Driving along Interstate 40 in the state of Arizona, it is very difficult to imagine how all the vegetation around you came to be. The road passes through a remarkably flat and open plain, yet I get the slight sense of claustrophobia as the mountains cup us in from all sides. There are no rivers to be seen, and the sky is a deep and penetrating blue, no cloud in the sky. As a balmy 85 degree wind blows past, it blows my mind to think that anything can not only survive in these conditions, but perhaps even prosper.
Even in what I perceive to be remarkably harsh conditions, nature has found a niche of flora and fauna, somehow struggling against the sun. The trees here look healthy, albeit stunted, and there is wild grass along the roadside. This wildlife must have adapted over thousands of years in order to get to where it is today.
As I look out into where life prospers, I can’t help but be reminded of my friends from SSP. Like the baking sun and the harsh winds, the curriculum and stresses of SSP has shaped who all 36 of us are today, hopefully for the better. We have all had to adapt to this new environment of long lectures and tough problem sets, and somehow we came out of it, hopefully more knowledgable than ever before.
But not only have we adapted, I like to think that the bonds of friendship have been strengthened. None of us could have made it on our own; it was by collaboration and teamwork that we did an orbit determination, and it will be collaboration and teamwork that we will remember in the future.
On the horizon, where the mountain meets the sky, I’m startled to see clouds. Clouds arising from the earth- perhaps smoke? No, as we drive closer and closer, it’s not just one plume of smoke, it is column after column- one bonafide (or bonfire?) wildfire. I face the mountains in awe, as the colors of the fire – white at the tops of the columns, descending into gray haze before tinges of orange and red can barely be seen- wash over my face. Nature hath created, and nature hath destroyed.
But the fire reminds me of a telling story from Sequoia National Park. After the national park was created, rangers worked hard to prevent fires from breaking out, of both natural and artificial origins. Instead of helping the giants prosper, preventing fires caused the forest to wither. No new seedlings took root, and dense brush overcrowded the ground. It was much later that scientists realized the benefits of fires to the forest ecosystem, how it kept the ground clear and allowed for seeds to emerge from pine cones. What seems destructive to humans, nature uses for its own purposes of growth.
The friendships I have made over the last five and a half weeks were tempered by fire and pain. They were bred out of common interests and common enemies- the problem sets, programming homework, observations, JAAAAAAAAAMES(jk)- and I hope that because of these, my friendships will survive when others may crumble. I believe that we will be reunited again, perhaps to face greater global problems and prove, once again, that life prospers under tough conditions.
The Strip is one of the most extravagant and remarkable places to witness the insatiable wants and greed of mankind. From every single towering hotel and casino, to the panhandlers and merchants on the street, Las Vegas is clearly “sin city”.
And yet, in all of the haze here, I found a couple of epiphanies for myself. In no particular order, here they are.
1) I really treasure my independence. I love to walk through busy streets, small alleys, natural rock formations with only the company of my shadow. This is especially true when I am in a large city- I want to be able to explore crevices and details that are secret to others. At SSP, I typically found this through quiet walks across the campus, sojourning to the rock for a quiet moment. But in Vegas, it was sufficient to just leisurely stroll down in front of Ceaser’s Palace and be in awe of the sights.
2) I really need to be with other people. I apparently can’t stand long periods with nothing but my thoughts- I just enjoy listening to conversations far too much! It’s sorta like rainymood.com – the conversation and ideas emerging from other people help clear my own head a bit and leave me more focused for tasks. Of course, this isn’t the only reason I need other people- I’m a big talker too. At SSP, I had 35 other students that I could immediately turn around and talk to. Transitioning from that giant environment to one with only my parents has been tough. I feel much more isolated without constant chatter. But thank goodness for the modern internet- we students have created a massive group chat, which over the course of two weeks, has amassed some 12 thousand messages. It’s nice to have people around.
3) It isn’t possible to please everybody. Sometimes, events or choices will come up where there is no good choice. And yet, you need to do something. I think that everyone tends to fear these situations, preferring instead to shy away from speaking about them too much, while we should bravely face them. These situations are a good opportunity to learn more about who you are, and who you can be. Rather than focusing on how everyone else thinks, take a couple moments to find yourself in the mess and take the action you think would be best suited, and most satisfy your moral compass.
