Below is a copy of Sarabi’s moving speech at the recent 10th Anniversary Gala where she spoke about her experiences in the program, her experiences at UC Berkeley, and a special message to all of the students striving to become the first generation college students…
…Thank you Renato and thank you to everyone for coming along to celebrate the 10th anniversary of an organization that is very special to me.
My name is Sarabi Rodriguez and I’m in my second year at Berkeley where I am studying Media Studies. This is my eighth year in the Access program and I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to come back down to San Diego and share my story.
I joined Access because of my cousin Ana. Ana was a part of the second graduating class of Access and was part of the first team that brought home a national championship. She is an amazing individual that has always been a role model for me. She talked about the opportunities she received by being part of the Access program and I really wanted to join what seemed like a fun thing to be a part of.
When I joined Access I signed a contract. The contract itself is simple. When you sign it you agree to come to practice, to participate in community service, to keep your GPA up, etc. You essentially agree to behave. The contract however, leaves a lot out.
When I joined Access, I didn’t exactly know it, but I joined a second family, and I don’t say this lightly, Renato actually adopts you as one of his children, I now have over 100 siblings now which makes Christmas expensive. I also joined the world of squash, and encountered this new world of opportunities that I was completely unaware of. That is because as a seventh grader, I feel I didn’t have the maturity to understand this. As I later realized, as a Preuss and Access student, everything comes through delayed gratification. On your first day of school at Preuss they tell you that you are going to college, on the next day you hear that Access is really going to help you to get there, but at that point you cant comprehend it, college is 6 years away. It’s easy to forget what you are working for, and this was certainly the case for me.
Being a squash player on the West Coast (and at Preuss) was also very tough. Very few people know of the sport and if I had a dollar for all the people who said, “squash, like the vegetable?” I wouldn’t have needed scholarships to go to college.
It was because of these early struggles to connect with the sport that when I was an 8th grader, in the midst of my pre-teen rebellion, I was determined to quit. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, no one had ever quit Access, but I was determined. I practiced what I was going to tell Renato at least 50 times, and I walked into his office confident that when I left I would be done with squash. I was so wrong.
Renato sat there and listened to my argument until I was done. I was expecting an “okay” or “you have a good point” something like that but he simply said “no.” I hated him……But to this day I am eternally grateful that Renato didn’t let me go. Because less than a year later, I fell in love with squash. I started working on becoming a better player and the more I improved, the more I wanted to play. That same year, I was able to travel to Williams College in Massachusetts to play in the NUSEA individual tournaments and this was a game changer for me. Not only was It was the first time that I felt the thrill of competing in a serious tournament with kids that were just like me – it was the first time that I really felt what it was like to be a part of the squash community and a true student athlete.
Fast forward to Senior year and everything started to pay off. Through Access, I was able to take SAT prep classes – something that I never would have been able to afford on my own – and they made sure that I was well prepared for the college application process, having tutors that read over our college essays. We also got selected to participate in unique nationwide programs hosted by NUSEA that not only were extremely fun, but they helped build our resume and distinguish us as strong candidates. Because of Access, we opened up our minds to the possibilities of attending colleges on the East Coast that we had only dreamt of, and had the opportunity to tour them through our college trip that senior year. We were given so much help to aid our admission process, and looking back, I think the most valuable thing that Access gave to me during this whole process were people that believed in me.
Applying to universities as a first generation college student is frightening, you doubt yourself a lot knowing that there are candidates whose families have gone through this process for generations and generations. It is not that we are less qualified than them, far from it, it’s simply that we haven’t seen someone from our family “make it” and doubt that we will be the ones to break that cycle. But the amazing thing about Access, is that they believe in you from the start and they never never stop. This was huge for me, I had a lot of bumps along the road, but every single time, someone was reinforcing to me that I was going to go to college.
Getting accepted to Berkeley was a real plot twist. I knew I was going to college, but I never thought I would get in to Berkeley – after all this is a school that has an element in the periodic table named after them! But I did. It was the most incredible feeling ever, it was honestly a plot twist that is going to shape my entire life. I was so excited but I was also so, so scared. I mean obviously I had to go to Berkeley. It was Berkeley!!! But it was also 8 hours away from home, I wouldn’t be receiving a full ride like I would be at other schools, and it was going to be a lot more academically challenging. However if there is something that I learned from my experiences leading up to that moment, it was that nothing was ever going to be easy, but I knew I was capable of succeeding.
