably maintain that same close group of nine friends throughout my remaining four days of the program, that did not stop me from talking to a new person every chance I could get. I talked to every speaker personally after their lectures; I bonded with all of my floormates; I even got to know two of my counselors, Debbie and Siobhan, very personally. I took every opportunity I possibly could have to make new connections.

Days three, four and five of RYLA essentially passed in a blur, and I believe that is because on those days I was truly acting as myself. No veneer or form of self-censoring hindered me. I was free to, well, be me.

It sounds cliché, but RYLA definitely changed my life— and for the better. Through the incredible daily lectures, I completely revolutionized my thinking on student loans, work ethic, and fostering a sense of community. Through writing for the daily newsletter, I discovered that I will always be able to find a passion, no matter where I go. Through the emotional group bonding activities, I learned that vulnerability is beautiful.

But most importantly, RYLA has taught me to live each and everyday without any regrets. This has allowed me to now be my truest self; my most content and satisfied self. Before RYLA I really was not a whole person. For so long, I had condemned myself as an introvert, refusing to see myself as anything different. Though I will always naturally be an introvert at heart, I now know, and embrace the fact, that I can be whoever I want to be. I determine my own future; I am not pre-destined by my inherent personality traits.

I will never forget that one contemplative night where I decided doubt would no longer rule my life. What a seemingly small, but majorly revolutionary, epiphany.

“All serious daring starts from within.”- Eudora Welty

Kevin Chen’s Summer at NJSP

This summer, I participated in the New Jersey Scholars program (NJSP) at The Lawrenceville School. For five weeks, 38 other students and I chosen from throughout the state of New Jersey explored “The Great War Era: Cultural Splendor or the Collapse of Civilization?”

As per its mission statement, NJSP takes a very different approach to learning. First, the seminars are all based on the Harkness discussion learning method; those familiar with “fishbowls” in English class will already know what this means. After a morning lecture conducted traditionally, a teacher at the front of the classroom lecturing to 39 students, we broke up into three groups of thirteen. With this small seminar group, focused on either History and Politics, Literature and Philosophy, Art, or Science – sat around an oval Harkness table, hence the name of the learning method, and discussed the topics. This opened the door to individual thought leading to a group conclusion, rather than being told the answers. One of my favorite memories was my History and Politics teacher’s “bullsh*t” button, akin to Staples’ “Easy” button. He would press it whenever we made a grandiose generalization and were unable to support our position, forcing us to more carefully re-evaluate our opinions. I greatly enjoyed these seminars for, without any grades, I could focus on learning from my peers.

The second difference in the approach to education that NJSP takes is the emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. Rather than treating the subjects as separate disciplines, the teachers looked for every chance they could to combine them. Thus, for our final research paper, we were  required to combine at least two different subjects. I chose to focus on science and history by exploring the effects that chemistry had on the development of the German military in World War I and warfare in general. Despite this requirement, everyone pursued a unique topic, resulting in a variety of papers ranging from music during the Russian Revolution to Nietzsche’s philosophy as applied to Qing Dynasty China and the Roaring Twenties. While the research papers led to long nights and many complaints, I will never forget the long nights we pulled, staying awake until four or five in the morning, collectively becoming less productive and more insane.

Finally, the social aspect of NJSP was as, if not more, important as the academic aspect. Living five weeks with 38 other people really brought us together as a family, allowing us to get to know each other extremely well. Given that we were back in time for check-ins, we had a lot of freedom after class to visit the nearby town for Starbucks, the courts for sports, or Princeton for dinner. With no classes on the weekends, we participated in larger activities such as July 4th fireworks, the beach, the Museum of Modern Art, and a dance. I truly believe that I have met people here that I will continue to be friends with throughout my life.

Thus, as a result of the education and camaraderie that developed, I can happily and proudly declare, “I am a New Jersey Scholar.”

Jenn Dongs’ The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA)

When I signed up for the 1-week illustration program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), I hoped to end up with a few pretty pictures to add to my portfolio collection. I was also curious about the professional world of illustration, as I had spent a lot of time reading picture books as a child, finding the pictures extremely captivating.

