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Minerva Day 1: Stardust

September 1, 2014

“San Francisco, here I come.” I thought as I watched ridges from the window, sporting my attractive memory foam pillow. I wondered whether it would be ready for me, or (more concerning), if I would be ready for it)


I walked into 851 California Street to find a huge Founding Class poster, a pair of smiling students and the Minerva communications director waiting for me. I received my keys and took the charming, garroted door elevator to the fifth floor. Noticing and loving the vertically-oriented number on my door (so hip!). I stepped into my room to find a high ceiling, huge fireplace, and, my favourite, two large windows that allowed me a view of the city, stretching all the way to the ocean. I watched the cable cars gliding up and down the street, and turned my face up to the sun. This will be home, at least for a while.



My parents helped me dress my bed, and then we went in search of food, walking first up and then down California (we crested a hill), turning on Polk and stumbling into Blue Fog Market in search of sandwiches. We certainly found them. Walking down California meant passing the Fairmont, the InterContinental, the Masonic Temple and a fantastically ornate church (the stonework!). All these grand, imposing structures reflecting the bright midday sun. “I live here,” I started realizing. “I live here.”

Returning back to my room, I met my roommate Brighten (the English translation of her Chinese name. Phonetically it is something like Ee-gan, but I have yet to perfect the pronunciation). We’re well matched, sleeping and rising at around the same hours, and excited to be active in the mornings around the city. We’re also both very aware of all the hard work our families have done to bring us here, to allow us this kind of freedom and opportunity. Her flight was 18 hours to my 5, but she seemed a little more well adjusted than me.

We were the first ones down to the lobby (ten minutes early!) for our pickup for the mystery dinner. Once I mentioned the motion-sickness I had felt on the plane ride to San Francisco, the mystery was lifted. With a bit of concern flickering on her face, Melanie (the Minerva communications director), urged me to go back to my room and get some Gravol. “We’ll be on a boat,” she said, confirming my father’s prediction (1 point for Greg!).

We piled onto the bus and were encouraged to sit next to someone we didn’t know that well. I snagged the empty seat next to Roiman, who had come in from Israel a few days ago. He’s 24, having served in the army for a few years, and started college before his elementary school teacher encouraged him to apply. We talked about the tyrannies of habituation and about chocolate. I turned behind me and talked to Or, a 22-year-old Israeli guy who is really interested in bringing the computational power of physics into biological sciences. Sitting across from me was Andrew, who’s 25 and a fellow Studio Yer. We were sitting in the elder section of the bus and it felt great. I thought the age gap between me and some of the other students would be a barrier, but it feels pretty miniscule.

Our bus driver drove us to the wrong address a few times, and on the seemingly endless bus ride we switched between talking and staring at the striking architecture, ocean or windblown trees. I remember looking at the reflection of the ocean in the window of the bus. It seemed like the air was shimmering and moving. I was transfixed. I also remember passing by a few landmarks (the Palace of Beaux-Arts, the Wharf) that I had visited as part of the Thiel Fellowship finals. How quickly those memories came back. I marveled at all that had changed in the short time between these two San Francisco trips. On the first, I was coming to potentially drop out of school. On this one, I had just finished school and was coming to start a new one! The city doesn’t seem to have changed. It is luminous and hopeful.


We arrived at our boat, the Golden Gate Empress (or something like that) and were greeted by the Minerva CEO and Founder, as well as the rest of the Minerva staff, including the Academic Deans. The first thing I saw on board was a huge table of Mexican food. It was build-your-own fajitas and it was glorious. First, however, we went up to the top deck of the boat (not an enormous yacht, but one that could comfortably fit about 50 people on one deck) and were welcomed. They even had motion-sickness bracelets for people (like me, they seemed to be worried about me) whose brains like to stay very still.


We mingled among tables, talking of immortality, time machines and science fiction (one of the founding deans, Dr. Jim Sterling, is the cousin of a science fiction author I find fascinating, Bruce Sterling!). And eating good fajitas. The boat neared the Bay Bridge, but stormy waters (I almost fell onto the table of fajita ingredients but thankfully stabilized myself) caused us to turn back. I blinked and it was already dark outside. I went up to the top deck (thankful for the leather jacket I had brought in my new flowery backpack!) and looked at the skyline. The city sparkled, and so did the Bay Bridge. I was told that the entrepreneur responsible for merging art and engineering to create the programmable light display for the bridge was at the Minerva preview weekend. Didn’t really surprise me!

I had a conversation with the director of Experience (i.e. marketing) at Minerva, who had previously worked for Nestle and the Lonely Planet. She calls herself a marketer who doesn’t deal with ads. She builds experiences and creates communities around them. One of her last gigs involved getting a bill passed in Congress to make September the official passport month of the US (apparently Americans don’t travel nearly as much as Canadians do).


Then, Ben, the Founder/CEO, gathered us up on the top deck to share a story about Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, goddess of the arts, and goddess of just war. He said that Minerva is all about each of us sketching our paths to making the world a better place, so that we can spend the rest of our lives drawn them in. He told us that we would each be receiving a special token, a talisman of sorts for our time at Minerva. A brass cylindrical hexagon (the real name was said but I can’t remember it) with 02014 (meant to show long term thinking, as one day we’ll hopefully reach 10231 or something like that!), our initials (mine are BS, no BS!) a word particular to us, and a word that will only be used for the founding class (omni – meaning everything). Our individual word is supposed to represent us in a way, and it also refers to a particular spot in San Francisco.


Lance. Battery. Circuit. Triangle. Eureka. Vista. All of these words came. They were not mine. Cable. Gate. Still not me. Then, “North. Brianna.” I thought of the North Star, of slaves escaping to freedom. Of the True North, of the Northern Lights, of something bright in the distance, meant to show the way. I thought of making stars, and of the fact that I am made of stardust.


And so it begins.

With love,


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bronwyn Oatley permalink
    September 10, 2014 5:35 pm

    Great stuff Brianna — love the description of the way that the staff helped to curate such a positive experience for you. As I keep reading, I’m taking all sorts of notes for Studio Y. Thanks for putting such hard work + love into your posts!

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