The Schuler Program equips bright, motivated youth with the support they need to gain access to and succeed at highly selective colleges and beyond. Writing from thirteen schools located in the greater Chicago area in Lake and Cook Counties of Illinois, scholars reflect on their academic experiences, cultural exposures, college applications processes, and more.
Topiltzin (far right) with friends at the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)
by Topiltzin Gomez, Waukegan High School,
Class of 2014
did you go this summer?”
went to Utopia. I went to a freedom I’ve never felt. I went to questions
answered as a million more unanswered ones poured in. I went to a community
that I hope to find again.
isn’t easy to fully convey the experience in a short sound bite. Instead, I go
for the general and satisfying response, “I went to a summer program on a
college campus for six weeks.” But truth be told, I attended the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP), where I was pushed intellectually (and
pushed back), studied food, made life-long friends and returned exhausted and
were 32. Some 32 teenagers from around the world, from all parts of the
economic spectrum with experiences and stories that could bring tears and
laughter to any room. We assembled inside a rented sorority house on campus. When
I took my place in that living room, I didn’t know it at the time but I was
sitting next to a self-taught Esperantist and an avid Hemingway lover.
hours of self-imposed name games, our factota (supervisors) told us what it
meant to be there. “To those of you who wonder why you were accepted into this
program, it’s because of the people around you. You got each other in. Everyone
here has something to give you and you have something to give back.” The
ultimate goal of TASP was to build an artificial community, one where dialogue
leads to personal growth and the advancement of knowledge.
first, it was overwhelming. The most outspoken individuals talked with
unparalleled confidence and passion while casually dropping the names of German
philosophers. My presence felt more like eavesdropping on a discussion. Initially,
I felt a bit misplaced. But in the span of a few hours, I figured it out: if
you don’t understand, listen and learn. That’s why you’re here.
a few days the discussions went from topics that might as well have been debate
prompts into subjects that dealt with the troubling and personal. We would say,
“tell me your story,” and due to the trusting and open-minded nature of the
people at the program, stories would be
told unabridged, usually for the first time. In the outside world, especially
in educational settings, there is a need to hide the emotions and biases that
influence one’s thoughts. At TASP, however, these emotions and biases were
everything. In a teary-eyed midnight, I found my unfiltered voice.
to June 27th, six days away from the end of TASP; it is my turn to
speak. I am in front of 31 friends about to give a 20-minute speech pointing
out the negative aspects of multiculturalism and fragmented societies. I am
treading dangerous ground by speaking in support of assimilation (which I don’t
even completely support). I will surely polarize the crowd and aggressive
debates will ensue. But this is TASP, and I may never find a community where my
opinion is so heavily analyzed and discussed. I have to go for it. It’s now or
has helped me build my voice, and now I will use that voice to its fullest
degree. I am going to speak, not just for myself, but for the TASP intellectual
community. No matter what intellectual battles are to be fought, I know that in
a few hours I will be enjoying a summer night with my new lifelong friends. We
will laugh, creating memories and bonds that will remain powerful long after we
leave our Utopia.