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Dan Tran


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                                                                                     Dan Tran
                                                                             Period 6 - English
                                                                            December 5, 2004

                   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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