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06-120504 Dan Tran Period 6 - English December 5, 2004 Writing Random Anecdotes of an Abused TJ Applicant In the summer of the year we know of as 2000, my parents approached me one day and talked to me about a faraway high school that all those “smart kids” go to - that prestigious high school we all know today as Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. My parents were the kind of people that planned for the future way in advance, had an overprotective personality, and were very, very picky. They basically drilled me, saying that grades would start to count now (I would be entering 7th grade that year), and that I should start to focus on my work in school. I took it lightly, thinking that everything would straighten out by itself and I had nothing to worry about. So 7th grade started at Rocky Run Middle School, and I had to start getting used to classes with different teachers and timed periods, a lack of recess, and strict rules. It was definitely an interesting experience, as eight years of conformity can put you into one particular mindset. I met great teachers, boring teachers, and bad teachers. The school year in general was definitely a great time for me. I caught on to many people, mainly because my name just had to rhyme. I would be picked on daily, and it annoyed me for a while. It was somewhat of a catch-on to everyone, even teachers. For example, when a teacher took role, he or she would almost always call my full name off. I mean, I was both content yet annoyed of the way my name was used. One day, I just said to myself, “Get used to it. It won’t go away unless you get a name change.” That was the day I started to learn to be resilient to the everyday phrases I heard in school such as, “It’s Dan Tran the (insert something here) Man!” Some people had the strangest creativity when using the catch-all phrase. Extraneous random phrases stemming from the phrase included the “Nerd Man”, the “Pumpkin Man”, and even the “Irish Man”. Throughout the school year, teachers and students alike would ask me if I was going to apply for admission into Jefferson. I don’t clearly remember my answers, but paraphrasing my thoughts at the time, I would have said, “I don’t have to worry about that yet, when it’s time, I’ll think about it.” I really didn’t care, but I started to think to myself how great it would be if I were to be accepted – to be in a school that had so much freedom, and how the level of integrity and trust was outstanding to the extent that everyone respected everyone else. So that year of intense learning and education was that, and I got my first high school credit in Algebra I that year with an A. Another summer came to pass, and surprisingly my parents forgot about TJ, or didn’t mention it at all. During this time, I was relaxing for the next year of school. When school shopping time came around, I went to my usual place for good deals and interesting finds: the Office Depot clearance section. I stumbled across some very cheap pocket protectors that day, and I came up with an interesting idea. I thought it would be interesting if from that point on, I would wear a pocket protector to school everyday. I wouldn’t really care what people called me – I thought of and still think of myself today as a nerd. I had always worn pens and pencils in my shirt pocket, so it wasn’t much of a change except for the fact that I was wearing a pocket protector; it would be an interesting complement and a good experiment. (On a side note, everyone and their brother asked me during the year why I had so many pens in my pocket, and I gave them the simple answer: “Why not?”) I was surprised, and am still today, that most people that I have met have not a clue of what a pocket protector is, yet connect it with the stereotype of a nerd. So it came to be tradition that everyday, I would slip my pocket protector into my shirt pocket in the mornings and go to school. I said to myself the day before school started, “It won’t catch on at all. No one even knows what it is.” That was a completely wrong assumption. Wearing that plastic thing definitely changed my whole life, even to today. I started 8th grade confident, and for the first week, everything seemed to be normal. Basically, it was more name rhyming jokes and stuff, but as I said, I had accustomed to those before. Then, one simple question and answer sparked the revolution: one person casually asked me why I was wearing a pocket protector. I mumbled, “Because I’m a nerd.” From there, the phenomenon occurred: as the saying goes, “News spreads like wildfire.” That same day, three of my “enemies” (they weren’t really enemies, but just those incessant name rhyming people) came up to me and asked what that thing was in my pocket. Without me saying anything, they answered their own question in a mocking, and actually pretty funny voice: “That’s a pocket protector, isn’t it!” The whole school caught on. I was known as the “popular loser” or the elusive title of “Dan Tran the Pocket Protector Man.” I didn’t mind the titles at all - my name was literally replaced with “Pocket protector guy” or “Dude with the pocket protector.” Even though the teachers knew about it, they never said a word. It was fun to see their reaction when someone else called me that – one of a stifled chuckling or a suppressed laughter. That year was definitely one of the most interesting years I’ve had. After