The Right Choice for Academic Enrichment

Lintaro D. (Blair HS, 2020, Accepted by Dartmouth, 2024)

My first introduction to the world of Dr. Li’s Math/English Academy came in late July before eighth grade: my mother jostled me awake one morning and told me that I would spend the next two weeks of my dwindling summer in an SAT prep classroom. As I entered this world of hyperstressed teenagers with loads more life-experience than I could comprehend, I felt scared. Little did I know about the journey this place would launch me on over the next five years.

From the very first step into a Dr. Li classroom, you feel an energy in the air. However humble, however plain and professional, the classroom is a place where learning, far above that which you could find in a public school, lives .

In the math classes, students do not just learn tips/tricks on how to save time and maximize their score. When I had a question about an average problem, one of those “Machine A does this. Machine B does this. How much do they make together per hour?” questions, Dr. Li taught me how to find the right answer but also how to do synthetic division.

Without Dr. Thomson’s English lectures, I surely would not be as developed in my writing as I am today. From reviewing sentence structure to frantically completing essay drills, I learned how to use SAT words not only on a test but also in my daily life. From the Russian meaning of vodka (“little water”) to the hackneyed deployment of the word “use,” I gained a deep appreciation for language from his class.

Dr. Li’s even helped me as I developed a love for public policy throughout my freshman and sophomore years. The flexibility of the reading classes often allowed for discussions on literature to snowball into classwide debates on philosophical topics. One of the reading instructors, Mr. Snyder, came to recognize my love of politics and even helped me get in touch with a contact in a Congressional office. I ended up spending the summer before my senior year interning for a senior Republican Congresswoman and gaining a once-in-a-lifetime perspective on our system of government.

More than five years after my first two weeks at Dr. Li’s summer camp, I am a four-year veteran of his timeless curriculum. As a senior in high school, I am satisfied with the legacy I have left on my community, the test scores which I have received, and the college which I will attend in the fall. But make no mistake: Dr. Li’s Academy has helped me become who I am today and achieve what I have. His enrichment program isn’t for everyone, but, if you are willing to work hard, to ask questions with humility, to accept failure, and to grow from it, then his curriculum might just be for you. I cannot think of a better investment a parent could make in his or her child.

Reflections on High School from a Senior
This is NOT a typical college admissions “tips and tricks” article.

The summer before high school, I remember hearing the word “passion” a lot. In nearly every freshman year preparation guide I read and every how-to-get-into-the-Ivy-League video I watched, the word was thrown around as the elusive key to succeeding: winning in the college application process and surviving the marathon of late adolescence and early adulthood. In this article, I will describe the process I went through to find my version of that age-old concept. Disclaimer: this is NOT meant to be another college application or extracurricular guide, however. Here, I want to help high schoolers who feel passionless and directionless, who are in the same position I was in, to find sympathy, advice, and some semblance of guidance.

Frantic searches only lead to failure.
When I first stepped into the cavernous halls of Montgomery Blair High School, I didn’t care what the heck “passion” actually was. There I stood, thrown into a sea of 3000-something ambitious kids and told to become one of the best out of all of them. I just wanted to survive. But, when I finally settled into freshman year and my magnet program classes, the familiar questions from the summer began to wrack my head once more: How do I find passion?

I decided to try and answer my question by waiting for the proverbial Eureka! moment to fall down from the sky and hit me on the head, a.k.a. by joining every club possible. International Culture Club. Debate Team. Economics Club. For every club meeting I trudged down to during lunches and after school, there was another club whose emails unfailingly invaded my inbox.

By Winter Break, I was busy. By April, I was tired. By summer, I was just relieved that it was over for the next three months. Still, I worried. Despite my frenetic freshman year, I had yet to find that energy, that passion I sought.

Prioritization makes progress.
When I returned to Blair in tenth grade, I was more determined than I had been in the past. If I wanted to find a passion, then I couldn’t just wait for it to find me. Finding a driving force required pushing myself to actively participate in my activities. I had to choose the clubs I actually enjoyed, the meetings I actually wanted to go to, and the extracurricular projects I actually wanted to do. I had to commit myself to them. As my high school experience kept marching on, time had become a rarer and more valuable commodity. If I wanted to maximize the value of my time invested, I would have to reflect and prioritize. What activities have I done that have provided me the most personal benefit? What activities could I do to help make my school and community better? What activities will give me life experience and transform me into the person I want to be?

So I reformed my schedule. Debate Team was a keeper--no matter what my eventual passion turned out to be, I knew public speaking would be important. That e-mail subscription to International Culture Club’s mailing list? To Economics Club? Both gone. I decided to join Yearbook to gain experience working in media and to beef up my writing skills. At the behest of a couple friends, I even signed up for a new club called Youth & Government (Y&G); I always had a knack for politics, maybe this was an opportunity to go do something with it.

By dedicating myself to these activities and enthusiastically signing up for events and fundraisers and bake-sales, I found that my sophomore year was exceedingly different from my freshman year. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I felt satisfied. My prioritized to-do list made every day full of purpose. In forcing myself to volunteer and ‘pay my dues’ to the organizations I belonged to, I found that I truly enjoyed the responsibility and the growth my activities afforded me. And as I began to participate in Youth & Government club, I felt something that I had never felt before.

Blair’s club was a branch of a statewide and national YMCA program: a model legislature allowing young people like me to write legislation and make public policy in the actual State House. Sitting in the Maryland House of Delegates, in the chair of an actual legislator, I had my silent Eureka! moment. I knew then that I wanted to become a policymaker. I wanted to work in government.

Taking off.
By junior year, it seemed as if I hit escape velocity. Through person-to-person campaigning, I earned an officer position in the school Y&G club, helping grow the group from 28 to more than 40 members. Applying for every YMCA opportunity I could, I spent a week in March lobbying Congress for diabetes prevention policy on behalf of the Y and millions of pre-diabetics. On Debate Team, I won the Captaincy. On Yearbook, I became Editor-in-Chief. Between club meetings, I somehow co-founded a DECA chapter with close friends. And I even launched a campaign for Youth Governor of the Maryland Y&G program and won.

The summer after junior year, I interned on Capitol Hill for a senior Republican Congresswoman. I starred in a Smithsonian video series on youth civic engagement. In senior year, I made a short-form documentary on civics education. As much lost sleep responding to emails, cultivating networks, and developing life-skills through all these responsibilities cost me, doing what I loved energized me.

So what changed?
What allowed me to go from an admittedly aimless freshman to a Youth Governor with a clear love for government, policy, and leadership?

My attitude. When I began high school, I was infected with the pernicious idea that school is meant to be a stepping stone to an Ivy League acceptance. I signed up for clubs not because I wanted to better myself but because I wanted to get into college. Call it a “minimalist” mindset: that I should do only the minimum amount possible to gain a minimally acceptable result.

There is nothing wrong with “working smarter, not harder,” but a devotion to achievement at the expense of depth and life experience is meaningless. If you want that iconic “spike” for a resume or a college application that is so in-vogue these days, then remember that passion is found in the maximum. Only when I forced myself to take an active, enthusiastic role in my extracurricular activities did I find passion.

While I did get accepted by an Ivy League school and several other highly ranked institutions, that is not what I am most thankful for. The meaning that my passion for government and pursuit of that passion gave me was and continues to be infinitely more valuable. Although the experiences outlined here are entirely my own and no one else’s, I hope that my observations have been helpful to someone else in his coming-of-age.