4) I really don’t want to just work for money. In walking around Vegas, I am fairly confident that all of the most expensive, most luxurious goods that money could buy is in this area. And while the glittering lights are attractive, I don’t think I could stay there for long. I need to work for something, work with a purpose in my mind.
None of these epiphanies were particularly earth shattering, or even necessarily new, but I did find it interesting that I could learn about myself even while in Vegas.
General Sherman is the world’s largest tree by volume, a 84 meter sequoia towering over the Sierra Nevada range within a grove of giants. It has been alive for anywhere between 1600 and 2000 years today, and is now a national monument. When admiring it, one can’t help but wonder- what are your secrets? What wisdom do you hold? And perhaps more selfishly, how have you lived to become so great?
I believe that there is a key lesson to be learned from General Sherman, the tree not the person: branch out. In order to succeed, one must diversify and grow in all directions.
Recently, my friend Daniel Kao published an excellent article on how humans should aim to be a “jack of all trades” . He discusses how the old beliefs of being specialists are no longer valid, because the world does not need people who can only do one thing well. It is easy to learn, and so, people need to aim towards being generalists, to understand everything with competence. Spot on. I would not dare say that there is no room for people with a single major in mind, but I do propose that the most interesting breakthroughs in today’s world comes from interdisciplinary studies. The golden location where ideas from different fields mix is the same where the best ideas are coming from. And if that is true, wouldn’t people who could cross bridges be the most valuable?
Learning multiple topics is certainly not easy. Each different discipline needs a different way of thinking, some of which may run counterintuitive to each other. For instance, one of our guest lecturers at SSP approximated every single constant in a tsunami wave equation to be one – and got the right answer still! Show a mathematician that and they might just faint. But, SSP has taught me that with the right amount of passion and determination, these impossible tasks can be done quite easily. Determining the orbit of an asteroid and writing a research paper on it is not a simple task, requiring needle-sharp precision in order to complete. If you set your mind to a single task and put your entire heart and soul into working, suddenly it doesn’t feel so hard anymore. Mastering multiple areas of knowledge is not impossible after all.
But an addendum to all of this: SSP has also taught me that surrounding yourself with the right kind of people is just as important. My friends at SSP are diverse in every way, and their different perspectives allowed for the OD to come together. Collaboration with a wide range of people is just as important as knowing it yourself.
So stay fascinated with the world, and never stop learning. There’s just so much to do and so much to explore!
Marine mammals tend to be remembered as cute and cuddly, usually drawn with a smile and some gentle sound. Dolphins, walruses, and seals all are thought to be gentle creatures. When my family had an opportunity to see a herd of elephant seals, this was the image that I brought with me in mind.
The seals were about as chubby as I expected them to be, lazily tanning under the foggy morning. Gazing at these gentle giants, I felt calmness and serenity wash over me like the surf of the sea. Out of the corner of my eyes, I noticed two of them rearing their heads at each other.
The surf is not gentle in this area. It crashes and splashes on the rocks with the force to crush bones.
The elephant seals, with their razor sharp tusks and several ton bodies, viciously began attacking each other. Drops of red splattered the brownish sand. And the sounds – the sounds! This primitive, guttural snore arose, a note of desperation that I would not soon forget.
I was mortified.
But alas, this is how nature really is. We get caught up in the pristine balance of life that is portrayed for children, and we forget that the wilderness is truly wild. We want to mask over these unpleasantries with our imagination. In doing so, we take away from what is really powerful about life.
In some ways, my memories of the Summer Science Program can be similarly whitewashed. Selective memory allows us to forget the moments of pain. We want to remember the experience as pristine, and perfect. But. The reality of that world is deeper and much more complex. It’s the difference between a clear and a murky lake. The clear lake may be pretty to look at, to remember, but why would anyone want to plunge into something that they can already see through? Instead, the murkiness of the lake breeds life and adventure. “If life was easy, there would be no point in living through it.” The same applies to SSP.