the pocket protector had worn out its appeal, things became humdrum again. The few months after the first were not too newsworthy. Then one day, our counselor came to our Geometry class and gave us an information sheet for interested people wanting to apply to Jefferson. Since most of the Geometry class was part of the GT program, about 90% of the class was already interested – most had been waiting for developments in the process for TJ. On the sheet was some deadline information for turning in the application, the test, and the data sheets. After class that day, random students would walk up to me in the halls and ask me, "Hey, guy with the pocket protector, are you applying for TJ?" I answered them with a slight nod and said that I would give it a try. Everyone rallied behind me, encouraging me with phrases such as, “If pocket protector kid doesn’t get accepted, no one’s getting in!” and “Good luck!” I was starting to get rushed, with this sudden pile of deadlines and application forms and whatnot. That day, I went home to my parents and showed them the sheet. They started to get worried really quickly about deadlines and recommendations, as many Asian parents do. It was more talks and more life planning. The next day, I basically ran around the school to get signatures from teachers and verifications of grades. It was a hectic day, and I finally turned in the form and the admissions fee to the counselor. The next step in the admissions process was the TJHSST admissions test administered on December 1, 2001. The time between the application being turned in and the test was mainly used for review and studying. Time was either used for homework for school, or studying for TJ. It wasn’t bad, just a review of math concepts and miscellaneous stuff. There were after school sessions for preparation of the essay portion of the test. I took it to myself to sign up for it, and most applicants did. The sessions were of great help, as I learned how to elaborate, brainstorm, lengthen my short writings, and shorten my long writings. The teachers were giving us less homework than we were supposed to have, to ease the pressure on us. Everything went well and it came to be the last day before we were to have the test. Everyone wished everyone else good luck, and we all went home to get some sleep for the next day. I will never forget what my father said that night to me (jokingly but with a stern voice), “It’s either TJ or McDonald’s.” It was a cold December morning, and if I remember correctly, it was a dark day. I woke up earlier than usual, and started to worry. I thought to myself, “What if this is a hard test? What if I get writer’s block during the essay? What if I write something really stupid? What if…” The flurry of questions worried me during that morning and I was beginning to get stressed out. I came about 30 minutes early to school, to find that there was a long line to get in. Of all the people I saw, I recognized half of them (the other half came from other middle schools around the area.) So I talked to some of my friends for a while, and then the doors opened for everyone to come in. I looked at the chart that split up the students to different rooms by last name. I found out I would be taking the test in the last place I would ever want to be in: my English teacher’s room (she wasn’t proctoring it however.) I looked again at the chart, and saw that my 7th grade Algebra teacher would be proctoring the test too, but in another room. She was a great motivator, and was the kind of person that would always make you happy. I went and visited her and she told me that I had nothing to worry about, that everything would work out and I “would definitely get in.” She made me feel much better that day, and it felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It’s great that some people have the ability to do that – I think she may have changed the outcome of that fateful day. So I returned to my assigned room and waited for the time when the doors would close and the test would begin. The math part of the test wasn’t too hard, just elementary principles and other easy concepts. The verbal part was harder, with reading comprehension (I completely hate reading comprehension – I can never make sense of a story), analogies, and other types of problems you would find on a verbal standardized test. Then it was time for the essay, the dreaded writing portion. If I recall correctly, the two questions were to the effect of: “If you could uninvent any invention, which one would you choose and why?” and “Describe qualities you find in a friend.” I wrote fervently, stopping to think if any of the sentences made sense before continuing. I took most of the time, trying my hardest to get my writing ability to work overtime, trying to get it out of its hiding spot (as I am doing right now). The test time was over, and I was finally calm and collected, confident I did well on the test. I went home in the car, and my mom asked me how the test was and what the essay questions were. I answered her, and she asked what my answer was for the “uninvention.” I thought back and said, “I said the thing I wanted to uninvent was the car.” The whole interior of the car went silent and I figured out what I did wrong. I said to myself, “Oh my goodness, I just wrote three paragraphs on why the car was a bad invention!” I was so set on one goal, to get across that auto accidents were bad and were one of the