When I got to Berkeley, it was a little scary – I was the only one from my high school that had gone to Berkeley. I heard that when you got to college, you needed to find “your community” so I did – I joined the squash team. It was a home away from home, and not only was I playing the sport that I loved so much, two of my teammates were Access Alumni.
I also got more involved with the urban squash movement when I was offered the opportunity to work at Squash Drive, the NUSEA program in Oakland. I really wanted to give back and now I have been working there for about a year. My time working at Squash Drive has helped me develop a whole new level of appreciation for both Access and Squash. For the first time, I am witness to the other side of programming. I am a staff member instead of a student. This has helped me understand a lot of the reasoning behind the rules, the structure, and most importantly how fortunate I was to be a part of an urban squash program.
Sometimes I feel a little silly having to enforce rules that I used to hate when I was part of Access. For example, if our kids don’t bring their squash uniform, they’re not allowed to practice. I remember forgetting my uniform so many times when I was in high school and I certainly didn’t like getting points taken off for something that I thought was ridiculous. However, now that I work at Squash Drive I understand!
There are times that Pamela, our head coach, plans an excellent practice for the kids and a lot of them miss out on the opportunity to play just because it would be dangerous to play without their proper equipment. I used to think that “missing on practice was no big deal” but through my process of learning how to be a coach, I have learned that every practice is essential to becoming a better player.
I now get frustrated when one of my kids doesn’t want to attempt something because they don’t think they’ll be good at it. But I know deep down that they are capable of it, if only they try and continue to practice! I laugh at myself now because I think this is exactly how Yuri felt when he was my coach, I just needed to try and practice in order for me to improve but I recall at times being so stubborn. Luckily, Yuri, like all the Access staff, never gave up on me and it resulted in me playing in the illustrious SoCal league during my senior year of high school, which was a great reflection of my hard work both on and off the court and the amazing bond I developed with Yuri and all of my teammates.
I am so happy at Berkeley, honestly I’m in love. It is the school for me in every way. It hasn’t been easy at all, but everything has worked out. In the end I had to get a job to cover the expenses that financial aid wasn’t going to cover but I find myself loving my job too! The workload is extremely challenging but I love everything that I am learning.
The Bay Area…. is an incredible place. The squash community is amazing there as well! I recently had the chance to attend the NetSuite Open Squash Championships in San Francisco, and Nick Mathew (the world champion squash player from England) casually approached me and asked me about my squash career (it was so cool!)
Looking back, I was extremely fortunate to have been selected to be a part of Access. It would have been very difficult to be where I am today without their support. So thank you for the encouragement, for introducing me to such an amazing sport, and most importantly thank you so much for believing in me.
I wanted to end on a quick message to all of my fellow students here tonight, and share my own words of encouragement. As you dream of your futures, and as we grow together as part of a broader family, let us remember that if there is no struggle, there is no progress, and that progress in our own communities, in our own unique corner of the world, will only happen when kids like us decide to work hard to beat the odds and reach our potential. Embrace this opportunity we have been given with both hands and help lead those that will follow. That is my challenge to you tonight and one which I know you can achieve, just stick to it.
I was once told that teaching comes from the heart. These words stuck with me in my
darkest and most transformational moments in the classroom. In fact, they gave me strength
and shaped my vision as an educator. Even now, as an Academic Coordinator at Access Youth
Academy, I continue to manifest these words with my students.