The blurred over moments include the initial panic of whether or not if I could for in. Was it a fluke that I got accepted? The people here seem so much more talented than I! The moments include late night panic on the second week, when I realized that, oops, I don’t actually understand right ascension and declination. When I stared at my code more than 30 hours after initially finishing, wondering why the hell it still didn’t work. When I burned with anxiety on the night of AP and IB test results, gripped by an unnatural fear that I would be shamed by others, that I wouldn’t get my diploma. When I sat, slightly dumbfounded, in a class where I picked up on only half the math symbols being drawn. When, in moments of sheer panic, it looked like our asteroid was so far perturbed that we would not be able to submit an orbit determination. When, in the early weeks of the camp, I looked envious upon my peers, wanting the schools they had, or the friends they had, or the lives they had.
But all of this only enriches the experience. As said by Daksha, a phenomenal TA, during one of the late late night talks, “Pain brings in the richest, deepest colors into our lives.” These moments make you feel the most genuine, makes you feel the most alive. Without failure, how would we know the sweetness of success?
I’m incredibly thankful to SSP for giving me an opportunity to be scared and alone in such a fashion. I discovered my own identity in these murky waters, and I also discovered true friends that I can count on. The fire and pain has cleansed my soul, strengthening me for whatever hardships may come in the future.
kneeling next to
a mammoth, a giant
sequoia of eternity
my hand is an ant
and i cant help but feel
dwarfed by its majesty
squatting, watching the
of the pacific wash out
and i am washed along
the foam into the deep abyss
lost to the light
lying on the
wet dew with a
blanket of photons, starstuff
traveling millions of years
to reach my saucer plate eyes
and i am but a speck
of oddly arranged carbon and oxygen
compared to the heavens
but when i sit surrounded by
your love, kindness, grace
soft bubbling conversation
i become transformed
into so much more
ready to take on the world
I’m in a reflective mood tonight, in the cool California air under the waxing crescent moon. Is that the warm smell of fajitas I smell, or of colitas? I can’t really tell. All I know is that my mind is still filled to the brim with thoughts of my friends from SSP.
There are two versions of SSP, both equally true: the version with potatoes and dongos, where all 36 of us cop fun all day long, Bang!ing into the night. Where everyone is drinking diet coke and eating chicken, under the watchful gaze of Rishabh. This is all true. But. This is not all.
SSP is so much more than the meme-status trends that seem to appear at every camp. Instead, it binds students from remarkably different locales together, through the fires of observation and problem sets. It is where the depths of the heart are dredged out during long conversations, and where true friendships come together while resting on a large rock. SSP is an experience like no other because the students here are so incredible, possessing great wealths of not only intelligence, but also of kindness, humility, and love.
It is difficult to portray SSP as a collection of images. While the Westmont campus is beautiful, being limited to two classrooms and a dorm leaves very little to the visual imagination. Instead, the most amazing moments are those of time. When I stared at a whiteboard chalk full of chicken scratches I had made to understand the different coordinate systems, only to be rescued by Elba. When, on the eve of AP scores being released, Jacob and Michelle accompanied me on my first midnight coffee pot ramen party. When a virtual stranger, Dr. Warren Rogers, led me on a tour of his lab not once, but twice. When I passed out on the sofa at Armington and got pranked so hard that even Ms. Martinez got pulled into it for a moment. When my roommate, Efe, woke me up just in time for lecture. When I hugged a cactus on July 4th. When I left my phone in the computer lab and Aditya created an all day scavenger hunt before he would give it back. When ten math and science geniuses struggled with splitting an IHOP check. When the entire camp huddled around each other on the cold track, gazing at the stars and sharing ourselves, our lives and our love for each other to hear. When we sat on the rock, watching the sky turn light and the sun rise upon the end of our times together. These moments, crystallized so perfectly as frozen teardrops in my heart, will remain with me. Forever.
But, forever is a long time, and given the frequency at which I forget items like my wallet and my phone (and my mind and my sleep), eventually even these most precious thoughts shall fade, like the shifting sands burying a monument. If that comes to be, I’d rather forget the laughs and Venla jokes and the lexicon, because I will never let go of the love and kindness from my friends here.
Summer Science Program has been excellent so far, and these are a few of my thoughts on it. Enjoy!