leading causes of deaths in the US. I wasn’t thinking right - I mentioned a contradiction in my essay: “Mass transit would be better for the society of the US.” I basically hated and bullied myself for the rest of that month (although at that time, I didn’t know that someone who got accepted to TJ wrote “mashed potatoes” for their “uninvention”). I tried not to tell any of my friends, but the subject would come up again and again: “What did you want to “uninvent”?” I worried everyday of how the reviewers would laugh and not accept my application. A few weeks passed and school was back to normal. Then came the day of the fated letter in the mail – I got home and opened it as quickly as I could and saw the words, “You have been selected into the pool of 800!” I was stunned, yet happy of the fact that my silly answer wasn’t interpreted as some uneducated stupid answer! Of course, at this time, I didn’t remember that essays were considered on the second cut process. The next step after that was to submit two things. One was a “data sheet” listing your activities, academic skills, awards, and other great things about yourself. This stopped me in my tracks – I never did any extracurricular activities! No music, no sports, not a single activity! I thought hard for the next few days: what could I put on this sheet? Finally, the sheet consisted of a few awards, two competitions I had done, my skills in technology, and the fact I was a GT student. I probably overdid it, because what I put down made it sound very dignified, clunky, and obviously made up: “Member of the Gifted and Talented Program for Higher Studies.” I was desperate, and this was my only chance to pass through the admission gates. The other required item was three teacher recommendations: one from your current math teacher, one from your current science teacher, and one from a teacher of your choice. This was the easiest part of the whole admissions process to do: I just went to my teachers and pleaded that they write a recommendation for me. Of course, they accepted, but on one condition – that we would have to waive the right to see their recommendations. I didn’t care and I waived it. I was sure that my teachers wouldn’t have written bad things behind my back… Weeks feel like years when it comes to important decisions made about your life – in the hands of a few people and the mailman. On the day of April 1, 2002, I started to get nervous – I knew that it was the day when the letters were being mailed out. The decision could make or break the rest of my life. The day felt long, and I had to get my mind off the subject of admissions. I did something I didn’t do in a while – watch TV. Flipping through the channels, I remember seeing a press conference on TV with the governor of Minnesota, Mr. Jesse Ventura. He came up and started talking about how he would run for reelection. Then at the end of his speech, he says something to the point of, “And remember, you can’t believe what people say on April Fool’s Day.” He leaves, leaving a chuckle on everyone’s face for the day. This would be an important part of what was to come the next day. On the day of April 2, 2002, I went home from school and checked the mail. Frantically checking the mail, I angrily tossed away the junk mail, looking for my letter. There was nothing of importance in the pile. I got to the living room and sat down on the computer. My parents were doing something with the scanner, and I really didn’t pay attention to what they were doing. A few minutes later, at least four people called me on the telephone and asked me if I got my letter. I said, “No, it wasn’t delivered to me.” Then they go off and say that I would have been sure to get accepted because they got accepted - with the letter they just got in the mail! I was fuming mad that day: why did everyone get their letters and not me? Were rejection letters sent after the acceptance letters? It stressed me out really badly. I was desperate again – I asked if I could go to the post office and see if I could get the mail. My parents told me in a cunning manner that the post office was closed at that time. A few minutes after I started to panic, my parents come from a dark corner of the living room with a somber look on their face. They give me an already opened letter and say to me, “Sorry.” I look at them and open the letter. I noticed the sticker on the letter that was supposed to have our name on it was looking a bit weird. I read the letter, and it gave me the worst shock of my life. The first paragraph explained how the applicants were selected and that it was very lucky for the 800 to have been selected. Then the second paragraph said that I was not accepted into TJ and that the decision was very hard. Finally, the letter said to work a few pounds off and try again next year: “And remember what Governor Elect Jesse Ventura said yesterday!” and ended with Mrs. Payne’s signature. Well, needless to say, I attacked my parents telling them to give me the real letter: the paper was obviously edited, with the random black ink splotches of doom - a failed forgery from the scanner. After searching the cabinets, drawers, and almost everywhere else for the letter, they finally confessed and told me that I was accepted. That year, 41 students from Rocky Run Middle School of Chantilly, VA were accepted into Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
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