I am now finishing up my first year at Access and I’m reflecting on my experience,
struggles, and successes. I entered Access with an immense passion for addressing the
educational inequities in poor communities of color. I was given the freedom to envision a
classroom and transform a space into a conducive place for learning. I envisioned a safe space
where my students would be able to express themselves and develop holistically. Despite our
limited time with the students, I weaved in social emotional wellness through classroom
meetings. The meetings were at the beginning of each programming day and they set the tone
for their study time. The questions ranged from personal interests to deeper questions like “what
do you want to be known for?” Students practiced listening to each other and getting to know
their peers on a deeper level. The youth realized that each of them faced similar struggles and
many carried the hopes and dreams of their families. Acknowledging the different facets of their
identities created a space of acceptance. In class, we discussed how a high GPA was
important; however, it was not worth much if we lacked the personal conviction to improve our
communities and the world. There are still some students who are not prepared to share a part
of themselves, but once they do, I hope they begin to heal and flourish in all aspects of their
lives. It brings me comfort that our team will be there to support them. The student’s holistic
development is essential to a student’s academic success.
In addition to classroom meetings, I wanted the students to find their purpose in school.
From the start, I shared the educational pipeline and gaps in our flawed system for students of
color. The students were shocked at the numbers, 8 out of 100 Latina/o students graduate for a
4-year university.The grim statistics served as humbling motivators to widen the pipeline and
increase the number of low-income students of color in higher education. Throughout the year,
we discussed our purpose in school and the sacrifices that our parents made to have us there.
My students were aware that their parents worked long hours, low-paying jobs, with no job
security or health benefits. Hearing each other’s stories connected our group in a meaningful
way. The students and their struggles were validated in an educational context. Experiences
were connected to a broader context of immigration, the school-to- prison pipeline, and
educational policy. This to me was transformational because it strayed away from the traditional
sense of “teaching.” The youth’s stories mattered and served as a springboard to discuss
macro-level issues. In other words, the classroom became a place where the heart mattered.
Teaching middle and high school students was a daunting task. I was unsure how they
would respond to my teaching style; however, I was sure of one thing: sooner or later they
would see that I cared about them. As an educator, a shift in mindset was critical. During difficult
times this year, I reminded myself to stop relying on deficit models and refrain from placing
blame on students, parents, or the community. Instead, I had to take responsibility for my
actions and assess how to improve my practice. As educators, we must take accountability,
reflect and adjust our practices. Only by being honest with ourselves and being willing to say
“sorry” to students when we make mistakes, we can be transformational with our students.
Essentially, practicing love as the foundation of teaching and fostering the social-emotional
wellness of our youth will lead to positive change. I look forward to another year of growth and
challenged with the students. Lastly, the practice of teaching from the heart will continue to
guide my interactions with the future leaders at Access Youth Academy.
By: Soraya Ramos; The Academic Coordinator of Access Youth Academy
There is nothing like helping someone less fortunate than yourself.
Sure, this seems a bit cliché, and perhaps it is, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
At Access, we do quite a few different community service projects. These all require different skill sets, sure, but generally we walk away with the same good feelings when it’s over. The Hunger Project stands out in this way.
The Hunger Project is a soup kitchen located in downtown San Diego. It’s one of my favorite places to go, all though that hasn’t always been true. It’s hard to see all of these people and families come in off the street. Your heart aches, and even though you’re doing something to help those people, you wish you could do more.
At the same time, we always have tons of fun. The work is hard and tiring, but the reward is right in front of you. People are smiling, happy, warm, enjoying the food in front of them. The impact is palpable, visible. It might not last forever, but we did something with the time we had.
Doing it on Father’s day really put it in a different perspective. Quite a few families were there that day. In some ways, this is the hardest part about volunteering. On the other hand, helping parents and their kids makes the activity all the more relevant. This could’ve been any of us. That might seem like an exaggeration, but it’s true.
It’s almost like facing what could have been and helping out the people who were slightly more unlucky than you are. And that is powerful.
In the end, we helped 700 people and passed out a ton of books. I hope they enjoyed the meal and the books. Hopefully we gave them a little piece of peace in the turbulent world they live in.
By: Felipe Delacruz
By Kacey McCoig, Health and Wellness Coordinator.
Last week, I organized a panel discussion for our middle and high schoolers here at Access The panelist were amazing community leaders and the students amazing future leaders. This panel discussion gave them the opportunity to ask anonymous questions that were on their mind or questions that they were too embarrassed to ask. Most of the questions revolved around relationships, saying good-bye, rejection and quite frankly, sex. Not surprising at that age…and if we’re honest…we still share some of these same questions. If I’m totally honest, I was listening closely too and reaping some of the benefits as well.