Written by Chunyang Ding
Good writer must know their audience, so let’s try something here. This message has been very personalized from your child directly to you, moms and dads.
ATTENTION FAMILY AND FRIENDS STOP YOUR CHILD IS DOING VERY WELL AT THE SUMMER SCIENCE PROGRAM STOP HE OR SHE IS BEING RIGOUROUSLY CHALLENGED BY THE MANY DIFFERENT ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL LESSONS HERE STOP LECTURES ARE DIFFICULT BUT MANGEABLE, WHILE HOMEWORK HAS BEEN SUFFICIENTLY CHALLENGING STOP THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF FUN AND MANY FRIENDS HAVE BEEN MADE STOP WE HAVE CLEARLY BEEN GETTING MORE THAN SUFFICIENT HOURS OF SLEEP PER DAY AND THE FOOD IS SATISFACTORY STOP YOUR CHILD LOVES YOU AND APPRECIATES ALL THAT YOU HAVE DONE FOR THEM STOP END MESSAGE
PS PLEASE SEND MORE SNACKS. MAYBE TO CHUNNY. HE’S A COOL KID TOO. THANKS.
(That last line was in jest. Sorta. )
In all seriousness…
View original post 722 more words
After Government/History students are done regurgitating definitions and writing their page-a-minute analysis about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most would be exhausted and ready to nap for the next week (or month) (or year). But not so at our school!
Legislature Simulator (or LegSim, which gives birth to a huge range of leg puns btw) is a website that allows every student to create their own legislation, which is followed up in class by floor debates, committee reports, and full house votes. It is a hustling and bustling activity, something that House of Cards fans might see as a chance to do some #PlayingPolitics, while the ideologues will push for broad and sweeping reform. Personally, I love it for the ability to express my opinions and see what I know about the government.
During our floor debates, one of the most brought up points was that the legislation we were debating over was not precise enough, or did not account for this section of the tax code, or marginalized these constituents in California’s 21st district. There was a lot of nit picking, primarily because we had learned that that was how real congressional legislation gets passed as well. Through the experience, I sorta got a sense for why our legislature has so much difficulty getting reform passed. If a group of 150 students, living in one of the most liberal areas of the country with similar ideologies and backgrounds, could not agree on a basic bill for teacher reform, how on Earth is Congress getting anything done at all?
Overall, it was a fascinating and eye opening experience for me. It was a great educational experience and I just really enjoyed all of it. Unfortunately, it seems like the bills that I wrote for it would die with the end of school, so why not make it eternal on here?
View as you would like!
I’m sitting in a Boeing 747 on the flight back from Washington DC to Seattle, Washington. For the past two days, I have participated in arguably the nerdiest convention possible for a high school student. Rather than spending this Memorial Day weekend enjoying the sun and freedom from standardized testing, I’ve chosen to spend it with 96 other brilliant teams from across the United States, buzzing and shouting and answering questions about the most obscure trivia possible.
The NSC, or the National Scholastic Championships, is a prestigious tournament held by PACE to allow for quiz bowling to become more popular throughout the US, to prepare high school students for collegiate quiz bowl (roughly 39582027% more difficult than our current level), and to support the love for learning throughout the US. Of course, the clear implicit goal for everyone is to simply win. For many students, their lives revolve around the gathering of knowledge and information, so a test to see how much information one can retain can be very extremely exciting. Teamwork and the spirit of competition is exemplified at this competition, as regular winners compete with newer members, and new people are exposed to this exciting world.
