Monday, August 12, 2019

My Experience at The School of The New York Times

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By: Lillabeth B.


            Coming home after The School of The New York Times (SoNYT) was more of an adjustment than I had expected. I had just spent two and a half weeks in the city that doesn’t sleep, feeding off its constant energy and off the excitement of my new friends. There was never a dull moment at SoNYT; each second was filled with either anticipation or something that felt grand, dramatic, euphoric. My piece of the suburbs just could not compare. I could stand on my driveway for hours and hear only birds and the wind. This Georgia girl was missing the big city.
            My feelings could not have been more clichéd, but it was true. SoNYT broadened my horizons and gave me so many things I had been missing: perspective, passion, ambition, drive. The program gave me the independence to explore who I was while exploring a remarkable city while challenging me to expect more of myself. It was a rollercoaster ride I will always cherish.


            I first applied for the program mid-March. SoNYT accepts applications beginning in January and ending in July, with different deadlines interspersed. The application included several short answer sections in which I described why I was applying for the classes I chose and for the program. I demonstrated my passion for these areas of study, and I truthfully described my desire to explore a city vastly different from those I was familiar with. I marketed myself as a hardworking, enthusiastic student eager to learn and grow. After I submitted the application, I realized that I had worked harder on the application than I had on any recent project. It was quite a wakeup call for me, and I began showing more interest and dedication at school and in other pursuits. I grew from simply applying to the program.
I was delighted when I received an acceptance email after a little over a month. My family decided to arrive in New York a few days before the program began in order to explore the city together. We arrived mid-afternoon on a Wednesday, and on the cab ride from the airport to our Airbnb, I got my first glimpse of the city. It was everything I had expected times ten: big and grand and dirty and electric. It did not take long for the city to steal my heart.
We visited the Staten Island Ferry, the top of Rockefeller Center, the 9/11 Memorial, New York City Library, Grand Central Station--okay, you get the idea. On top of that, my family humored the theatre geek in me with three big Broadway shows. Later, I was glad to have gotten the tourist destinations out of the way because I had the freedom to explore the less famous parts of the city during the program. On Sunday, I arrived at orientation excited for the two weeks ahead.
When I arrived at McKeon Hall, our Fordham University dormitory, I was greeted by the RAs, college students from across the country who supervised us over the course of the program. I was given a lanyard with my school ID and a drawstring bag full of “swag”: a tote bag, two t-shirts, a notepad, and stickers. My sixteenth-floor dorm room included a beautiful view of the city along with two bed, two dressers, and two desks. My roommate, a Seattle native taking a law course, helped me reconfigure the furniture to better suit us, and we chatted until orientation began.
First, I met my color group, the students who lived on my floor. We introduced ourselves with our names, gender pronouns, and hometown, and spent the next hour playing games to get to know each other. Then, we were ushered to an assembly in which the rules of the camp were summarized. This lecture covered predictable topics such as dress code (professional) and expectations (high) as well as an outline of our campus: the Fordham campus, Lincoln Center Plaza, and a block across the street that included a few expensive restaurants, a Starbucks, and a branch of Walgreens called Duane Reade. We learned we would not be allowed to leave campus without supervision until Thursday.
Afterward, we broke for dinner and reassembled for an hour-long activity called Diversity Training. Most students were from relatively liberal regions where schools employ similar programs, but I had never heard of Diversity Training before. The next hour involved several RAs leading a discussion that focused on acknowledging and accepting the variety of backgrounds and ideologies of the students. The lead RA encouraged us to listen to different perspectives and to be open to people you may disagree with. I was glad this conversation was included, and it foreshadowed more productive, eye-opening conversations I would have later in the program.


The next day, I attended my first day of class. Every week, class was held Monday-Friday from 9:30 to 4:30, with an hour break for lunch. Each course was assigned a lead instructor, an instructor, and an academic RA. My lead instructor was a fashion designer and entrepreneur who has taught at many colleges and universities including the University of Southern California. My instructor was a freelance artist and designer who works with fashion designers to create collections. The course was heavy in excursions: For the first half of every day, we would visit sites such as the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator, where we had the opportunity to observe the inner workings of these institutions. We also met guest speakers such as Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic of The New York Times, and Stephanie Benedetto, co-founder of Queen of Raw, a supplier of sustainable textiles. For the second half of each day, we worked on our final project for the class: seven garment or accessory designs that would address an issue in the fashion industry.
One thing was made clear to me at the beginning of the program: what you get out of the course is what you put into it. With this in mind, I put my best work forward for every project I was assigned, sometimes drawing or writing until 2:30 a.m. to finish an assignment. By the end, not only was I extremely proud of what I had accomplished, I realized I was smarter and more capable than I had ever known. After seeing what I can create when I push my limits, I left the program with renewed ambition, initiative, and confidence.
I felt so motivated partially because of the students I was surrounded by. The program brings together exceptional teens from all over the world--Boston, Italy, San Francisco, Beijing, and more--and the friends I made inspired me to push myself every day. They were hard-working, welcoming, compassionate, and generous. We spent almost all of our time with each other: we ate meals together, explored the city together, watched Netflix comedy specials until curfew together. We were inseparable for those two weeks, and we had the time of our lives together.
The RAs were just as much my friends as the students were. They created a perfect balance of independence and guidance. I felt comfortable coming to them with any problem, big or small, and their maturity, humor, and kindness were exceptional. We became very close, and I was sad to see them go.


However, there was one presence that affected the program more than any others: New York City. For those who have never been, a short love letter: First off, despite all of its imperfections, (and sometimes because of them), NYC is a beautiful city. One can walk through the city all day and be constantly surprised by the gorgeous architecture, stunning murals, and eclectic foot traffic around every corner. I loved exploring the city with my friends. My favorite borough is Williamsburg, an area overflowing with charming, affordable boutiques and restaurants. Additionally, the pace of the city is remarkable. The city quickened my step and opened my eyes, and even though I sometimes slept for only four hours, I always found the energy to do my best work, and I genuinely attribute that to New York. In all honesty, it felt as though the city had struck me with lightning. The energy of New York City infected me, pushed me, and empowered me, and I miss it every single day.
In fact, I miss The School of The New York Times constantly. The program gave me the freedom to explore a remarkable city and to discover what I am capable of. I grew as a student and as a person all while having the time of my life, and I am so grateful for the experience.
            A couple nights after I came home, my whole family gathered at the window and watched the sun go down. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen: the sky above my neighborhood painted in shocking pink, vivid sky blue, deep indigo, as the silhouette my neighbor’s dog rollicked across our yard, wiry and unwieldy, the windows of nearby houses emitting a warm glow. Surrounded by the people I loved, contemplating the place where I was growing up, I could not help but think, “NYC, you’re pretty fantastic, but you can’t beat this sunset.”

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