One of our panelists, Sean Sheppard, the founder of Embrace, a non-profit here in San Diego focused on mobilizing college students to volunteer and serve underserved civilian and military populations all over the country, provided an easy to remember, simple, applicable and quite possibly true guideline to keep in mind. This was the two G’s.
It went something like this: There are two kinds of people in the world: givers and get-ers. Givers are individuals who give of themselves and what they have without any attached expectation to receive in return. Get’ers make their moves in order to…you guessed it…get.
Simple enough? I thought about it. What am I? I think I’m a giver. I’ve been accused of having expectations before, however. Is it always bad to expect…something in return? I agree with Mr. Sheppard, and I think I will move forward, keeping this close to the surface and see what effect(s) it has. I will be open to the possibility that I can improve, expect less, give more and more importantly, give from a place of true compassion and nurturing care for others. I will let you know my observations.
Perhaps you may want to take on this type of self-investigation yourself. If you’re on this site, then you’re seeking something Some truth for you. Some answers to your questions, even though they may be simply food-related. I do find; however, and you will come to see this if we shall ever meet, that many of our food and lifestyle choices stem from a bit of a deeper layer of the onion. This exercise, as is the advice, is simple (Let me know if you think otherwise) and therefore one that we may benefit from trying out.
So, what about you and how does this relate to your health and wellness? Who do you give to? Receive from? Are their stipulations and how do these arrangements serve you and those around you? Who do you surround yourself with? How do you and those around receive what is being offered..or take? What are you giving to yourself? Why? Or…why not? How does this affect you and if it’s less than a positive, desirable effect, what do you want for yourself instead? I encourage you to write the answers to these questions down. You may be surprised with what you find.
That’s a good start. Once we have our answers, lets take the next step. What can change, how and where, big or little, that will serve us and those around us? How can we be givers..in the most nurturing sense of the word? And, what’s stopping us?
Remember, this is not a selfish act. It is a universal truth that we have to take care of ourselves in order to really care for anyone else. This act is actually an extremely courageous act that will positively impact those around you. This message may have transformed a bit from its original context and meaning, but I think it’s applicability is what makes it such good advice. I encourage you to apply, and see what happens.
Second panel of the year organized by our Access Health & Wellness Coordinator, Kacey McCoig.
It’s been about 12 months since I started working with Access as their College Coordinator, and in those 12 months, I’ve come to learn a lot about working with students, managing and distributing information through various channels such as newsletters, Facebook pages, word of mouth, and many others, kept notes on services we could provide our students, and more. But the overall year was filled with repeat trial and error. From my experiences with the students, I have been able to distinguish what kinds of things would truly make an impact during their time in college. And it’s important to remember when thinking about these things that a college student’s time is taken up with so much more than just studying and mastering their academics. While this may be a key factor to their success, our students’ reach is much larger than that. As an organization, Access provides our students with the necessary resources to help reach that success. By providing services through health and wellness, academics, and professional/career development, our students are able to receive support in any aspect of their college life, regardless if it’s school related or personal.
Because Access is a 12-year program, we are able to assist them throughout their time in middle school and high school, further into their college education, and even a couple of years further after their graduation. With the help of my co-workers, our college students, and my personal experience as a student in college, I’ve been able to create Access Youth Academy’s college program.
THE COLLEGE PROGRAM
In short, our students first come into the program at the start of 7th grade, go through middle school and high school with the help of our Academic Coordinator, get through college, and continue on past their graduation from their universities with a degree in their hands. Seems pretty straightforward, but there are a lot of moving pieces in between that make it all come together. Because the program adds up to being 12 years (6 years in middle school and high school, 4 years in college, and 2 years post college), we call this the “12-year promise.” This extensive amount of time with our students allows us to prepare those in Phase 1 (middle school and high school) for the years in college ahead of them.
PHASE 2 AND 3
As college coordinator, I’m specifically in charge of Phase 2 and 3 of the program. These pertain to college freshman – seniors (Phase 2), and follows college graduates two years after their graduation (Phase 3).