A quick rundown of Quiz Bowl for those unfamiliar: Two teams of 4 people compete to buzz in and answer questions correctly. It is a very simple concept, although the full rules are over 26 pages long! This is because concepts such as the correct pronunciation and identification of answers, the idea of what “bonuses” are, who can answer when, what “power” buzzes mean, and other obscure bylaws can completely change the way that the game is played. During Tossup questions, the teams of 4 people are treated as individuals, each given their own lockout buzzer to answer the question. The first person to buzz in is given a 5 second window to answer, but if s/he is incorrect, their entire team is prevented from answering. S/he is not allowed to consult with teammates during the tossups, but if the question is answered correctly, their entire team is given 3 consecutive Bonus questions, each worth the same value as a Tossup. Because the team is allowed to converse and discuss during Bonus questions, these questions tend to be more obscure and more difficult than regular tossups, and the hallmark of a strong team is the ability to get as many points as possible during these questions. A very important part of Quiz Bowl is that the questions are of the “pyramidal” variety, where the first sentence of each paragraph-long question will be the most difficult, while the last sentence will contain more general knowledge that everyone is expected to know. Therefore, the more in-depth one understands about a subject, the more likely that one could buzz in before the opponent and score points. Depending on the specific tournament, additional rules can be implemented: *Power can be called if a player buzzes before a certain point in the question, and will be rewarded additional points, Negative points can be called if a player buzzes in before the question is completed and the player answers incorrectly, and bounce-backs may be implemented to allow the opposing team to have a 2 second window to answer bonus questions only if the initial team failed to answer correctly.
Although it may seem confusing at first, the players who appear at the national tournament are old pros, trained through hundreds of hours at their local high schools and at closer local tournaments. The community that surrounds Quiz Bowl is very encouraging and hospitable towards new players, as the stated purpose is to foster the love of information for everyone.
Of course, it doesn’t always seem like that.
When first entering the competition hall, one might feel this vibe of tension that runs throughout the tournament. Just to have the opportunity to be at the National Tournament was hard fought and only earned after constant training; everyone is anxious to prove that their own knowledge, and that their own high school, is the best in the country. This competition keeps events entertaining but also stressful, as a single bad buzz can be the difference between advancing to the top brackets and being stuck in the middle. New players can be overwhelmed with all of the statistics published, and sitting at a table for 8 hours a day straining to listen to questions and associate words with knowledge is extremely tiring. In addition, adrenaline tends to course through you when you buzz and strain your brain to provide an accurate answer, a buzz that is at first exhilarating but can soon become exhausting after constant “buzzes”.
For me, the scariest parts of the tournament are the criticisms – received both from within the team as well as from for oneself. If you recall, the “lockout” rule, where the entire team is unable to answer after a single person buzzes, can cause tensions within the team if someone gets knowledge incorrect. By being rash or foolish, an individual could potentially handicap the entire team, and, if other teammates actually knew the answer, be admonished for depriving teammates of their opportunities. However, this fear of being incorrect is counterbalanced by the fear of the other team outbuzzing oneself! The pyramidal setup means that the longer that a player takes to answer, the more likely the opposing team catches a clue and buzzes in as well. That feeling, when one knows the correct answer but got beaten to the buzzer, is perhaps the single-most horrible feeling ever. Just by mere fractions of seconds, the opposing team is given the chance to get 40 more points, just because you weren’t confident enough!
So far, this post reads more like an encyclopedia than my words. I’ve probably used the words “players” “oneself” “s/he” and “you” in more incorrect grammatical contexts than the number of tossups I’ve missed (ouch). So let’s look at where I came from, shall we?
Washington State, as well as most of the West Coast, has predominantly been a region dominated by the Knowledge Bowl Competition, a competing group with the Quiz Bowl Competition. Besides an entirely different buzzing, scoring, question, and answering procedure, these competitions only occur twice: Once at the local level and once at the state level. Throughout the past decade, Interlake High School has emerged as a leader in knowledge bowl throughout Washington. I’ve been involved with this at our school since my freshmen year, and has since been on the 2013 State Qualifying Team, as well as being the captain for the 2014 team that took 4th Place at state. Fourth place! We proved that in the entire state of Washington, we came in 4th for knowledge that we know! If you don’t grasp how exciting that is for a kid who loves learning, then you certainly don’t know me well enough.
When Winston first proposed for us to learn more about Quiz Bowl at the University of Washington, I suppose I was apprehensive but excited. Would this be another opportunity for fun, competitive studying and a chance to show our skills to the world? Although the questions were more difficult, I knew that our team was up for the challenge. We participated in the Washington State Quiz Bowl Championship at the UW, and took 1st place.
Excited and charged up by these early successes, we decided to register for the National event. In doing so, we were committing our time and money to Washington DC and everything that PACE was. For me, it was a big challenge to persuade my parents to assist with the airline fees and sponsor me, so I wanted to prove that we were worth it. As a team, we worked on memorizing trivia and competing against each other when we had a chance; a arduous task as we were studying for our looong streak of AP/IB tests at the same time. But this was exciting! It was fun! It was the best of times.