PAFA, however, was nothing like I expected. The course was like someone drawing up the heavy canvas shades of a large window. Before, I could only discern the elusive outlines of what lay behind the heavy drapery but now I can see a view that was unfamiliar yet enticing. It had never occurred to me that this vibrant scene existed at all.

Illustration is not like the fine arts. While the fine arts can be subtle yet thought-provoking or even contain no message at all, existing only for aesthetic purposes, the entire point of illustration is to get a point across. Through imagery, whether bold and declaring or gentle and coaxing, a specific idea, emotion, or point of view is presented upon the onlooker.

Illustration is also wonderfully versatile. It is essentially everywhere. Basically any image that is not pure photography or hanging in a fine arts gallery is illustration in some form. The fields of illustration therefore are just as expansive. The designs of graphic illustrators are simple and smart. Everything from company logos to app logo designs falls within their realm. Conceptual illustrators design book, magazine, and CD covers. They can also create images to populate the inner pages of illustrated books. The Caldecott Medal holder Journey by Aaron Becker is my personal favorite. Textbook illustrators have a multitude of subjects to illustrate from as well, the most specialized being the medical illustrator.

Throughout my week at the academy, under the instruction of a professional illustrator, we were led through the process of creating a storyboard for a 32-paged children’s book. We wrote the text and sketched the concepts. In theory, we illustrated the entire book. All that was left was to bind it ourselves or send it to a publisher. While I did not complete the entire book, it was a unique learning process that I doubt I could have acquired anywhere else.

Illustrators are, in essence master, storytellers and information providers. With images, they can create worlds that never existed or provide information in a visual yet logical way. Everyone would benefit from taking a little time from each day to just appreciate the variety of illustrations that pervade our world.

Kaitlyn Boyle’s experience at Governor School

Standing over a lab station with two hands buried deep inside the intestines of formaldehyde-scented dogfish might not be most people’s first choice activity on a warm summer day. But for me, that is what I would like to do for the rest of my life. Let me explain.

While some people are drawn to theater, art or sports, I am more attracted to science than electrons are to a highly electronegative atom. Thus, I nearly fell out of my desk when I got an email in class saying I had been accepted into the New Jersey Governor’s School in the Sciences (NJGSS). This three week summer program provides 58 rising seniors with the opportunity to take college-level sciences courses, as well as to conduct research in a professional lab setting.

From the moment I stepped onto the Drew University campus at orientation, I knew that I would finally learn in a setting where I fit in amongst fellow science enthusiasts. Even the name tag on my door featured a drawing of a fish with some scientific formulas.

Everyone I met at Governor’s school was quirky, eccentric, and above all, nerdy. On many occasions, however, the perfectionist in me overlooked these similarities between me and my peers, noticing only the differences. This person was going to Columbia to present his independent research at a science fair. This person takes classes at ivy league universities on the weekends. You’re not good enough. You don’t do enough. You won’t get into college.

I tried to focus on the science, yet instead continued to spiral into a pit of self-criticism. Don’t raise your hand, half of the class already knows the answer. Don’t volunteer to lead your research project, you are too stupid. When my parents visited halfway through the program, I told them I wanted to get in the car and drive back home. I couldn’t take it anymore. My mom simply handed me an envelope, telling me to open it after they had left.

As I sat in my room that night, I pulled out the mysteriously thick card, tearing it open to find not a letter, but dozens of photographs. Pictures of my friends and me at prom, at the beach, playing in band, wearing our Eastside T-shirts. All of these good memories and activities were a part of me, and all of these people shaped me into the person I am. These are things more important than any resume-booster. These are the things that make Kaitlyn different than all of the other scholars in New Jersey.

I finished out my stay at NJGSS with a greater knowledge about not just science, but about my future and about myself. Ignoring my self-doubts, I took on larger roles in my team project, staying up with a flashlight while my roommate slept in an effort to fully understand our research. My teachers began to know me better through my participation in class. Whenever the doubts got loud, I simply turned my head to my notes and continued working.

