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Stanford’s EPGY Program Enriches one Dublin High Senior’s Summer

August 11, 2012

By Ryan McRee (Dublin High School Class of 2013)

Me (2nd from left, middle row) and friends

I didn’t know what to expect as I filled out the lengthy packet of application questions for Stanford University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) Summer Institutes. I wasn’t sure what the competition would be like, what the caliber of the program was, or really anything about the program. All I knew was that it was multi-disciplined program, that the questions they asked the Mathematics students were absurdly hard, and that it was at Stanford, one of the nation’s (and the world’s) most prestigious universities. And I had the opportunity to spend three weeks intensely studying what I wanted to do with the rest of my life – Playwriting and Critical Drama.

You can imagine the expression of shock on my face when my Berkeley alumni parents brought up an academic program at Stanford of all places, and the feigned expressions of disgust on their faces as they drove me through campus on my first day, but I will forever be grateful for the unlikely and unexpected circumstances that brought me to such a wonderful place. At EPGY I got to devote myself to the study of my dreams, obtain a full (albeit compressed) Stanford experience, and work and live with some of the greatest people I will ever meet.

Treat House

I was assigned to Treat House, one of three dorm houses in the Governor’s Corner cluster (GovCo) in the southwest corner of campus, and one of the newest dormitories in Stanford. Being in Treat House would become a source of united pride among all the students who resided there, for there emerged a fierce competition between the other two houses in the GovCo cluster, Murray and Yost. Within Treat House there were a variety of disciplines including Playwriting and Critical Drama, The Graphic Novel, Anthropology, 20th Century Science, Technology, and Cultures. While most of our time was spent with those in the same discipline or house, we also interacted with students from Yost and Murray, which included disciplines such as Particle Physics, Cosmology, Cryptography, and Environmental and Earth Science. Outside of our own cluster were even more clusters with more disciplines, such as Artificial Intelligence, Engineering, Topics in Business and Entrepreneurship, Political Science, Legal Studies, Psychology, Philosophy, and many more.

In addition to meeting students with a variety of interests and talents, I met students from all around the country and the globe. I made close friends from as close as Palo Alto to as far away as China. In fact, three of my close friends hailed from China, Macedonia, and India. And everyone at the program came from the cream of the crop at their own schools, and it was refreshing to spend so much time with not only students who shared my own artistic passions, but also shared a dedication to learning, academics, and intellectuality that I had never seen anywhere else before. But despite this concentration of academic prowess, no one failed to shine in their own individuality or share their own unique talents with the other students. We had our own GovCo talent show to show off some of this originality, but much of it was revealed through everyday life. For example, I brought my guitar with me and we held large sing-alongs in the lounge to popular songs that everyone knew. There were also various social events such as a carnival or a GovCo dance where kids could blow off steam and focus on the more intimate side of the program—the social life.

EPGY Playwriting and Critical Drama

The heart of EPGY was in the interactions with those around you – your class, your professor(s), your T.A.’s, your house counselors, students in your house, or students in your cluster. I quickly found my niche of friends, which was composed mainly of the Playwriting kids at first, but ended up including students from other disciplines. We went to all meals together, whether it was in the dining hall or one of the many delicious cafés and restaurants on campus in reasonable proximity to our cluster, and we spent many evenings wandering around the beautiful Stanford campus together. But while we had the freedom to explore campus and eat out, we were closely monitored with sign-out sheets and permission from counselors, so it was an extremely safe program, and it was great that we felt secure enough to do our own thing in the evenings.

But during the day, we didn’t have such flexibility. Aside from all the hours of fun that we had and the great social experiences, it was a very rigorous program that demanded a lot of us. Classes began at 9am Monday through Friday and ended at about 11:30am. After lunch, from 12:30pm-3:30pm, we had study session, led by our T.A.’s, in which we would read or watch plays, analyze dramatic texts (such as contemporary textbooks, Aristotelian dramatic theory, etc.), perform works by popular playwrights such as Shakespeare or David Ives, sit in the computer lab and work on our own pieces, or, on a lighter day, play Improv games. Then, in the later afternoon (from about 4pm-6pm), we had daily activities that our Activities Coordinators would come up with, such as fountain hopping, a massive pillow fight, various sports, shopping, and many others. Every night before bed we would fill out an online survey and choose what we wanted to do as an activity the following day. And then we had evenings to ourselves, with a house meeting at 10pm and lights out at 11pm (except Fridays and Saturdays, when curfew was extended to midnight). While counselors were strict about the rules, they were also very friendly and it was easy to develop close relationships with them.

Fountain Hopping at 2am

The greatest amount of personal growth came in the classroom, when we were taught by various professionals in the fields that we studied. My professor for Playwriting was very friendly, responsive to our needs and problems, and extremely helpful in allowing us to broaden our horizons and overcome our fears/difficulties that we encountered as writers. Usually class involved the professor giving us various prompts, 15-20 minutes to find a comfortable spot in the room and write, and then discuss how our work turned out as a group, sometimes with general discussions and sometimes with specific readings of students’ work. We also had workshops every few days, in which each student who has being workshopped (we each got to do it twice) would submit a certain number of pages of a piece we were working on so that the class could read it aloud and give praise and advice to the playwright. It was a great way to get feedback from both our students and professor. And at various times our professor would ask us to send pieces to him to read on his own to meet with us in private and discuss, and the T.A.’s were always open to reading our work while we were in the lab. The collaboration between students and faculty was a beautiful opportunity to work with other artists and become familiar with each other’s work.

Our final in Playwriting and Critical Drama was to take a ten-minute play we had written (we wrote three of them during our time at EPGY) and stage it, which involved casting from our pool of Playwriting students and T.A.’s, giving lighting cues to our professor for basic lighting effects, rehearsing and giving our actors their blocking (movement), and finally performing each one of the thirteen plays in a small black-box theatre on campus with basic set pieces and props. All this was done in the last week at EPGY, which made it very stressful on us. In addition to writing new drafts of scripts, creating a prompt book, and directing my own play, I was an actor in eight other plays, in many cases a leading role, so I was exhausted by the time performance day came around. Luckily we were given a master script with all of the plays in it and weren’t required to memorize any lines, because memorizing that many plays would have been agonizing in the time we were given. But in the midst of running around like a tired dog setting up set pieces and getting ready to perform in other people’s plays, it was an incredible experience to be able to sit back and watch something I had written come to life on stage.

My experience at EPGY was like none other, and helped me to grow as an artist, an intellectual, a student, and a human being. My work in the classroom and the lab completely changed the way I view writing, and dashed my insecurities and psychological barriers that I had before to pieces. I came out with a fresh perspective, ready to go out and conquer the world of writing, and purged any doubts about what I wanted to do with my life. It was a great experience to prepare for college as well, and gave me a sneak preview of what it will be like to be a writer on both the professional and university level. I also made amazing friends that I will always hold dear to my heart. With a thick binder full of completed work, a sharpened mind, a practical, working artistic approach, and a clear direction, EPGY has prepared me to take on college applications and the rest of my life.

For information about the program and the various courses it offers, check out:

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