Around this same time, I found out that my old school, Farragut High School in Farragut, Tennessee, was becoming prominent in National Quiz Bowl tournaments. It was through my good friend Kai that I gained motivation and resources to study for this prestigious event. Then, one fateful night, I organized an impromptu competition between Kai and my entire current team on protobowl.com, a wonderfully designed website that simulates real competition.
We were crushed.
I don’t have a screenshot of the actual competition, but it resulted in a huge 2700 point loss, in the neighborhood of 3000 points for Kai alone and around 300 for our four members combined.
It brought the grim reality of Quiz Bowl to us, as we realized how much willpower, determination, and studying influenced results. It wasn’t enough to just be knowledgeable in school. There were amazing teams at the national level that truly loved the sport. It was like a junior varsity star track runner suddenly thrown into a tournament of Olympic champions. Sadly, we didn’t stand a chance.
Even with this realization, our team was brave and wanted to march forwards. We studied harder, learned smarter, and did everything we could to prepare for it. On the eve of the tournament, sitting in a half-empty family restaurant in the DC suburbs where the tournament was held, we shared our ambitions. We’ve worked for this. We’ve sacrificed for this. We were excited and ready.
The morning of the competition wasn’t nearly as well as we had hoped for. We weren’t able to do nearly as well as we had hoped, only earning 1 win out of the 6 preliminary rounds, and only 2 wins out of the 5 bracketed playoff rounds. Clearly, our skill was not even close to the top players, who were averaging 400 points per game when we were barely breaking 200. The pressure increased, tensions rose, and stress was high. For sometime after our initial morning slaughtering, Quiz Bowl wasn’t very fun. It felt humiliating and disparaging.
But after a much needed lunch break, I think I came to the realization that perhaps winning isn’t really the goal for our team. We haven’t been in the same environment as many of these teams. We didn’t prepare as extensively, nor have we been trained as much. Our tournaments were in a different skill region. To you, perhaps these reasons sound like excuses of a losing team, but they are all true facts. We weren’t using these statements to excuse our poor performance; we were trying to justify the reasons why we weren’t as hot as we thought. Realizing our own shortcomings and failures, we avowed to work doubly hard for the next year because as tiring as all of this had been; it was something that we loved.
At this point, instead of fearing Quiz Bowl and the competition that it entailed, I began to learn to love the trivia. The facts and information that made this competition so exciting in the beginning came back to me and I appreciated everything around me. Sure, we weren’t as good as we wanted to be. Sure, there was a lot of work ahead. But to someone who loves these kinds of things, this wasn’t work, but an opportunity to learn more. Think about it: just the fact that we have so much “trivia” here to be tested on must be a testament to how wonderful culture has been towards creating things worth studying about. Isn’t that just so great?!
One more important detail to note: This tournament was especially meaningful to me because it was a chance for me to actually meet several friends I’ve made online through Quiz Bowl and other organizations. As I mentioned earlier, the SSP draws in students across the US who are passionate about learning, and naturally several of them are interested in Quiz Bowl as well. I was able to meet in person some of these kids that I’ve only talked to over Facebook before. I saw a friend from Texas, who I’ve never met before IRL but shared many of the same passions about education and learning with, and even got to have a mini reunion with friends from Tennessee that I’ve all but given up in seeing again due to the physical separation. Even more exciting was meeting friends who were still strangers; there were so many friendly and enthusiastic people here that I’m eager to see again at future competitions and to chat with online.
The fact that I’ve written ~2000 words on the subject is perhaps this is a testament to what I love and hope to accomplish in this field. I wouldn’t classify it as life changing, but this tournament has reshaped my perspective on the world. It’s taught me that knowledge is out there to be loved and appreciated, and that there is a huge community of students with common interests as me. In fact, there is a huge community of people better at this than myself! The spirit of friendly competition and the thirst for knowledge will carry me far, in both Quiz Bowl and in life.
*Edit: this competition is the NSC, not the NAQT… How embarrassing. I’ve been saying it wrong all weekend long!!