Starting with Phase 1, Access begins to prepare their students for college by providing tutoring and guidance in order to better their chances at succeeding in Phase 2 and 3. Guidance includes a “College Readiness” program that allows the seniors to gain a full scope of what it’s like in college, from academics to building a social life, this college readiness program allows for these seniors to be better prepared for their freshman year.
Once in college, we’re there to help make our student’s lives a bit easier. Whether this be taking the stress away from a job interview through the help of our mentors and volunteers, providing an internship opportunity for the summer, helping our students network in the professional workforce, or help develop a personal career plan, Access guides our students through the various facets of their college lives.
While in Phase 2, our mission is to maximize our student’s academic experience, increase the amount of summer opportunities available to them, and focus on building and strengthening their future careers. Once our students graduate from their universities, our focus is more on personal development, their connection to the team, and on becoming ambassadors for themselves, the people around them, and Access Youth Academy as a whole. The idea is that by the time our students graduate from college, they’ll give back to the program through various ways such as mentorships, tutoring, volunteering or many others.
With all of this in mind, I took into account all the different aspects of “the college life” and put together what we call The College Program. What we had initially thought was an amazing idea, getting first generation college students to be as prepared and successful before college (and eventually through college) is all finally a reality. After ten years of operations, our first cohorts of Access students have finally reached a long awaited milestone: graduation. This means that as of this past month in May, we officially have graduated these students onto phase 3, making them the first to graduate from their universities and moved onto the workforce, graduate school, and many others.
I’m excited to see what this position has to bring in the upcoming months.
Looking back on these past eight years that I’ve been a student at Access, and now as college coordinator for the program, it’s great seeing all my teammates whom I once practiced with reach great success.
Wishing you all the best in your futures!
Access Youth Academy College Coordinator
By Kacey McCoig, Health and Wellness Coordinator.
Practice. Not just a word. Sit for a minute and contemplate its meaning.
The words that come to my mind: repetition, sweat, discipline, frustration and empowerment, growing, gaining.
In fact, this is the unique component that attracted me to Access in the first place. Sport. Not squash, the sport. But sport in general. What a powerful tool. I know it was for me…there’s no way I’d be who I am today if sport wasn’t central in my life growing up. Why? Because it’s a practice. Practice…period…no matter what type of practice, teaches lessons relevant and applicable to our larger lives, to the bigger picture. They can be amplified and used as an analogy to just about any situation and used to obtain perspective. No? Am I wrong about this?
As the Health & Wellness Coordinator here at Access, I dish out a lot of information, but what I really aim to do here is promote…personal practice. One way we’re doing this is through setting personal goals and designing personal implementation plans for big or small, easy or not-so-easy goals. I have students reporting progress in the form of: drinking more water, decreased stressed, improved organization, breathing, taking time for self, heightened levels of personal peace. How great is that? For me, the success isn’t when they get in their five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Rather, it’s the experience of creating a plan, sticking to it and being able to grasp a higher rung on the ladder and say “I did it.” Like sport, this is a practice, and one that has no boundaries when it comes to applicability. Like practicing any sport, the process doesn’t necessarily get any easier, but it does heighten self-efficacy, a momentous means of breaking down barriers and looking up even higher on the ladder.
As a dietitian, one of my pet peeves is when adults comment that children can eat whatever they want…they’re young enough. On the flip side; however, we dish out really good advice that we are old enough to not take ourselves. (No judgment…most of us are at least a little bit guilty) But, isn’t this oftentimes the case? “Eat your vegetables.” “You shouldn’t watch so much television. Your brain is still developing.” I’m sure we could think of a number of them. The fact is that we do this because it’s hard to adopt or change behaviors, and goal-setting though effective, is a very systematic process that requires time, trust, repetition, and discipline (these words sound familiar?). It requires practice, and there’s not really a short cut. I say we’re not really serious about a goal until we write it down. So…we need to physically write down our plans, tell others about it for a means of accountability, anticipate and strategize a way around obstacles. And, (yeah!) we need to wisely select how and when to reward ourselves when we achieve progress.