No matter where I choose to go to college, I will always be surrounded by talented peers, all of whom may appear perfect. Governor’s school taught me that it doesn’t matter whether or not I can perform better than they can; instead, it’s about staying true to what I love, whether it be science, music, journalism, or simply hanging out with my friends. Only once I stop comparing myself can I achieve my full potential.

Asher Maitin Harvard Pre-College Reflection

I entered Dunster House, the recently renovated building housing all members of the second session of the Harvard Pre-College Program, on Sunday, July 10 and found people everywhere. Loud parents flooded the halls with confused rising-seniors in tow. Floor RA’s guided pre-college members through the seemingly endless house. Dunster had recently gone through a $140 million dollar renovation, so the walls were pristinely white, the floors clean and the shrubbery plentiful. I dragged my parents along to the fifth floor and wound in and out of what must’ve been a maze to confuse the incoming students until I reached E503, my home for the next two weeks. Clumsily, I inserted my key, anxiously prepared to meet my new roommate, only to find an empty room.

It took a few minutes to realize that I was one of many who had been assigned a single room, and would not have a roommate. My parents unpacked my suitcase, camera, toiletries and other belongings as I stared longingly at the Charles River from my small window, with a view of Dunster’s courtyard that would prove important in my quest for adventure during my two weeks.

After my parents had left I first attended the mandatory Ice Cream Social, a short introductory event during which I proudly introduced myself to a few people who I’d ultimately  never talk to during the session. I met my RA, Matt, who I would mostly see when I would check in at 11 p.m. each night. There were 11 kids total in my hall, including myself, that Matt was responsible for.

I had my first three hour period of my class, “Introduction to College Writing in STEM Fields,” underneath Annenberg Hall, Harvard’s spectacular dining hall about which many draw comparisons to Hogwarts. The first day, my professor Jerusha, set the tone by providing us with four readings to start that night. Three hours sounds like a very long time, especially considering that it is twice as long as the longest class at East, but with only eight students in my class the environment became far more discussion based and the time went faster than expected.

The first few days moved slowly as I struggled to settle into a group. I would leave early in the morning to explore Cambridge, the small city where Harvard is located, and I would spend my nights taking pictures or wandering around Dunster.

It was Thursday night that I finally found my group. The program had a mandatory set of activities that students attended, called the Passport Program. Passport was split into five categories: Academic Exploration, College Readiness, Social Events, Trips and Recreation, and Residential Activities. The Residential Activities were supposed to be fun activities to get people to know each other; the activity that night was a “Glow Run”, where participants dressed up in glow sticks and ran a 2K race. I forced myself down to the courtyard beforehand and ended up talking with an RA, who introduced me to the people I would spend the rest of my time at Harvard with.

The time flew once I had a friend group established. In class, the topic of focus Jerusha had chosen for us was vaccinations. We read articles on vaccinations, learned vaccination terminology, studied public health and the problems it included and researched lots of factual information on specific vaccinations. We would follow up the readings with discussions in class during which we would take notes and prepare for our final paper, a five-page essay regarding our personal beliefs on proper vaccination restriction policies. We began with a thesis, which we shared in class and narrowed to help target what we specifically wanted to write about. The paper flowed thereafter, which went through at least three revisions before the final essay was turned in on my final morning at Harvard.

The Passport activities became more and more interesting. I was able to go on amazing excursions ranging from trips to Canobie Lake Park to participating in ethical reasoning challenges. The highlight was definitely attending a Red Sox game. Our seats were in the right field bleachers at the very top deck, but I slipped away from the pack and found a closer seat to capture some pictures. Seeing Fenway Park up close was undoubtedly a memorable experience.

When my parents picked me up on my hectic, tearful last day, I proudly knew my way around Cambridge and the Harvard campus. Though I had spent hours the night before bent over my desk sweating over a five-page paper that may have made little sense, I realized how lucky I was to be a student on the Harvard campus. I loved every moment I had in Harvard’s Pre-College Program, even though it ended quietly. Within two short weeks,  I learned some amazing skills for my senior year, gained essential college experience, and made some incredible friends.

Liz Lee’s Summer Osaka Trip

Click here for more photos of Liz Lee’s summer in Osaka.