Success Story – by Mai-Thuy Nguyen

In the realm of college advising, the fruits of our labor tend to produce several months after the application season. In the case of David Hernandez*, a student I worked with extensively in the fall, I had rarely seen him this spring semester. David is one of the most independent and highly intelligent students at Tolman High. He didn’t need much guidance to begin with and is the type to march to the beat of his own drum. Most of the student body knows him for his smarts, but all of his friends know him for his humor. His resting straight face and flat, monotone voice can easily confuse anyone trying to interact with him (mostly me). David is the king of deadpan comedy. But outside of that, he is a resourceful high school senior trying to get into college. He found me pretty quickly after my first day at Tolman. I was just relieved to discover how fun he’d be to work with.

 We  spent many days after school working on his college essays. David was applying to all sorts of ridiculous (read: difficult) colleges–Brown, Harvard, Columbia, USC, Carnegie Mellon, etc–all of which wanted to know his life story and then some. I had not experienced last-minute marathon writing like this since my own time in college. Thankfully, David is a receptive, critical, and most importantly–quick writer. He readily took feedback and revised at impressive rates. We scrapped several versions of his original personal essay at least five times before he finally decided to switch topics. He felt awkward writing about how his father died, didn’t like the idea of using a ‘sob story’ to make a point about himself. This was a back and forth of a lifetime. David is truly a humble kid. He wasn’t one take things for granted nor did he feel justified in explaining how it was difficult being raised in a single-parent home, because, as he said, “I’m fine, and it’s not a big deal.” He wrote about it anyway with his own twist, some metaphor about legos and reconstructing a life for himself he could call his own.

So, weeks later, when it was finally over, from every irrelevant paragraph exed out of existence, to the 12:05AM email, to another really bad knock-knock joke, to the frantically missed evening bus out of Pawtucket, each application got submitted (on time). After the last submission at 6:00PM on that Wednesday night, David asked me, “What kind of chocolate do you like”?

 “You don’t have to…but surprise me.”

 By December 1, I had no service left to offer David and saw him only in moments. We had resorted to awkward head nods through the hallways before the holidays.Then, before winter break, David stopped by and handed me a box of chocolates, muttered a “Thanks…a couple are missing,” and walked off briskly.  To my discovery, the gift was actually a half eaten box of rock hard Russell Stover’s chocolates (I am nearly positive the they came from the back of his mom’s holiday closet). It was an endearing gesture that I ultimately threw out in the trash, but fondly keep in my memory.

 Come February however, when the admissions decisions started trickling in, David did as well. Not all students I work with will come in to tell me where they’ve gotten in or not, so it was reaffirming to see him show up at my office. First came his acceptance to URI, though he seemed indifferent to my congratulations. Then a few weeks ago Williams College, at which point he came through the office, sat down abruptly, looked me straight in the eyes and asked, “What is a liberal arts college anyway?”

 A solid question I still ask myself (jokes).

 Only a few days ago did David Hernandez again walk into my office, sit down abruptly, and say, in that lumbering monotone voice of his, “I got into UChicago.” Hands were shaken, congratulations given, and of course an awkward ‘Thank you’ to finish. I’m sure the next time I see him will be March 27th, the deadline of deadlines for several Ivy League colleges. But until then, the awkward head nods and distant waves down the hallway will have to suffice.

Ultimately, our various interactions don’t make work feel like work, yet they have been vital to this thing we call “college access” all along. I like that we know each other, even though it’s at a bare minimum. Beyond knowing his demographics, his social security number, GPA, all the details I have to put into some AmeriCorps data sheet, I’m just happy to have met him all. To me, the goal, ‘the success,’ has always been secondary to the steps, to the moments leading up to that thin envelope or fat packet.  And so when he does come in March 27th, with whatever acceptance or rejection result he has to share, it will still be great to see him.

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This entry was posted in College Advising Corps at Brown University, Story of Service, Why I Serve and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Success Story – by Mai-Thuy Nguyen

  1. Great story Mai. It reminds me that the dedication given to each individual is very intensive and requires a commitment of time and talent. It could be exhausting except that you seem to thrive on the connection you made with young David. And now success and a promising future, for everyone. Nice going!

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