This was like nutrition counseling 101 in college, and I was the goal setting, disciplined master of achievement. But years later in grad school, I took a class on behavior change (kind of the focal point of public health), which, through the semester, forced me to go through this process again. I use the word, “force” intentionally because…I didn’t want to do it. My mental talk sounded much like what I hear from some of the students… ”There’s nothing I want to work on.” “I’m not going to stick to this plan.” “It’s not my priority.” When, in fact, I was just out of…practice. Only when we truly practice and cultivate a new behavior do we develop a new mindset or evolve our current ones. And, if we choose wisely in what and how we practice, it is possible to cultivate a lasting state of awareness, a state of motivation and persistent and overriding consideration of “me.” Does that sound selfish? No way. What that translates to is a conscious state of choosing how you talk to yourself and how to make decisions that are in line with who you are, what your body, mind and spirit really wants or needs at that point in time.
Without practice, we will likely, as I did, forget what we “know” and repeatedly act or think in a manner that doesn’t quite align with our goals or with (on a deeper level) see ourselves to be.
Obviously, this isn’t just for kids…it may sound a bit drastic to some of you, but it’s really pretty fundamental. This process…this practice can be applied to simple, daily lifestyle choices or to very complicated and difficult to address issues. Now, this is the really important part. It’s not about the information, which we have or can get at any time. It’s about the practice: going through the motions, coming back to the intention, finding that discipline and experiencing…physical, mentally, emotionally, the sensations of growth.
So go get some for yourself, and if I can be of help anyway, please don’t hesitate. We’re a community supporting one another. Thank you for your continued support for these amazing kids and this program. Reach out any time, stop by the club and meet the students if you haven’t already. I wish you all the best in your practice.
On the third day, we drove to New Jersey to visit Princeton. Along the way, we drove into a small town. I spotted deers and foxes in the rows of beautiful green trees. I felt anxious because Princeton was in my top 3 colleges. When we arrived on campus, we saw the athletics center with its contemporary architecture that I did not expect. It was beautiful. We met up with Isabella, a Princeton senior who plays on the squash team. She showed us around starting with the athletics facilities which were great. We then walked up to the different departments as Isabella answered questions about Princeton.
It was interesting to learn that Princeton did not have Pre-Med or Pre-Law and that the professors focus more on the undergraduates. I also learned about the eating clubs, which intimidated me at first because I have heard from other colleges about how exclusive they can be. However as we understood more about them and had the privilege to visit Isabella’s eating club, we both became more open to the system. The school was huge because it took us a while to walk around most of the campus. Princeton was overall very architecturally diverse and beautiful. The students, especially Isabella, were friendly and helpful, and they made our college visit very worthwhile.
Yale welcomed us with a world of castles and trees. Nghi and I, tired after a fun night at Wesleyan, woke up to buildings that looked like they were pulled out of our AP Art History textbook. We immediately went to the athletics center, which had an exterior that resembled a beginning-of-the-renaissance cathedral. We went up a couple floors to meet the head coach of the Yale team, a man named Dave Talbott. He and Renato caught up as we toured the facility, which boasted over fifteen courts with three exhibition courts. I couldn’t help but be floored. This was the place where champions fought with thousands of people behind them. The urge to play was almost irresistible, but we had no time.
Coach Talbott led us out of the facility and to the admissions office. Along the way he introduced us to quite a few structures and a lot of the history about Yale. We were also able to ask him questions about what it took to become a “Yaley” and part of the squash team. He didn’t hold back, which I appreciated. We could become part of Yale and play Club or Intramural, but the team was way beyond our skill level.
He did mention, however, that no Urban Squash student had ever been accepted to Yale before. It was almost an indirect challenge, one that I knew I had to pursue. The sparkle in Nghi’s eye told me she aimed to do the same.
He was also able to grant us special access to see the dining hall, which reminded us exactly of the great hall from Harry Potter. My draw nearly hit the floor as I took in how beautiful and how powerful all of Yale was. I guess I have a thing for gothic architecture.
Once we arrived in Admissions, Coach Talbot was able to put us in an official tour group, despite the wonderful job he had already done. After a few more rapid-fire questions, he went to go to a meeting, and we integrated ourselves into the tour.
Yale has a reputation for having some of the best tours, and I would have to agree. Our tour guide was funny and an excellent speaker. With him, we saw the library, got an introduction to the residential college system, and even learned about some funny history. The most impressive was the residential system. Each college had a population that was in near-perfect ratio with the actual demographics of the students in Yale. For example, if Yale had 56% women in attendance, each college would have about 56% women. These people became a family for you. You lived with them, ate with them, put on/attended special events with them, and did all of the like with them. You were friends with people from every college, of course, but Yale specifically divided itself into twelve parts so you could make meaningful and lasting connections much more easily. Nghi and I both think this is what makes Yale great, although the outstanding academia and striking scenery are huge pluses.
We ended the tour with a visit to the local Urban program, Squash Haven. I had made some friends on the Citizenship Tour who attended that program, but they were not in attendance while we were there. It was still interesting to see the similarities and differences between our two programs, and their staff was equally kind and supportive.
Before we left Yale for Vassar, we stopped at the gift shop to pick up a few souvenirs to commemorate the trip. We left with positive, but mixed, feelings. Nghi and I began this tour with ideas about what we wanted to do, but as we fell in love with more and more colleges, the number of possible futures we had started growing.
Renato told us that this was important. It was better to love the colleges we were seeing than to hate all of them. Nghi and I agreed, but now there are more doors open then I ever thought there would be. It’s a wonderful and scary thing.
Vassar was different from all of the other colleges we had seen. The University is huge, 1,000 acres of beautiful woodland, with a tiny student population that was just under 2,500. Everything was spread out, and the architecture of the buildings was almost as impressive as Yale’s, and even better in certain cases (i.e, the stain glass windows in the library).
We first hit the athletics center, where we caught Coach Jane Parker leading a beginner group. They have six incredibly well kept courts, and only shared this building with the volleyball team. Vassar Squash had undergone total renovations in 2006, and it showed. Despite not being Harvard or Yale, the facility impressed us with how well kept it was.
Coach Jane (she didn’t seem to want us to call her Parker) was what made the whole tour very different from any other squash school we had seen. Most other schools, Wesleyan aside, clearly push for championship victories. It isn’t there only, and mostly not their major, focus, but the competitive edge they were looking for was clear.
Coach Jane doesn’t want that. Vassar is only a Division III school, and she is proud of that fact. Last year, despite not winning the Division, she spoke with pride about how hard her students played and the amount of work they put in as a team. Renato put it the best: She isn’t looking to create a team of champions, she’s looking to create a squash experience. After the nature of other places we had visited, Nghi and I received this as a welcome refresher.
Coach Jane then took us on her own tour. Although we weren’t able to see much, as everything was very spread out, what we did see was impactful. The library, as previously mentioned, was well kept and breathtaking. The grounds are amazing. The dance hall is beautiful, and a lot of their focus is on the arts. They are even putting the finishing touches on a new science research center, which would be perfect for Nghi, who wants to become a Oncology Surgeon.
We were also able to meet the professor of Geography, a very kind woman who helped give us a small introduction to the coursework and course load of a Vassar class. There is no doubt that the academics are incredibly challenging, but the support system at Vassar doesn’t allow kids to fall through the cracks. My favorite fact was that all of the classes are taught by professors who hold doctorates and no one else. There is no TA who steps in to teach, so our education is quality assured. Also, because of the lack of general-ed requirements, most of our education is shaped by our individual choices. Education at Vassar is highly personalized.
The main thing that kept me from signing up at that very moment was the atmosphere. It was quiet and sleepy. This isn’t a bad thing, but for a San Diego native, it is more than just a bit different. Coach Jane told us about fly-in opportunities that we can take in order to get a feel for the campus, which will most likely end up being necessary so I can experience what the social life is in the school.
We ended the day with a few photos, and began our drive out to New York City. Coach Jane and Vassar opened up a door for us that was incredibly different from any other school we had gone to. Our choices are multiplying even further, and this would most likely only continue as the College Tour continues.